A Heavenly Peace

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“1 They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes.
2And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit.
3 He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain,
4for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him.
5Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones.
6And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him.
7And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.”
8For he was saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!”
9And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.”
10And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country.
11Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside,
12and they begged him, saying, “Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.”
13So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out, and entered the pigs, and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and were drowned in the sea.

14The herdsmen fled and told it in the city and in the country. And people came to see what it was that had happened.
15And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid.”

– Mark 5:1-15

I was having lunch with a friend who came back from Australia just a few days ago and he started sharing about a suicide case he had a part of. Well not exactly but he knew the housemate of the guy who killed himself. Apparently the 3 of them even went to the same church. It was actually really disturbing. The guy gashed his own neck with a knife in his own bathroom and left behind a floor full of blood. And as he probably realised by then that he could not die immediately, he managed to wrap himself up, drive out to a mall, and jump from off the building. May God have mercy on his soul.

I’ve never heard of anybody with such great determination to die. Apparently this guy has a case file of his psychiatric records with him. His housemate found it after he was gone. My friend told me that this guy obviously has issues. And I’m wondering how come nobody noticed. I also learnt that while he sought God in church, he was also practising yoga to find inner peace.

Yoga. Actually I was just thinking about it that very day during my quiet time. What inspired my thoughts was the passage above. Yoga is a topic I’ve written about a few times because of my personal experience and though brief an experience, I know when the spirit of discernment kicks in to say what I seek from the practice itself, is not the method through which God intends to deliver peace. Yes, all the advertisement for yoga says that it promotes peace within, a calm mind, a soothing spirit. But hear what God says:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” – John 14:27

Notice the ‘not as the world gives’.

Trying to practice yoga to ease the anger, sooth the nerves, find peace within ourselves is like trying to bind the man in the unclean spirit (v.2) in the passage from Mark. Notice how he was often binded by shackles and chains by people, but those can never restrain him (v.3, 4). People cannot subdue him. Even strong chains cannot keep him down. Check out v.15 this time. Since all of men’s efforts to contain this man did nothing and proved fruitless, what was it that set him in the right mind again, and drove the demons out of the man? Jesus did.

Jesus said that He is the only one who can give peace. Not as the world gives and all the methodology the world tries. They are all but temporal measures. Even in this instance, hearing such a disturbing story, I’m tempted to ask the question: “If he goes to church, how come God did not give him peace?” My possible answer is, he may go to church, but he may not have fully sought the Lord. We’d never know. But I know with confidence that based on personal experience, at the very least, His word stands true, as He once said this in Jeremiah 29:13-14,

“You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the LORD”

What He simply asks for is your whole heart. Not try a method of the world (eg yoga) concurrently. It’s kind of like being in a committed relationship yet dating some other people on the side. I remember a pastor once said that God wants us to be single-minded about Him, instead of double-minded. Even a man who does not believe in God is single-minded. It was a call to not embrace the ways of the world and embrace God at the same time, for in His word, He said

“So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” – Revelations 3:16

We will certainly go no where with God with our double-mindedness.

I have found my peace in Him time and again that way, seeking Him completely with all that I am. It’s interesting how many times we think we have given everything over to Him but we haven’t really. God uses that time of seeking to reveal that to us. Peace that may not be instantaneous but peace that will ultimately come after He slowly tears down all the stuff that is preventing me from receiving the peace that He wants me to have. I pray that you too will find that peace, peace as the world does not offer, but peace that only God can.

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yoga and christianity p.III

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i thought i’d put together a ‘yoga and christianity’ FAQ that is specifically tailored for christians who have relevant and valid questions on yoga and decide for themselves whether they should practise it or not. these are some of the questions that i’ve thought up, heard of and have been asked myself. these answers only stand for my own opinion, having had a background in being a yoga teacher (albeit brief period) and student.

if you have any other questions, feel free to leave it in the comments area and i’ll revise this as and when i can. you may wish to read p.II first to have a further understanding on my background ūüôā

Question #1: Can I practise yoga simply as form of exercise?

