My Experiences with Yoga
I would like to give a description of my experience with yoga as a warning for people who are considering starting with either physical yoga, or who are exploring Eastern spirituality, or both.
I started to search spiritually as a teenager. In my early twenties I started going to so called satsangs (satsang means "encounter with the truth" in sanskrit) where we would chant mantras in front of a picture of a female guru.
Traditionally physical yoga was never meant to just be physical. It's just one aspect of yoga. In India people usually frown at you if you say that you are doing yoga without practicing the whole religion and the worship practices behind it. So, when you are doing physical yoga, you are in a way agreeing to the philosophy and concepts and the deity worship behind the movements.
First of all, physical yoga is meant to activate the so-called "kundalini" at the bottom of the spine. It's pictured as a serpent. If you are successful in yoga then this kundalini serpent will rise through your spine to the top of your head, where it will meet shiva and create, as I understood it at that time, a sort of "divine marriage" between the female (the so-called Shakti, also a "goddess") and shiva (the god of destruction) creating enlightenment. In my understanding this would be like entering a sort of paradise. This state is called samadhi. It's supposed to stop the cycle of reincarnation and makes the soul become "like a drop in the ocean".
Creation is seen as a part of god, who is called atman. This particular branch of yoga focused on shiva as being god. The organization had many different programs online that were both expensive and difficult to understand, which explained the philosophy behind the yoga. Other practices consisted of the chanting of a very long text which was basically a consecration to the guru and the above mentioned "deities". It also contained threats of curses should one leave this particular lineage of gurus.
There was a huge focus on meditation. Many people had experiences of altered states during the meditations, and of encountering the gurus of this tradition (there were three of them) during meditation experiences and also encountering them during dreams. The enlightenment experience was said to be transmitted by the guru in this case, like a short-cut to this "kundalini rising" experience. For clarification: enlightenment and the kundalini rising experience were seen as one and the same thing, and everyone was chasing it all the time.
The guru was revered like a god, and one was not allowed to criticize or say anything negative about the guru. In which case curses could incur. All of this was subtle, not mentioned in many places, but implied. The devotees were very often very intelligent, successful people.
The sect is high-profile but it is not open to any form of questions from the media. It is understandable that people could get tricked, as the experiences that came from following the many practices, including physical yoga, were quite significant, and positive life changes could incur. Sometimes experiences similar to "miracles" could happen.
In the beginning the practices seemed to help me become more focused and centered. I had problems with depression at the time, and after chanting I would feel more happy and quiet inside. The focus on discipline and on turning inside in meditation seemed to lead me to a more mature and austere life and away from some less healthy friendships that I had at that time early in my twenties.
I also struggled a lot with sleep for a time. Listening to a recording of the guru singing the different mantras as I prepared for sleep was so powerful that I slept like a log. So I felt quite dependent on listening to these mantras in order to get enough sleep so I could get up for work the next morning.
I once prayed to the guru for financial help, because I was in a difficult financial situation. The next day $600 came into my account. About $300 kept on coming into my account every month after that in addition to my wages. Another time I got a job in a way that felt like it came through following the yoga practices. I could "feel" that I had the "energy" from this yoga school with me there. I incidentally ended up sitting besides someone in that new workplace that I really liked at that time, his name had been coming up during my meditations and I felt that "the universe" had put me there besides him. Another "miracle" was when I got a job as an extra on a film set of my favorite series, and I got to play in a scene with my favorite actor at that time in a profiled part as an extra. Here again I could feel that the "energies" of the yoga were with me.
Strangely it was also after my appearance at this movie set that I felt more exposed to the demonic, which I will explain later. As I see the “miracles” now, they were only connected to the material side of my life, and they didn't really involve the moral side of my being, or change me into a better person.
I was really diligent in performing the practices. I had many experiences of emotional healings, my work life improving, and certain other improvements in my life. One of the emotional healings I experienced was while contemplating a picture on the website of the yoga organization I was following. It showed a picture and on it there was a word in sanskrit. It was about remembrance. Suddenly I remembered something that I had forgotten. As a child I lost someone I loved a lot, but I was never able to grieve for that person. I thought I maybe never loved her. But now I realized how much I loved her, and how I just hadn't been able to process this loss at that time. I cried a lot. As a consequence, I felt that "the guru", her teachings and the yoga must be the truth. I constantly had some doubts, especially in the beginning. But happenings like these made my misgivings smaller, until I completely pushed them aside.
