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Orthodoxy and yoga/chakras


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#1 Rick H.

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Posted 03 June 2008 - 12:15 PM

Dear All,

After reading through the "Orthodoxy and martial arts" thread, I can see that much of what has been said there could apply to this thread. However, I am wondering if any would be interested in speaking directly to the value or lack of it in the practice of yoga (in terms of the postures and breathing viz. physical/psychological benefits void of contrary Indian philosophy), or even just an understanding of the chakras in the life of an Orthodox Christian.

I have done a search of these terms here on monachos and can see that there has been some very negative writing on the subject which has implied that these things have no place in the life of an Orthodox Christian, and I have seen some more liberal views, and some others that strike a more middle of the road position.

I can find little information on yoga from Orthodox sources, and I can find zero information on the chakras from patristic or monastic, or any Orthodox sources. So possibly with questions such as this one, there is no clear answer about this. But, again after reading the martial arts thread I feel compelled to initiate this one in hopes of at least clarifying/illuminating this subject somewhat.

In Christ,
Rick

Edited by Rick H., 03 June 2008 - 12:33 PM.
correcting spelling of the word "benefits"


#2 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 03 June 2008 - 12:27 PM

I can find little information on yoga from Orthodox sources, and I can find zero information on the chakras from patristic or monastic, or any Orthodox sources. So possibly with questions such as this one, there is no clear answer about this. But, again after reading the martial arts thread I feel compelled to initiate this one in hopes of at least clarifying/illuminating this subject somewhat.


Many years ago my spiritual father who before becoming an Orthodox monastic had practiced yoga, told me that the chakras represented real energy centers within the human being. One of these he felt is referred to in the instruction we often receive about not letting the concentration lower during the Jesus Prayer.

In Christ- Fr Raphael

#3 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 03 June 2008 - 12:34 PM

I remember that what helped keep Elder Sophrony humble was his having dabbled in eastern mysticism in his youth. He counselled strongly against adopting anything from that source of delusion.
I'd go with the 'negative writing' and say that there is no place and no need for anything outside the Holy Tradition of the Church. Dabbling in any form of activity taken from non-Christian sources seems to me not only unwise but is to say that the great treasury we have from nearly 2,000 of Tradition isn't enough. It's more than enough for anyone.

#4 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 03 June 2008 - 02:11 PM

On the whole I agree with Andreas, Orthodoxy has everything "needful" and we shouldn't need to look outside for anything. The one possible caveat is that for certain people, it might be useful to know and at least understand the parallels between Orthodoxy and other faiths in order to communicate with those people, and more importantly, to know where THEY lack what Orthodoxy provides over and above what they have.

We learn things. We learn what we need to do our jobs. Some of us learn how to play a musical instrument or make pottery, or play sports or pursue some hobby. These things are not essential to salvation, but they can keep us from other, more harmful activities, even as monastics use gardening and physical labor to help keep them occupied. Learning yoga or kung fu might be interesting, it might even be useful but it is not NEEDFUL for salvation, as long as it does not DETRACT from salvation, but the same could be said for just about any pursuit or activity. Our jobs can keep us from salvation (if we let it). Our family can keep us from salvation (if we let it), but most of us want jobs and families and hobbies as we go through this life. All things are lawful but not all things are necessary, all things are lawful but not all things edify. We need to be mindful and watchful, and try to choose the best things, given our talents, our circumstances, and our resources.

Or so it seems to this bear of little brain.

Herman the Pooh

#5 Misha

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Posted 03 June 2008 - 03:32 PM

I m convinced that there is a kind of circuit of electric energy in human and animal bodies and also an electromagnetic field around them.

Holy fathers teach us to be very cautious when we use psychosomatic methods to achieve a higher lever of prayer because there s always the danger to open ,involuntarily, doors to the evil spirits.

Eastern philosophy has not the distinction between Uncreated and created,so there is a belief that through physical methods (respiration,meditation,guided imagery,chanting etc) we can achieve the immortality or the nirvana.

Also,I know well that the "opening of the chakras" is a religious procedure,a kind of secret initiation as this can be easily seen in reiki and other similar methods.

Elder Paisios went once in Australia.When the airplane was over India he "felt" the evil energies in this country and was very sad.

