ThOga was first introduced to the Western world as a form of “exercise”, relaxation and psychotherapy. Its main difference from ordinary physical exercise is, among other things, its characteristic immobility. Many yoga exercises have little positive effect on certain people, at least the same as exercises in other complexes. But, generally speaking, these exercises are part of the structure of Hinduism and are stages of a broader and more general spiritual ascent. Their ultimate goal is more than just physical well-being. What precedes and follows yoga exercises – and which many people are not even aware of – is closely related to systems of “meditation”, philosophical-religious theories and axioms of Hinduism, mainly with the doctrine of reincarnation.
After all, kneeling (the “metanoia” of our monastic tradition) is not simple bodily movements, but is associated with deeper processes and expresses a certain mood and state of mind, striving for spiritual goals; in the same way, the more complex yoga exercises are associated with Hindu beliefs and are a spiritual, religious experience. Union, merger
The word “yoga” comes from Indian languages and has many meanings. Etymologically, it is associated with the concepts of “fusion”, “union”, “connection”, “teaching”. It is widely used by the Hindus to define the secret connection of a person with the transcendental reality, as well as to designate the ways and paths leading to this “union”, to the “liberation” of a person from the manifold connections and illusions of our world.
Yoga also includes various guidelines and methods, formed by Indian tradition over the centuries, leading to man’s attainment of redemption and his union with the Absolute. The three main types of Indian religiosity – the pursuit of salvation, knowledge and piety – are called, respectively, “karma yoga”, “jnana yoga” and “bhakti yoga”.
The word “yoga” also refers to one of the six classical “traditional” schools (darshan) of Hinduism. Due to the large number of meanings, the confusion associated with the word “yoga” is only increasing in the Western world.
In a word, classical yoga as a school recognizes the existence of an eternal god, Ishvara (Lord), but does not recognize that he in any way interferes with human life. The idea of such a god cannot, of course, be in any way correlated with Christian theological teaching. The main stages of yoga
Yoga practice is taught in several stages. While many variations have emerged lately, the following eight are the most common steps.
1. Self-control: compliance with this point requires abstaining from sexual relations, theft, stinginess.
2. Self-improvement: focus on calmness, purity, consistent performance of all exercises, etc.
After these two stages, the student is initiated and his teacher (guru) gives him a new name and ritual phrase (mantra), which he must repeat many times in order to accelerate the movement towards salvation.
3. Control over the body: the adoption of special postures aimed at exercising control over the vital energy of the human body.
4. Control over breathing: when performing these exercises, the rhythm of breathing decreases, the body and mind come to a state of peace, and all the mental forces of a person are ready for the final stages.
5. Control over the senses: fixing the gaze on the object, the yogi (the one who practices yoga) tries to gain control over his senses.
6. Concentration: control of attention is aimed at creating a barrier that would isolate a person from the environment and inner fantasies. The Hindu tradition has created various methods to achieve this goal, for example, repeating the sacred for Hindus syllable “om” silently or aloud at a slow pace, concentrating on certain objects, etc.
The last two stages lead to the ultimate goal of yoga, which is as follows.
7. Meditation, concentration and perception.
8. Cognition, liberation.
The yogi believes that complete meditation is achieved by unification, merging with the transcendental reality. A person who has reached the final stage is freed from the existential sphere, and he manages to find salvation.
Although at the first stages some elements of consciousness are preserved, at the last stage the yogi comes to overcome even self-consciousness. They do not perceive colors, smells, sounds, feelings and are not aware of themselves or anyone else. Their spirits are “free”, as the initiates say, from memory and oblivion. This is considered knowledge, enlightenment.
This technique is aimed at connecting with the Absolute. For her, the central truths of Christianity about Christ the Savior, grace, selfless love, the Life-giving Cross have no meaning.
There are many directions, branches, varieties and fields of application of yoga. Different schools have different methods from each other. In addition, there are numerous groups operating in Europe and America, which have their own characteristics and characteristics that are not approved by the gurus of India. As a rule, however, all these systems of meditation, exercise and spiritual experience correspond to the thought categories and religious dogmas of Hinduism, which are radically different from the teachings of the Christian Gospel in key issues such as the idea of God, the world, man, death, salvation … They are often lead to a terrible and dangerous confusion and comparison that denies the essence of Christian preaching.