I also had less positive experiences right after I started going to satsangs. But I never ascribed them to the guru or yoga because of all the positive experiences I was having. I think they made me blind to what was really going on.
One of the more negative experiences was that I could feel a movement at the bottom of my spine, as if something was moving there. Sometimes it was very strong; it seemed as if the whole floor was trembling. The other was that I became increasingly drawn to pagan and Wiccan practices. I thought that god and the universe was the same thing as a result of the yoga practice.
As the owner of a coven (I was never part of any coven by the way - but I was curious) once explained to me, witchcraft originally came from India and it believes in the "marriage" or union of the female and masculine aspects of the universe. In yoga one big concept is "the dance of the shiva and shakti." So in my experience, yoga, neo-paganism, and witchcraft were basically the same. It's the same belief system although the "powers" they admire and invoke might have different names.
I had many experiences of inner light. Both while doing physical yoga practices, practicing reciting the mantra, or looking at pictures meant to trigger "enlightenment" experiences. These pictures were thought to be filled with the gurus so-called "shakti" (something similar to the female side of "god's" power).
The first time this happened I was listening to a recording at their website. I think it was a guided meditation. Suddenly I saw a lot of light. I thought the sun might have come out. But it was still a rainy day outside. I closed my eyes again and I continued meditating. The light grew brighter. I thought I could see some geometric patterns in it, which I thought was a bit strange. After this experience of inner light, I applied myself with even more fervor to the practice of yoga and meditation, as I now was sure that it was leading me to god.
By the way, the Self was another big concept in this school of thought, as it is in many yoga schools. The Self is a bit like the concept of emptiness in the Buddhist tradition. In yoga it was both god and the guru and shiva and "the universe" at the same time, which I thought was very hard to understand. I figured I just needed to study the philosophy (more expensive courses) and do more yoga in order to get it.
This light would appear in other settings too, such as when I would be considering making important life choices. It would always lead me into "following my dreams" or going into the direction of my heart/feelings, which would lead me to make very emotional choices with regards to my career and other life areas. This would ultimately lead to more confusion and chaos. This is also what made me start to question whether this organization or the "light" maybe wasn't so good after all. I also started questioning the general New Age ideas that I was into, as I was starting to notice that generally speaking, the people who were into it would not behave morally or even decently towards others. And my own life was becoming increasingly confused and chaotic. But it was a long process until I finally saw through it.
I also did Kundalini yoga practices, another even more famous yoga tradition, which works toward the same goal but with an even stronger emphasis on the physical practices themselves. They have hundreds of different practices which can all create strong physical improvements and healings, and many spiritual experiences.
Many of the practices are meant to be done over a period of 40 days. They are usually meant to improve certain physical ailments, such as kidney problems or other very specific physical issues. I did experience improvements with some specific health issues that I had at the time after having done one set of physical yoga exercises for the amount of days that I just mentioned. I didn't stay very long with this school of yoga, so I can't say a lot about it.
One thing I can say for sure is that I had many psychic experiences after having done the exercises and also after participating in ordinary yoga classes with Kundalini Yoga. I would "see" pictures of the gurus of this tradition, and "see" such uplifting spiritual images such as the earth enveloped in peace and light. I also could "hear" suggestions for spiritual names for myself from the Vedic tradition, that would usually be quite pleasing to my ego. I would also receive "advice" about a truth in a certain life situation which would later reveal itself as false.
Once during a private Kundalini Yoga lesson I learned this mantra of theirs that they apparently use quite a lot: Sa-Ta-Na-Ma. I remember cringing and thinking that they couldn’t possibly be worshipping the devil. It must just be a strange coincidence that this mantra sounds like that name. That’s what I thought at the time. I would so often cringe inwardly at things that were presented to me in yoga, but in my mind I would make excuses. Mainly because I didn’t believe that the devil or the demonic existed.