#6 Michael Stickles

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Posted 03 June 2008 - 08:56 PM

Since I don't know of any patristic references either, I'll just speak from personal experience.

With yoga, it likely depends (like with so many other things). I practiced it myself a number of years ago (without any of the philosophical stuff), at a very basic level. It helped a little with flexibility, and I didn't notice any psychological effects, with one exception: the 12-step routine called the "sun salute" made me rather uncomfortable in a psychological/spiritual sense, and so I stopped doing it. I don't do it at all anymore, mostly because I've found more "normal" stretching routines to be just as effective for me.

If the philosophy is ignored, and postures or sets with obvious "meaning" (such as the sun salute) are skipped, it's probably safe for most, though a person would want definitely want to check with their spiritual father first. I'm kind of uncertain here, though. On the one hand, B.K.S. Iyengar (yoga master, author of Light on Yoga) says that practicing the postures without the proper attitudes and observances (yama and niyama) is "mere acrobatics", which sounds safe to me; on the other hand, there is the danger that experiencing real physical and psychological benefits could lead a person deeper into the practice, and at some point into the philosophy as well.

As for the chakras - I used to work with them back in my Eastern mysticism days. I believe they're real, and can be worked with deliberately and with effect. I also don't bother anymore. It's just my opinion, but I think that following the teachings and practices of the Church regarding prayer, asceticism, etc., will manipulate the chakras indirectly to greater positive effect, and with more safety. It's like when my singing instructor taught me to "reach up" for low notes and "reach down" for high notes - it was more indirect than intentionally making subtle shifts in the attitude of the muscles around my throat and vocal cords (which I eventually figured out was what I was doing), but it was more effective, and I was less likely to overdo it and strain something (which is what happened when I tried to bypass the "reach up/reach down" imagery). The teaching regarding the Jesus Prayer which Fr Raphael mentioned is probably just one example of this as regards the chakras.

In Christ,
Mike

#7 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 03 June 2008 - 10:51 PM

I'm not knowlegeable about eastern mysticism (and don't wish to be) but instinct tells me that any 'cross-reference' from Orthodox ascetical praxis and prayer to any alien practice can only be fraught with danger. And there's simply no need. Orthodoxy has the fulness of the truth and going outside her Tradition means deviating from that truth.

#8 Michael Stickles

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Posted 04 June 2008 - 12:24 AM

I'm not knowlegeable about eastern mysticism (and don't wish to be) but instinct tells me that any 'cross-reference' from Orthodox ascetical praxis and prayer to any alien practice can only be fraught with danger. And there's simply no need. Orthodoxy has the fulness of the truth and going outside her Tradition means deviating from that truth.


Yet again, it depends upon the perspective. From the perspective you mention - coming from within Orthodoxy, and with no experience with mysticism - that's probably accurate (I'd leave out the "only", but that's just my opinion).

For me, having lots of experience with mysticism before knowing anything about Orthodoxy, not referencing previous experience to Orthodox practice and understanding could be dangerous. There were a fair number of practices I was involved in that were, according to my perception at that time, useful and beneficial in certain areas. That means that, when I have a perceived need in those areas, there can be a temptation to return to those practices unless I see that either (a) Orthodox teaching condemns them outright, or (b) Orthodox practice encompasses and goes beyond whatever good there might have been in them. That's especially true since some of my old mystical practices were quite natural and easy for me, while Orthodox ascetical practices tend to feel quite awkward and difficult.

With chakras, I, like Rick, don't see "a" at this point (not to say there isn't a patristic condemnation somewhere, I just haven't seen it). I do see "b", so that's good enough for me. To use a medicine metaphor, chakra meditations look kind of like a potent drug with potentially harmful side effects, while the natural treatment of prayer and ascesis treats more problems, more effectively, and without side effects. Even given the "comfort level" difference, that's an easy choice.

In Christ,
Mike

#9 David Naess

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Posted 04 June 2008 - 02:37 AM

Howdy!

Yoga (capital "Y") means "Unity."

The word "yoga" (lower case "y") is a discipline used in order to
attain Yoga.

Although my first introduction to yoga was through Hatha yoga,
I soon lost interest in this when I discovered Jnana yoga.

