It is practiced by many in America. Courses on Yoga are in most every city being offered in schools, colleges, health clubs, YMCA's, and new age churches.
Most westerners are naive to the religious origin and nature of yoga. Many practitioners who do, merely presume that the exercises are harmless if they are not practiced with a spiritual intent.
Yoga is a series of exercises and postures (asanas) which are advertised as a way to tone up, reduce stress and experience tranquility.
Yoga though is an intrinsic part of Hinduism. Swami Vishnudevananda, well known authority of Yoga, in his book The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga explains the purpose of Yoga, "It is the duty of each developed man to train his body to the highest degree of perfection so that it may be used to pursue spiritual purposes... the aim of all yoga practice is to achieve truth wherein the individual soul identifies itself with the supreme soul of God."
Hinduism, as do most new age groups, teaches that the ultimate reality is consciousness or energy (God-Brahman). Each individual soul (Atman) has seven energy deposits known as chakras or meridians in his body along the spinal column.
The yoga positions are designed to align these chakras, for the energy to merge with the ultimate cosmic energy and to experience "Atman is Brahman."
There are various schools or forms of yoga: Karma Yoga (spiritual union through right conduct); Bhakti Yoga (union with the Absolute by devotion to a guru); Juana or Gyana Yoga (access to God through esoteric knowledge); and Raja Yoga (God-realization through mental control).
Two of the more controversial styles of yoga are kundalini (the arousal of the serpent force at the base of the spine) and tantra yoga which is violent sexual practices.
One subdivision of Raja Yoga is hatha yoga. This is the most popular form being practiced today in the West. Hatha Yoga is divided into eight stages: (1) body purification; (2) postures; (3) mudras (postures that produce psychic/prana/chi energy); (4) breath control; (5) stilling the mind; (6) concentration; (7) meditation; (8) union with God-Shiva (Ibid).
The word yoga is sanskrit meaning union or yoking with the God consciousness. In case anyone is confused about whether Hatha Yoga is religious, in the book ?Hatha Yogao by Swami Sivananda Radha, is written, "When most people in the West think of yoga, they think of yoga as a form of exercise. Too often... there are yoga teachers who teach asanas without an understanding of their real nature and purpose. Asanas are a devotional practice which like all spiritual practices, bring us to an understanding of the truth.... Beyond this there also lies a mystical or spiritual meaning. Each asana creates a certain meditative state of mind," (p.xv; emphasis mine).
"Hatha Yoga plays an important part in the development of the human being... the body working in harmony with the mind, to bring the seeker into closer contact with the Higher Self," (Ibid, p.xvii).
"The physical, psychological, and spiritual aspects are of utmost importance and have always been the basis on which various yogas, kundalini and Hatha specifically have been built to achieve the harmonic development of human beings," (Ibid, p. 5).
There are many exercises much more beneficial than yoga. The time has come for Christians to respond with the facts to have this removed from wherever we can.