I was unfortunately very diligent in performing these practices (mostly the ones based on the guru-yoga, I didn’t do that much Kundalini yoga - but both clearly deal with the same principles and “energies”). After about ten years of intense practice, something changed. While staring at one particular "shakti-infused" picture, I had a strong experience of inner light. I heard a "poof" and my head tilted back. At that moment I thought, “This is strange.” It must have looked demonic because of the way that my head tilted back quite at an uncomfortable angle, and the way I felt that I wasn't in charge of myself. There was something automatic and impersonal in the movement. (It turns out it was demonic but I didn't know it at the time)
After that, I had a really loud ringing in my ears- a strong tinnitus. I panicked. I thought, "Is there a way to reverse this?" But I couldn't think of one. The sound was unbearably loud. It came together with the inner light experiences. At the time, I didn't understand that it could come from evil. Nothing I did could change this constant beeping in my ears, although it subsided to a more bearable level after a while.
I know that other people who follow these practices had other negative experiences such as massive clinical depressions in addition to all the other spiritual experiences which I already mentioned. In addition to lots of inner light experiences, I often felt a strong smell of the incense nag champa coming from my heart.
The light would often guide me to make big life changes, and I would get "advice" in my dreams or meditations from the gurus or from other sources. Such as following an acting career or telling me to trust the guru even more in order to be even more protected, and to be more diligent in my practices. In retrospect this advice led me into making self-centered and egotistical choices.
I would also, at times, feel as if this inner light could knock me out. As if I could lose my consciousness at any moment. Other times I felt like I was physically pushed. At times I was worried about these things happening while I was at work or together with others, and how to explain them. It was a bit out of control. I still thought it was all good, although these experiences scared me and made me feel uncomfortable.
After a while, I had a very bad experience with a demonic attack. Before this I actually didn't believe demons existed. I thought that everything in the spiritual world was just "love and light" before this happened. I could see it, it attacked me, and for a while after that I was able to perceive the demonic.
In this experience, I saw a small robed being with very bright red hair, which was trying to hide from me. Once I spotted it, it would not stop approaching me. A lot of New Age people would tell me it was the ghost of a child that was too scared to move on to the next life and that it liked me because it missed its mother. I believe that the demon tricked these people to say the same thing about it, thereby making me feel sorry for it and allowing it further access into my life. I even made an altar with a teddy bear on it on the advice of one of these people.
Then another person who was into Wicca told me it might be a demon and asked me to do a meditation in order to get its name. I realized it was most probably a demon, although I was very confused about the whole situation. It was after I took the altar away and that I didn't want to communicate with it anymore that things got nasty.
I could see a very dark shade move in incredibly fast speed around me, and it was attacking me with a force that felt like a truck was driving into me at fast speed. If felt like it was trying to push itself into me. I had never experienced anything like it before, and I was very scared. I didn't know how to protect myself. I found a recording of the psalms on youtube and this seemed to help a bit for a while. This is the first time I ever listened to or looked for any Christian themed material online. It was certainly a last resort in my mind I was still quite skeptical about Christianity. Although I had at that point started to open up to it, especially by feeling very drawn to the Virgin Mary. Unfortunately this evil presence managed to "get hold" of me, and it has been a continual fight for me to keep it at a distance ever since. It's Mary's presence that kicks it out and keeps it at bay.
The world changed for me, to put it mildly. I was sort of at peace before that, but after that I was being constantly pestered by the demonic. It was like a veil between the material and the unseen world was taken away after I experienced the attack that I described above. To give a full account of how the "demons" pester me now and then will be difficult, as it is not really that easy to describe something that is spiritual of nature. In my experience demons thrive in the shadows and they work in the hidden to bring humans down. By sinning and turning away from Jesus and from his teachings.
But I will attempt to make a description. Well, the demons hate us humans and they try to bring us down, to make us hate the church and forget about Jesus and how much He loves us. The reason why I mention this is that when I say that I have been pestered by the demons, I can see that others are being pestered too. I see how some people have demons either clinging around them, partially inside them, or people who have literally become very demonic.