Jnana (sometimes spelled Gyana) Yoga is aka:
"the yoga of knowledge"
"knowledge of the absolute"
"the yoga of wisdom" and
"the yoga of discrimination."

I usually describe Jnana as "yoga done in your head."

The main yogic disciplines are:
Raja Yoga (reintigration through stillness) -- self awareness
Karma Yoga (inaction in action) -- work without expectations
Bhakti Yoga (reunion through devotion) -- worship and praise
Jnana Yoga (enlightenment through discrimination)
Laya Yoga (man as the universe) -- the macrocosm within the microcosm.

Hatha is a subdivision of Raja.

In my experience the search for Unity has been identical with what
I have been told is the Orthodox concept of Theosis.

Whether or not yoga can be incorporated into the Orthodox mindset
might very well be dependent on how you answer the question:

"Unity with what?"

Edited by David Naess, 04 June 2008 - 03:30 AM.


#10 David Naess

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Posted 04 June 2008 - 03:19 AM

re: chakras

The chakras are totally alien to our western concepts because the chakras are the centers associated with the channels within the human body through which energy flow is directed as defined in Eastern medicine.

Question: If Orthodoxy forbids meditation based upon the conceptualization of the chakras, does it also forbid accupuncture which is medicine based upon the conceptualization of the chakras?

If accupuncture is ok, why? You are still crossing "the line drawn in the sand."

Edited by M.C. Steenberg, 13 June 2008 - 11:03 AM.
Removed line breaks at ends of lines


#11 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 04 June 2008 - 09:38 AM

I can't really add anything to what I've already said. If a great elder such as Fr Sophrony felt such grief at ever having been involved with eastern mystical practices and warned against them, that surely should send some sort of warning signal. I don't understand how an Orthodox Christian could show any interest in such things save it were a temptation.

Some time ago, my wife told me the story of a Russian priest who was serving in India. A local yogi made his aquaintance and was very polite and friendly. They met often and the yogi talked with apparent respect for the priest's Orthodoxy but also explained much about his own practices. After some time, the priest felt that some malign influence was beginning to work in him. He said the Jesus Prayer intensely. When he next met the yogi, the Indian was aggressive and hostile to the priest and demanded to know how he had resisted him.

#12 Effie Ganatsios

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Posted 04 June 2008 - 10:06 AM

"Such a thing, of course, would have been absurd in the days of those holy Fathers. Yet, in our days, we hear of Christian Yoga, of Zen Buddhism and other pagan disciplines used as aids by so-called Christians in their spiritual quest. If you do not "walk in the councel of the ungodly" today, or "sit in the seat of the pestilent," you are told that you do not have humility, but rather pride and triumph in your faith. Thus, under the slogans of love and humility, the Cross of the Saviour is trodden underfoot and the Name of the Lord is blasphemed among the nations. We have seen most assuredly where the love of the Apostles and Fathers has led them - straight into the open bosom of the Father of Lights - and we know well what we have received at the Pentecost in Jerusalem. But where this new love and humility of these new apostles and preachers leads them, and what the outcome of their new pentecost shall be, we shudder even to think. Saint John Climacus writes in Step 2:6 concerning those who practise "spurious and sham asceticism." One wonders how many of these new style abbas (or gurus if you prefer) and Charismatics would survive in the desert of true monasticism? "

The above is from http://fr-d-serfes.o...odox/divine.htm

"Anyone who understands the nature of prelest or spiritual deception will recognize in this description of "Christian Yoga" precisely the characteristics of those who have gone spiritually astray, whether into pagan religious experiences or sectarian "Christian" experiences. The same striving for "holy and divine feelings," the same openness and willingness to be "seized" by a spirit, the same seeking not for God but for "spiritual consolations," the same self-intoxication which is mistaken for a "state of grace," the same incredible ease with which one becomes "contemplative" or "mystical," the same "mystical revelations" and pseudospiritual states. These are the common characteristics of all who are in this particular state of spiritual deception."

The above is from
http://www.orthodoxp...ture/yoga.shtml

There are lots of other articles on this subject on the above page.

