One of my primary hobbies these days is fitness. I exercise nearly daily for a number of reasons, which include better health for my family, myself, and not the least is I feel great throughout the day compared to when I slack off for more than a few days. Within my exercise program, I use the P90X system by Beachbody. One of the workouts of P90X is yoga. It involves exercises that help to increase flexibility, improve coordination, and strengthen various muscle groups. I do more yoga than what the P90X program specifies, because I feel the positive results of it in all my other exercises and overall health.
This past week, I mentioned to two people I supervise at work that I practiced yoga regularly. Initially they did not believe me, because on first glance I likely do not seem to be a person who would do yoga. Then once they decided I told them the truth, they stated emphatically I needed to stop doing yoga to prevent Satan from entering my mind. Initially, I thought they were not serious, because we often joke around. They went on to explain that whenever I did yoga, the techniques I used allowed for the mind to be open, and this allowed Satan to enter it, and the poses I did put my body in an alignment similar to some Hindu goddess. I could not believe what I heard! My surprise was not that I suddenly learned Satan was free to enter my mind, but rather that people would actually believe that sort of nonsense. The two individuals who told me this information are fairly religious or were raised that way, but they are from two different religious faiths, one of whom is of the same Christian denomination in which I was raised.
Subsequently, I called my wife and told her the jewel of information revealed unto me. Her response was an extremely quizzical “Whaaaaat?” That confirmed it for me. My wife and I were raised as children under the same Christian faith, but her family environment was more conservative than mine. If she had never heard of the alleged association of yoga and the opening of the mind to Satan, then this probably was not mainstream religious thought, and perhaps not even moderate-conservative ideology. This was further confirmed after she posted my encounter on Facebook. She had many responses, most of which were similar in response to ours, but a few supported the notion of the two people at my work.
While I do not write here to criticize those people outright, it did get me to think more about how the way in which people are raised strongly influences what people believe. This is true in spite of how counter the ideas are to mainstream or even conservative society. In a sense, widely disparate beliefs to mainstream or conservative patterns of thought are forms of extremism, whether or not those beliefs result in harm to others or not. Unfortunately, religious and racial extremism serve as nearly every culture’s greatest social threats. Most of the deadliest wars in history resulted from similar sources of extremism.
Today, we deal with extremists like al-Qaeda terrorists, neo-Nazi groups, and many other religious and ethnic extremist organizations and individuals. People associated with these groups kill, rape, and plunder all in the name of God or their racial superiority. To them, their actions are justified, because those who will gain the glory of God will not be in the mainstream. Instead, those who hold truth must be martyrs for God, and counter to common belief. Their extremist beliefs are justified because it meets what they view as the intent of God.
It is unfortunate these extremists do not attempt to truly understand the other side. Their beliefs are so inflexible and they are entrenched so deeply within their ideology that they never can experience the richer side of life. This life enjoys the friendships among Blacks, Whites, Hispanics, Asians, Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and many more. We grow up with a set of beliefs, experiences and instructions about how life is according to our parents and the relatively small world within which we are raised. We soon realize we are not alone, and there many more cultures and beliefs, some that challenge our own way of thinking. We can choose to never get to know these people and appreciate the way in which they think, or we can expand our horizons and choose to accept others and their beliefs as an alternate, but still valid way of life.
As for yoga and the odd belief that it opens the mind to Satan, I will accept it as a valid belief held by some, because I do not find it harmful to others. I will comment that it is an odd belief, and demonstrates a total misunderstanding of the purpose and the health benefits of yoga. If you want to fill your mind with lots of talk, thoughts and fear of evil and Satan, then church is probably the best place for those mind opening experiences. Outside of church I do not think Satan is really talked about much in general conversation. Satan is definitely not on my mind whenever I do yoga.
The simple fact is no single person, faith or cultural group is right all of the time. Nobody holds the single truth of deities, life and our place in the universe. My hope is for people to expand their minds more in their lives, and not open them to the darkness of extremism in any form.