A couple of times I have been looked at or talked to by people who looked to me like they had been completely taken over. At that time talking to, or worse, working for someone like that, would make my own problems with demonic oppression a lot worse. I had to quit the job in question as it became impossible to work for someone who had a strong demonic possession/oppression because it would make my own problem worse. It would kind of "trigger" the demonic presence in me.
For my own sake my main problem with being pestered by demons is that, as I have mentioned, they attacked me with such force as if they were trying to take me over. So it was a continual fight. Making more holy choices such as reading the Bible, reading books by saints, going to Church and trying to be kind to others would help me feel clearer and less under attack. Praying to God was my number one aid. After prayers I would be led to the right people or circumstances, such as a prayer group that was really helpful, the right video on youtube for consolation and in particular to Catholic exorcism prayers. It's been Mary's prayer for me that has been the strongest protection for me in the midst of all this.
Getting rid of all my New Age and yoga books and items helped a lot too. I got rid of all the pictures of the gurus and everything else. But the attacks were insidious. I could see "clouds" of something drifting by me, it would feel like poison to me, and often when these "clouds" of something white and sticky would attach themselves to me I couldn't see properly or I would smell strange and uncomfortable smells. I need to add that I lived in a place where many people were into yoga and different other New Age practices. I could see this "fog" move around people, and to some people it seemed to be more attached than to others. I could see something very unclear in the eyes of these people, and they would also have a strange smell around them as of something very unclean. I could also smell something very putrid when that very disgusting demon that attacked me was near. This demon, and all the other attacks, were always aiming at my heart. I sometimes get bad stomach cramps and headaches too, which I believe come from demonic oppression. I have learned what they are and I just try to pray myself through them. I don’t get as scared now as I used too.
My situation has improved somehow, but I still get periods of very bad attacks. Right now I have the smell of cigarettes around me, and it's a smell I really dislike. It's very intense at times. I don't smoke and there is no one around me, so it's not from anything physical. Besides, the smell has been following me for a couple of days now, in different physical locations. Also a couple of weeks ago I visited someone that is deeply into yoga, both the physical one and the more "esoteric" side of it. When I visited her home I was under constant demonic attack. As usual the attacks where almost physical with a very strong pressure towards my heart area and also my head a bit, and I also sensed a putrid smell. There was a sharpness and an intense hatred in these attacks that made them even worse than the usual ones that I struggle with. These yoga demons stayed around me for a long time after this visit.
To be honest, I don't think I'm completely free from their presence as of yet. Some of the most possessed people that I have seen after all this happened to me are people who are very advanced in physical yoga and who also embrace the philosophy. Other ways the demons pestered me in the beginning was by entering my dreams. I can't go into description of these experiences as they were too disgusting. I am glad this no longer happens. I can still get "threats" by demons in my sleep or by outer happenings. Such as a car suddenly blocking my road as I walk along and then I notice there is a drawing of a demon on it or something similar.
Another time I heard a big crash and when I went outside to check what had happened I found a dead bird outside my bedroom window. It had crashed with full force into the window. I've had a couple of incidents with birds like that. It always feels like a threat somehow from "the dark side" and it used to scare me. I think it used to scare me because in my previous world view everything like that seemed to be a "sign" from the universe. And in my dreams the demons used to threaten me with curses on me and my loved ones, and they would show me images of dead birds as a part of that.
The movement of the Kundalini at the bottom of my spine is bothering me still. Sometimes it’s so intense that the whole floor trembles. Other people have noticed it while it happens. It seems to be triggered by me doing certain actions, like it’s trying to scare me away from certain things, such as reading a particular book or watching a certain program on my computer. In addition to the oppressions and attacks just mentioned, I sometimes sense something squeezing my left upper arm. I also can at time sense that I have an "eye" behind my left eye. Or I can sense two eyes like lenses over my own physical eyes. Like they are searching for something. Even as I write this, I sense something squeezing my heart, as if it doesn't like what I am writing. As of now I don't have the sensation around my eyes, but I think it's because I have been praying quite a lot lately and I also feel full of confidence in God's love for me. I also take to heart what Jesus says about how we shouldn't be afraid. Of course having these experiences can trigger anxiety and it's not comfortable. But I also believe that God has a plan for me and that for some reason He allows these spirits to linger on in me.