Yoga within Christianity
Western intellectuals have studied the possibility of isolating some of the rules of yoga, suitable for use within the framework of Christianity. However, this attempt to separate exercise from the Hindu theories with which it is associated appears to be an attempt to sever muscle and neural tissue in humans. This new and original approach was necessary in order to free yoga from the rich Hindu atmosphere and ideals.
In this case, the Christian version of yoga will mean exercises that would help a person achieve deep silence, deliverance not only from external noises, but mainly from internal shocks produced by our desires, interests and fantasies; silence through which the human spirit can hear the messages of the Holy Spirit more sensitively through self-abasement.
But there is no need to look for such a method, because it would lead to the opposite results: absolute autonomy of the human spirit and extreme confusion. According to the Christian faith, spiritual life with its completion is a gift of God’s grace, and not an achievement of an independent human-centered technique. In addition, for us, Orthodox Christians, there is the hesychast experience of Eastern Christianity, where, under certain religious conditions, one can achieve a holy spiritual life in Christ, peace and “hesychia” (silence) in love.
Yoga in our country
The number of yoga centers in our country (In this case, Vladyka Anastasius is referring to Greece.) Has increased significantly in recent years. At the same time, our knowledge and information about yoga is still scarce, generalized and confused. Yoga is publicly presented as “special physical exercises” and, as a rule, only as exercises for muscles and nerve centers, breathing and others. This means that of the above stages, they are limited to the third (control over the body) and the fourth (control of breathing), although sometimes they advance to the fifth stage (control over the senses) and the sixth (concentration). Some private schools are trying to remove the religious dimension from these activities so that they can be more easily accepted by the average Greek. Others try to convince that yoga has never been and is not of a religious nature, speaking of yoga as a “science”, “Spiritual knowledge”, psychosomatic process. Despite this, however, no matter how special and lofty words the reality is distorted, the fact remains: the whole direction of this Indian methodology was and remains religious or near-religious. Those initiated into the “meditation” of yoga are guided exclusively by the Hindu direction. Guided by the Vedas and other sacred Indian texts (Upanishads, Puranas, Sutras and Tantras) and, mainly, by the “teacher” (guru), they strive to master and apply in practice theories based on the law of karma, which determines reincarnation, and the law of samsara , which determines the cycle of reincarnation, seeking salvation (moksha) from this illusory world (maya), following the “paths” defined by Hindu traditions such as karma yoga, jnana yoga, bhakti yoga (mentioned at the beginning of the article),
This “religious core” is not mentioned and is hidden under the general phrases of the various statutes of yoga centers. They claim, for example, that their goal is to “shape people physically, intellectually and spiritually.” Texts offered to the public usually appear under an ostensibly social or philosophical guise; they are usually associated with the sayings of the ancient Greek sages or even … the Fathers of the Church. For those, however, who know this issue in more detail, all these theories and ideas are transparent, like a film, allowing their deeply Hindu character to manifest.
The magazines translated into Greek show their religious and philosophical points of view (for example, Yoga magazine includes an incredible mix of Hindu teachings; even invitations to attend celebrations such as Shivaratri). The goals written in the rules of these societies are full of proselytizing enthusiasm: for example, “extending yoga to all people regardless of gender, nationality, religion and social status”, “creating a solid foundation for the application of yoga in everyday life.”
Religious freedom and deception
The Greek constitution, of course, presupposes “freedom of religion and religious consciousness.” However, this does not mean that various groups are allowed to mislead the Greeks with insincere statements about their characteristics and goals.
The Orthodox Church – the governor of the eternal truth of the living Word of God on earth – for centuries and until now, calmly and without fear, has faced all kinds of comparisons with various religious and philosophical inventions of man. Nevertheless, everyone has the right to demand from any competent authority, especially the media, to clearly show what the “gurus” of various foreign religious denominations are. The statement that they want to prepare us so that “we can act responsibly and creatively in society” (as stated in the statutes of some yoga centers), along with the theories and methods that have led to a delay in the development of the visual arts among Asian peoples, seems to be a mockery …
At the same time, however, each of us who is less or more responsible for the Church should realize that in an era of free flow of ideas on a global level, it is quite natural for the inquisitive restless spirit of the Greek people to take an interest in new ideas, both Western and and oriental origin. Therefore, Christian priests, theologians and thinkers need to be well prepared in order to provide the Greeks with objective information. Finally, the best resistance to various spiritual tendencies remains the continuous active adherence to all the rules of Orthodoxy, as well as his personal and social experience.