I’d be honest and tell you that I’ve gone through this particular struggle especially during the time whereby I was going through my 2nd teacher training course. Having studied the human anatomy and knowing which exercise can strengthen and/or stretch a particular muscle, it is hard not to see yoga as a complete workout system. The point I’d like to emphasize here is that alot of postures being used in yoga are actually religious and used in Hindu meditations. Series of yoga postures like the Sun Salutation may work out the entire body but has no reason to be called that without being used for that specific purpose. So the same goes for Moon Salutation. The lotus pose is used in Hindu meditations and for most yoga traditions, it is the most difficult of poses because the ultimate aim for yoga is to achieve stillness of the mind and body by keeping the body in that upright position.

The bottomline of yoga is that asanas (postures) are but one of the 8 limbs that helps one to achieve moksha, which is a release (spiritual? physical?) from this world. My personal view on this is that there is power in prayer postures, especially who you choose to salute to. There ought to be only the Creator in our hearts and never the creation. Through the postures alone, it takes the focus of the practice off the Sovereign God.

God made two great lights – the greater light to govern the day and the less light to govern the night. He also made the stars.’ Genesis 1:16

Question #2: I’ll just skip the meditation portion of the whole practice and treat yoga as an exercise. Is that alright?

While going through my first teacher training course, what I realised about meditation is that I had the wrong concept of what it was. It wasn’t simply about zoning away into another state of being. It wasn’t about just being still and doing visualisations. I did a meditation which my teachers called Cyclical Meditation which consisted of just yoga postures mixed with relaxation to achieve a state of relaxation and stillness. In other words, meditation can be relaxation with yoga postures. The term seems to be used more loosely than I thought. This is one of the examples where yoga postures are used to create multiple physical movements in an attempt to ‘confuse’ the body while maintaining a still mind. Stillness of the mind is the bigger objective of yoga as yogis believe it is through that state of being that moksha is attained, where one goes into a higher state of being.

Question #3: Alot of yoga teachers tell me that yoga has nothing to do with religion. Isn’t that true?

The tradition of yoga was written, advocated and advised in the Bhagavad Gita, which is kind of like the Hindu Bible, of which the inspiration is said to come from Lord Krishna himself. It is tied very closely to Hindu traditions. Alot of Hindus themselves will deny that yoga has absolutely nothing to do with Hindu – yoga is everything Hindu. While going through the teacher training course, we went through Hindu philosophy, Patanjali’s yogasutras, chanting and meditation. Although it is not something that most yoga teachers will carry into class, they will be teaching the classes with these as background knowledge and wisdom. Should spiritual questions arise, they will probably direct you to those very sources as well.

Alot of Hindus will be quick to say that yoga cannot be divorced from Hinduism – it is all Hinduism is about. While attending the Yoga Talk by Ashok Kumar of Bedok Methodist Church, he highlighted this article to us, written by a Hindu professor in a Hindu university. In the writer’s words: ‘Efforts to separate yoga from its spiritual center reveal ignorance of the goal of yoga.’

Question #4: My yoga teacher says if I’m a Christian, all I need to do is to focus on Jesus during meditation or replace the words ‘Om’ or ‘Brahma’ with Jesus. Can that work?

My teacher did say that, by the way. However it just did not seem spiritually sound. It is as good as saying every religion leads to Jesus so let’s just take whatever man-made practice, plonk in the name of Jesus and invoke His name. This may not be the best analogy but it will be like going to a mosque and praying to Jesus. When God calls us to meditate on His word, He wants us to hide His words in our hearts so that we will not sin against Him. His focus is also on our spiritual salvation and how might we be able to achieve that while focusing so much on our physical body through such a practice?

“Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” Joshua 1:8

“But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. “ Psalm 1:2

Meditation in the bible is definitely NOT about emptying your thoughts (as what the yogic definition of meditation would be) and NOT about dwelling on the infinite universe of God within (ie that God is within every man and man can become God and that everything is God) but rather to dwell on His words so that we will know Him more and more in a personal relationship.

Question #5: I don’t feel anything spiritually wrong after a practice. In fact, it feels great! I feel at peace within too so it can’t be wrong, right?

I think alot of Christians actually feel this way. The practice feels great, I feel great, so how can it be wrong? This is just my personal thought on this: With the fall of mankind, we have lost the spirit of God within us and our soul has taken over the lead. What makes up our soul? Our intellect, feelings and emotions. When Jesus restored our relationship with God, we have His spirit in us once more and He wants us to lead a Spirit-led life when He gave us the Holy Spirit.

“I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” Luke 24:49

Hence, what is the benchmark for our feelings and emotions? What does it mean to ‘feel’ right anyway. I’ll be worried if I based my judgements solely on my feelings instead of the Spirit of God. This verse comes in very timely:

“There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” Proverbs 16:25

Hence if you’re a Christian practising yoga right now, I ask that you take some time to seek His wisdom on this matter and I also pray that His spirit of discernment be with you.
Question #6: My pastor promotes yoga classes in church. Wait a sec, isn’t there something called Christian yoga for Christians? How about that.

I have to say that this may be my own opinion on this and my personal stand. This is a question I struggled with and have questioned myself countless time. Aren’t alot of Christians practising yoga? Don’t they look fine? Don’t they still sprout spiritual goodness? Doesn’t that kind of make it seem right? And alot of them seem to have a good walk with God. In a way, if I had continued to practise yoga with my background as teacher and student, I would stumble other Christians in their faith. Won’t I? I cannot explain why my student had an experience I cannot explain, and that none of my teachers could explain fully. And given what they taught us in a training course, I cannot say that yoga is divorced from its Hindu roots. I couldn’t sit on the fence anymore but make a choice (circumstantial too but nonetheless a choice).

I very much agree with this Hindu writer when he put together this article (same article as seen in Answer #3) because let me emphasize again that what your yoga teacher has gone through in training drips Hindu philosophy and religion. I’m not sure calling it Christian yoga or giving it a new name altogether such as PraiseMoves or changing around the postures is making it any different from it being yoga at the core of it all. People will still call it yoga. Christians hence will still be stumbled. The line is drawn too dangerously thin for me to even wanna go there.

On a side note, I can think of one reason why yoga teachers will tell you that it is perfectly ok for Christians to practise yoga. Swami Sivananda himself (whom Hindus name as His Holiness, byt he way) said that Jesus went to India from the age of 13 – 31 and practised yoga. Yes my jaws dropped on that one. I can find nothing in the bible on this but I recall one possible account is that Jesus stayed with His earthly parents and worked as a carpenter to fulfill His duties as a son. An article of Swami Sivananda’s writing can be found here. I’m also saddened to see how Scriptures have been misquoted and taken out of context to suit the yogic philosophy.

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For further reads:
Probe Ministry on: Yoga and Christianity: Are They Compatible?
Yoga and the Body of Christ by Dave Hunt

and they found me

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somebody found my blog with these search words ‘how to confront rude bikram yoga teacher‘. i thought that was rather funny. i’ve seen horrible and rude yoga teachers myself while i was marketing yoga products, pre-Christian days. so yeah, nobody’s perfect. and sometimes, they’re just out for a quick buck. sadly.