I am very grateful that I am now being catechized in the Catholic faith as it has strengthened me and I know that God is much more powerful than all of this. And I know that Jesus loves me and that I am very valuable to Him. I also understand that this is why the demons hate me so much. But, they can't hurt me because He is with me.
Another example of “pestering" is that the light that I once thought to be "God" now is more like an entity which I can only at best describe as being made of light and electricity. When it approaches me it is usually because I have been doing something that weakens my defenses. It's still hard for me to say what weakens my defenses. One thing would be not dedicating enough time to prayer. Another thing would being with someone who has a lot of demonic disturbances. Or not being able to go to Mass or sit in front of the Blessed Sacrament. I'm still not a confirmed Catholic but just being present at Mass seems to have the effect of protecting me against these attacks and it makes me feel clearer.
It's no guarantee though. This electricity/light "thing" also brings with it the beeping sound in my ears. Once it appears around me it's hard for me to bar its entry. But the "possession" seems to be getting less severe each time. It's still very annoying to have this happening to me. I know it's because I have been unfaithful to God because I have broken the first commandment. Something a lot worse could have happened to me. But still I am very tired of having this situation in my life. At least I think I can identify this demon as a Kundalini demon. It is also quite similar to demons of impurity that I can see around some people. Because it has light in it it's easy to mistake it for something good.
So, be warned! Stay away from yoga! It can seem innocent. You might say that you are only doing some physical movements. They might bring you a sense of peace and of physical comfort. But they are in fact meant to open you up to forces that are completely beyond you.
The same goes for chakra work. Please don't do it. We aren't meant to open up these psychic centers. I know that by doing these kinds of esoteric practices I was looking for fulfillment. I was trying to heal from difficult emotions. I was trying to get hold of hidden knowledge. This is playing with fire. Opening chakras is like saying to demons: please come in.
All the physical yoga postures work on your chakras. Of course, yoga will make you feel relaxed and well. It will tone your body. Opening your chakras may give you some nice experiences in the beginning. You might get a sense that you are clearing blockages and that the "energy" is flowing more freely than before. This happened to me. I know it happens to many other people. But I guess that since I was so diligent in my practice and I went so deeply into it, I got to see the end goal of these practices. Which is dark.
The good news is that Christ saves. He literally saved me out of a burning house.
And the attacks are getting weaker. It’s like they’re doing their worst but still it’s a lot weaker than before and I’m less intimidated by it. Thanks be to God! And at least I'm aware of it. I think all of this different "stuff" must have been there in me before I got that main massive attack which made me "sensitive" to all the demonic stuff going on in myself and in others. So it's a grace that I am aware of it and that I know that prayer and faith is the main remedy. I look forward to being able to receive the sacraments too. I think that will make a big change for me. But especially since I started to receive prayers of exorcism over me my situation has improved a lot.
It was actually while reading a book about the apparitions in Medjugorje - I was just leafing though it in a Christian bookstore- that I had my first proper conversion experience. I had a very brief but significant encounter with our Blessed Mother. Later on I found a Miraculous Medal just lying on the floor in my work place. I wasn't sure who this Miraculous Medal belonged to, as I was in a restaurant and it might have belonged to one of the customers. Although I was completely sure it was meant for me, I gave it away. But immediately after that I did research online in order to find out which medal it might have been. I found a description of it and I read that it was called "the Miraculous Medal". I had never heard about it before. I went to the local Catholic church and I found it there again. They were giving them away for free. I put it around my neck, and I'm still wearing it.