Effie

#13 Michael Stickles

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Posted 04 June 2008 - 02:04 PM

I think we're in danger of starting to talk past each other here.

Rick's initial question dealt with two things - the value (if any) of using yoga for its physical and/or psychological benefits, void of the philosophical content; and the value (if any) to an Orthodox Christian of understanding the chakras.

Some of the rejoinders have focused, directly or by implication, on the clear wrongness of using yogic, chakric, and other Eastern techniques as aids for one's spiritual growth. That's not what he was asking about.

Now, if we hold that Eastern practices cannot be divorced from their mystical/philosophical roots, then his question becomes moot - the value of yoga without its philosophy is zero for all practical purposes if it can't be separated from its philosophy anyway. If they can be effectively divorced from those roots, however, then his question stands. This distinction is crucial, for example, in applying Elder Sophrony's warning against Eastern "mystical practices", since it would seem that yoga practiced purely as exercise, with no philosophical or mystical content, would not still be a "mystical practice" - assuming, of course, that removing the philosophical and mystical content is possible.

Regarding understanding chakras, I think the question can be broken down into: (a) do the chakras have any practical relevance to my life as an Orthodox Christian, and (b) would there be any benefit in my understanding them, and knowing how and why they are relevant? To summarize my earlier post, I would put those answers as "yes" and "no", respectively.

Regarding yoga, the question could be broken down as: (a) can the practice of yoga be divorced from the Hindu philosophy surrounding it, so that a practitioner would be safe from inimical influences, and (b) would this "de-mysticized" practice have positive value for an Orthodox Christian? To summarize my earlier posts, I would say "only partially" and "maybe, but you're probably better off doing something else".

Also, keep in mind the difference in perspective between (a) starting in Orthodoxy, and seeing how Eastern philosophies and practices fall short of the truth, versus (b) having been involved in Eastern philosophy and practice first, and then recognizing in Orthodoxy the fulness of what was good and the correction of what was wrong in the Eastern ways. In (a), the commonalities are seen as leading away from Orthodoxy; in (b), they are seen as leading towards it. From (a), Rick's question looks like someone seeking to add foreign practices to Orthodoxy; from (b), it looks like a question of what can be kept and what must be discarded out of what one already has.

In Christ,
Mike

#14 Rick H.

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Posted 04 June 2008 - 02:16 PM

Jackpot!!!

Thanks very much for getting the thread back on track Mike! Hopefully, there will be some interaction with the astute points and subpoints that you have provided.

It looks like unless one is the skeleton at the keyboard in Fr. Raphael's photo album, then good things really do come to those who wait. :)

Thanks again.

In Christ,
Rick

#15 Effie Ganatsios

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Posted 04 June 2008 - 03:42 PM

I don't believe the messages concerning Yoga were off track at all.

The basic question was whether one can separate the physical side of Yoga from the spiritual side.

I posted a message on the Martial Arts thread. I do not believe that someone can do the Yoga exercises (or practise the various martial arts disciplines) without, at some point venturing into the spiritual side of these practices. The first step is usually meditation. A comparison of Eastern meditation and the Jesus Prayer will reveal vital differences. Anyone interested can find all the information they want.

Edited by Effie Ganatsios, 04 June 2008 - 04:01 PM.


#16 David Naess

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Posted 04 June 2008 - 03:58 PM

Howdy Effie!

Which "yoga" are you talking about?

Apprehension about some "undefined abstract" is one thing. But you can't really carry on a conversation about it unless you define your terminology in order to assure that everybody is talking about the same thing.

Arguments that begin with phrases such as "everyone knows" and the like set off an alarm light for me due to the fact that they are usually based on a commonly held ignorance.

This is becoming apparant in the commonly held ignorance and erronious misconceptions of both yoga and Hinduism.

"Know the facts before you pass judgement."

Edited by M.C. Steenberg, 13 June 2008 - 11:04 AM.
Removed line-breaks at ends of lines


#17 Effie Ganatsios

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Posted 04 June 2008 - 04:16 PM

Hello Dave!