yoga and christianity p.II

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up at 5am and can’t get back to sleep. maybe it’s really time to get this entry sorted out and put together right here. how should i begin?i first got intrigued by yoga when i was around 15 and was curious and got interested in new age stuff. i took an interest in wicca, tarot reading, the supernatural, lucid dreaming and had a rather curious and dark interest in the gothic. anything that was of the supernatural and unknown i’m in. well not in as in i dabbled in them. i read about them, i talked to fellow-minded people but never really made any of those love potions (as you can find in witchcraft books) nor dressed gothic for that matter. and naturally, i took a mental note of yoga as well as i’ve seen lots of writing relating it as a spiritual path. i guess it is safe to say that right from the start, i’ve been seeking out my own spiritual journey and trying to understand what spirituality is all about. being brought up in a free thinking family with buddhist grandparents, anything that closely resembled spirituality was going to the temples and praying for good health and academic results. yet spirituality always felt something deeper within than asking the gods to give me something that may not last.

as a superb procrastinator, it was needless to say that i took a good 5-6 years to finally explore my spiriitual path. i finally decided to try out yoga classes (i did hatha yoga) at the local community club and loved it. that period of my life also happened be a time whereby i was trying to decide my career path. as i could never see myself settle for a 9-5 job ever and i could always see myself working in passion and the love for yoga seems potentially great enough, it made me decide to give a yoga teacher training course a shot. in any case, it will be a useful skill and also a way to understand WHY yoga is a spiritual path for many. it seems to me that yoga had 2 prongs to it Рphysical and spiritual benefit and i was even more curious as to why.

my first teacher training was with the Vivekananda Yoga Centre, situated at Frankel Avenue (Singapore). it was a one month intensive course where you pretty much had to be there every day. my second teacher training course was with Svastha’s Diploma in Teaching the Science and Art of Yoga. Svastha Yoga is¬†developed by A.G. Mohan who is a reputable teacher and yogi in the yoga circle. It was a year and a half diploma course. I was serious enough to decide to go through that anyway. Anyhow, around 4 months into the course, I came to Christ and couldn’t quite go on with the course anymore.¬†what bothered me was a summation of these and probably some other misc. stuff that I left out:

1. In order to obtain my full certification for the first course, I had to chalk up some teaching hours, which I did. I gave a free class at a local theatre production house and had this particular student who was open to trying yoga for the first time. Upon going into relaxation, where students will most likely lie down in Savasana (also known as Corpse pose) and relax all their muscles, this student (I shall call R) said she went to a ‘place’ where she could hear me saying things but didn’t know what I was saying (all I did was cue them what to do during the breathing). R said she started seeing flashes of images (which she cannot recollect what they are) and the only thing she could remember seeing was a pair of bue eyes. It was harder to get her out of the relaxation state I remember but sometimes people fall asleep during relaxation and that’s normal. I went to her to tap her gently and she did get up and was able to share this with me. Having taught her from the angle of physical benefits and possibly spiritual connectivity with the self,¬†I was disturbed. Although this bit of information may or may not matter to you, she is Catholic and she said she’s done some form of meditation before and never had such an experience. In her own rational thinking, she explained that perhaps it was because I¬†called the pose as ‘Corpse pose’ and she had gone through a miscarriage before (and the baby ought to have blue eyes). Side note: If any doctor/psychiatrist is reading this, I do hope to have your comment on this from a medical point of view, if any.

2. I sent out 2 emails after that incident. One, to Vivekananda Yoga Centre. Another, to the course teacher in charge then, M. Agarwal. I was a student trying to fulfill the course criteria and obviously I had a legitimate question that required some answering. NEITHER REPLIED (and I mean up till today). One of my course mate recommended me to talk to this yoga teacher who has around 27 years of experience in yoga teaching and she provided me with these instructions: before the start of your class, imagine a triangle of light around your students and this light comes from the sun. ground your students. imagine that roots are growing from the bottom of the ground and going into the students and visualise a full cycle. the triangle is supposed to protect the students from the negative energy in the place and and grounding visualisation is supposed to keep them grounded (spiritually??) to where they are at their practice. equipped with no other means or explanation for that matter, i tried that. still, i didn’t feel qualified enough. i didn’t feel like i know enough. i didn’t know enough to protect my students, provide any explanation but merely hochpoch solutions that are made up by who knows who. i mean, whoever actually said that burning a charm/talisman, mixing it with water and drinking it will drive demons out of a person? Some god? Yet that’s what some people seem to do through Taoist mediums in exorcism. Where did they get their basis of spiritual knowledge from? The lack of answers seemed to reveal to me that people are FIGURING their way out in yoga and it’s not as scientific as they claim to be.