As for my moment in the bookshop it literally only lasted for a moment, but it was a very significant experience for me. As I was reading about Mary's words about fasting in the book about Medjugorje what could only be described as a "flash" of blue and someone speaking very clearly into my soul: the way of self-sacrifice and of not seeking your own gain and not seeking your own fulfillment in terms of worldly goods and pleasures - that is the only way forward. She seemed to tell me that I was too selfish and that this was the main reason for my unhappiness. It was a very clear message. I recognized it as the truth (although there was a sharpness and a directness in the message that was a bit challenging to me). It was like my soul knew this was the only answer. In a way I also realized that this must be the Christian way of life. And that this way of life is the only way forward for me. It took a long while (about two years) for me to discover this path, as I was still deeply into my yoga and other New Age practices. I'm still learning about being less selfish and about self-sacrifice. It's not easy.
Over the years I had experienced Jesus’ presence in various subtle ways - sometimes very strongly. I wasn't able to see at that time that the yoga practices were contrary to Him. I believed in Him in the way most new age practitioners do and in the way that he was presented to me through the tradition of yoga. I'm sorry to say He is seen there as only as one of many enlightened masters.
My mind was still clouded by all the yoga philosophy and the New Age books, so it took a while before I was able to understand who He is and how much He loves us. I was baptized into the Catholic Church as an 8-year-old, but the baptism was never followed up with proper catechesis or first communion, and I didn't attend Mass. Somehow the baptism must have protected me. I actually believe it helped me finally to see through the illusions of the "light" and the other spiritual experiences I had. It prevented me from going even deeper into the occult.
One cannot practice yoga without essentially worshipping something else than God and that leads to the demonic. This is my experience with it. Although I am still bothered by the tinnitus and bad demonic attacks and oppressions, I'm on my way to a life that is much more righteous, peaceful and happy. And I'm so grateful for that. I don't wish upon anyone to have encounters with the demonic.
I know now that I am really on the path that leads to Truth. And it's so different from being on a path that only pretends to be the truth, but that only leads to desolation. I feel that I am being led by the Holy Spirit. I know that I am loved in a way that I didn't before. I can read passages in the Bible and feel that they are speaking to me in a very personal way. I am also drawn to things that won't show results straight away but that are good for the soul. Such as going to therapy, learning things that can benefit others. To choose things that lead to a good future. To be in for the long haul, to develop patience, humility and to cultivate wisdom is something that I didn't really know much about before. Now these things resonate with me.
The main difference from before is that I am much happier. When I pray I often get answers - both on the material and on the spiritual level. Emotionally I am healing. It's taking time. It's a slower process in a way. The choices I make lead to a much more wholesome lifestyle. I have to admit weakness and limitations. I am no longer trying to be a "super-person" or searching to be something "special". The answers to my prayers can sometimes lead me to a place in which I have to admit that I can't move on further without God's help. To face the truth can sometimes be difficult. I used to be scared of just being a "normal " person but now this is all that I want. To be humble, normal. A good person. To learn to serve God and neighbor. I guess it's a call to holiness and I need help every step of the way. Every Christian is called to holiness. I find it so beautiful that a lot is asked of us.
So I have a lot of hope too, even though not all days are easy. But I didn't use to have this level of hope before. Now I know that someone is looking after me constantly. And as I have been reading the Bible and going to Mass I keep hearing that God wants to have a personal relationship with me, and with everyone. This is so different from the yoga where God was just this impersonal "energy".
Lastly I would like to add that I do not mean any disrespect towards people who practice yoga or who are in the New Age movement. Most people there are searching for truth and for God very earnestly. It's easy to go astray. You just go for a yoga lesson and you get some beneficial effects and that can make you want to delve deeper into it. But if you really get into it, like I did, it very soon gets sour and it feels like one is walking in a circle. Suddenly it doesn't feel so great anymore. And it's easy to think that one just needs to meditate more and do more yoga practices in order to get the good effects from it again. Suddenly you stop really living your life. It's all about the practices and you isolate yourself and gradually the demonic takes you over. You lose your happiness. Like a drug that seemed to give you life now takes away your life.
It's never too late to turn around. But, in my experience, it is much better never to get started. You won't find the truth there although it will look a lot like it. Many of the experiences I had were quite similar to the real thing, but it cannot compare with it. You won't find anything holy there. If you want holiness and wholeness, turn to the true God.
If you are further interested on the topic of Yoga with respect to Catholicism, Susan Brinkman has written a number of Blogs entries on the subject. Click the button below to read more.