Strange as it may sound I do know what I am talking about.
I started studying Yoga in 1968. The Yoga I am talking about is Hatha Yoga. Why? Because I was interested in Yoga for it's practical benefits and never felt the need to experiment with mystical experiences that could endanger my health and jeopardize my sanity. But even the basic asanas of Hatha Yoga are referred to as one of the eight stages to Enlightenment. You can see therefore that even simple exercises are linked to religion.

As you mentioned in a previous post you also started with Hatha Yoga but then proceeded beyond this. I was never interested enough.



Effie

#18 Mary

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Posted 04 June 2008 - 04:21 PM

Regarding yoga, the question could be broken down as: (a) can the practice of yoga be divorced from the Hindu philosophy surrounding it, so that a practitioner would be safe from inimical influences, and (b) would this "de-mysticized" practice have positive value for an Orthodox Christian? To summarize my earlier posts, I would say "only partially" and "maybe, but you're probably better off doing something else".

In Christ,
Mike



I don't see why not. All things, can be separated from the original teachings, and turn into a bunch of exercises, just like Christianity. =)

Mary.

#19 Rick H.

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Posted 04 June 2008 - 04:55 PM

Effie,

While I'm still in listening and learning mode on this thread, I can't help but to wonder about something you said in the marital arts thread. This really is a subjective thing here, I think; however, when you wrote:

When I told my spiritual father that I had been doing the Hatha Yoga exercises for many years, he told me that it was not a good idea and that I should think about it and try and find alternative exercise methods that were more suitable.


I can't help but wonder what you would have done if your spiritual father would have said something like , 'this sounds good, I think you should continue doing Hatha Yoga.'

Hopefully, we can stop talking past each other here, and ultimately get back to my original question(s) in the first post.

But, I know several Orthodox (mostly women) who have the blessing of their spiritual fathers and some the blessing from their priests to do yoga. One group meets for yoga at their church basement. Possibly, other folks here, or even you know of similar situations. You have made your position more than clear, Andreas has restated his position in different ways, and with others . . . with some of the blanket statements made above then we cannot not conclude that a judgement and condemnation of these church members, spiritual fathers, and priests has been issued by some in this thread. Can we? Is this what we want to do?

In Christ,
Rick

Edited by Rick H., 04 June 2008 - 05:39 PM.
removing incorrect expression


#20 Effie Ganatsios

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Posted 04 June 2008 - 05:18 PM

Effie,

While I'm still in listening and learning mode on this thread, I can't help but to wonder about something you said in the marital arts thread. This really is a subjective thing here, I think; however, when you wrote:



I can't help but wonder what you would have done if your spiritual father would have said something like , 'this sounds good, I think you should continue doing Hatha Yoga.'

Hopefully, we can stop talking past each other here, and ultimately get back to my original question(s) in the first post.

But, I know several Orthodox (mostly women) who have the blessing of their spiritual fathers and some the blessing from their priests to do yoga. One group meets for yoga at their church basement. Possibly, other folks here, or even you know of similar situations. You have made your position more than clear, Andreas has repeated himself until he is blue in the face, and with others . . . with some of the blanket statements made above then we cannot not conclude that a judgement and condemnation of these church members, spiritual fathers, and priests has been issued by some in this thread. Can we? Is this what we want to do?

In Christ,
Rick


What would I have done if my spiritual father had said it was OK to continue with Hatha Yoga?

Firstly I would like to say that I greatly respect Father Basileos because over the years he has proven to be a pious person, one who is absolutely honest and worthy of respect.

Secondly he did not order me to stop. He told me to think seriously about it. He explained why he did not think it was a good idea to continue.

I don't believe he would have said "OK, continue". He would have asked why I was asking him, whether I myself was starting to have misgivings. He would have told me to pray about the matter, and he would have outlined the reasons the Orthodox Church permits or does not permit the practice of Hatha Yoga. This is the type of man my spiritual father is.

Judgement? Condemnation? I hardly think so. Each person on this forum has the right to his or her own opinion. It is sad that when you make a statement such as " Andreas has repeated himself until he is blue in the face" you imply that he is unreasonable whereas those who have a different opinion, even though they have also repeated themselves, are reasonable and right. Having a different opinion does not automatically mean condemnation and judgement of others.


As I said, each person has the right to his or her own opinion.
This forum, so far, is one that accepts the different opinions of its members.




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