3. Midway through the Svastha course and considering quitting on it (and being very new to the Christian faith too), I spoke to Indra Mohan about my discomfort when it comes to the meditation portion of yoga. Her response was: meditate on the name of Jesus. Honestly it seemed like good sense when she said it but something in me just won’t click. And through my further research later on, I realise that this is the sort of answers that yoga provides Christians simply because yoga has such strong ties with Hindu (all paths lead to one God; Jesus is one of the avatar/incarnation of God on earth) that it makes absolute sense to replace one God (the one universal force) with another (in this case, Jesus).

4. Going through the courses covers the philosophy of yoga which is closely linked with Hinduism. Enough said.

Having shared all this (if you made it this far!),¬†I still practised yoga. I went for classes. I went for some workshops. and perhaps most of all it was¬†a struggle for me to give it up because¬†I start going out with a guy from my yoga course (because everything seemed right and made sense EXCEPT God did wave a red flag in the form of a receipt in my face prior to making such a decision). Even though I was struggling with whether yoga is leading me astray from what I feel is the spiritually right path, I never gave it all up until the relationship was over and I’m completely honest here because there is no point in being otherwise. I will not be blogging about it if I didn’t decide that hey this is gonna benefit somebody out there and that somebody needs to read this right now.

I know of Christians who wonder about yoga and struggle with coming to a right and wrong about it. I know a Christian who runs a fitness company that has yoga because she loves yoga and can’t give it up and scrap it off the schedules because there are many outlets and the demand is too high on these classes. The dollop she’ll lose out on is very real. Yet even she is starting to sense that it ain’t gonna go with her faith. I know of good Christians who see no wrong in teaching it or going for classes because yoga is very beneficial physically. And even though some may think I’m too harsh in saying that it is a spiritually wrong path, I do believe that in terms of morals, values and spirituality, there is only light and darkness, no inbetween.

I’m not quite done with this topic. I gave too much of my love and time into this and having come this far, the least I could do is share it with others who are equally keen to have an intellectual discourse and to develop a keener spiritual discernment towards what is of light and what is of darkness. and maybe it is appropriate to close with a prayer for as I blog about this, I’m learning something the value of being ok with my past mistakes, being firm on making what I feel is the right decision and non-compromise on my morals, values and spirituality.

Dear Father in Heaven, thank You for Your light in each and every one of our lives. Thank You for giving us a sense of right and wrong and may You be the ultimate navigator as we discern what’s right and wrong in Your sight. May You open our eyes and hearts and spirits to shun what is of the darkness because nothing is grey in your sight and there is no spiritual void in this world. We cling onto You as You are our good Shepherd so lead us and call us and draw us ever closer to You. in Jesus’s most precious name I pray, AMEN.

yoga and christianity p.I

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this is a topic that is pretty close to my heart having had a relationship with the practice and falling out with it and never going back there again.

yesterday, we had a talk at church by Mr Ashok Kumar, from Bedok Methodist Church. he was raised as a Hindu in India and came to Christ in his early 20s. topic: Can Christians do yoga?

having went through 1 and a half yoga instructor course and taught some classes, it was a little surreal going to church and seeing how the speaker presented the talk. He skimmed through alot of information very fast as he only had one hour. most that i talk to feel that it was too short as i’m sure alot of people went hoping to find out more about yoga, and how it holds up to against the light of His Word. perhaps that is the stand that most people come from. yet i’m sure most people left with alot of questions and doubts in their head.

but perhaps before i do go deeper (and i need to gather my thoughts too), i’d like to hear your comments first. Should Christians do yoga? Can it be taken as a mere exercise?