The Spirit Power in Yoga

Corrina Craft gives a well-written insight into the power behind yoga:

Yoga Conjures a Snake Spirit, Not a Snake Energy

Yoga practitioners attribute metaphysical experiences elicited by yoga to a snake energy. An alternative explanation is that the snake energy is actually a snake spirit. The “uncanny psychophysical effects” of the “phenomenal meta-material power inherent in Yoga”1 is a spirit that attaches to a person through the habitual practice of yoga and operates in a person to produce certain characteristic yogic experiences, from pleasurable and chillaxing, to traumatic and psychotic, to cosmically blitzed. Based on my experience and study of the subject, I am convinced that yoga conjures a snake spirit, not a snake energy. Of course, this explanation rests on the recognition that the spirit realm is real and that spirituality involves the union or yoking of the human spirit with some other spirit. The proposition that a snake spirit is the agent at work in yoga is no more outlandish than the proposition that a snake energy is the agent at work in yoga, accounting for experiences induced by the practice. Both explanations point to metaphysical phenomena that can be discerned. Which perspective you endorse largely depends on whose testimony you believe: yoga philosophy or the Hebrew or Christian Bible.

In my case, while I was still uncertain about the spirit nature of yoga and seeking confirmation from God through prayer and fasting, I had a dream in which a phosphorescent altar and a banqueting table to Hindu deities with a place setting reserved for me appeared in my backyard at night, and a festive dragon or aerial snake flew at me like a comet and rattled its head menacingly, after which I awoke terrified (for details, see “Epic Deliverance”). During the exorcism, a snake spirit manifested on command at the name of Jesus as a full body rush—a titillating, effervescent upsurge of energy erupting like an internal geyser that lit my flesh in a thousand thrilling pin pricks. After this, my face distorted into a snake-like expression as I looked into a full length mirror set up for the purpose of observing such manifestations. Upon cross examination (questioning the spirit aloud about its activities), the snake spirit responded through thoughts injected into my mind. Among many disclosures, it admitted that the chief lie it tells Christians is that yoga is physical and not spiritual; and the chief lie it tells New Agers and Hindus is that they can acquire higher states of consciousness and supernatural powers, which are not—as they suppose—the result of harnessing a spiritual energy, but the machinations of a snake spirit.

My personal experience matches that of others. Later in this chapter I offer for the reader’s consideration and reflection other testimonies about a spirit (or spirits) of yoga that corroborate my own: one is by the late Derek Prince; another is by Mike Shreve; and another is by Jessica Ahner Smith. Because of the controversial nature of the subject (spiritization or demonization in general and spiritization through yoga specifically) and because of the number of Christians and Jews who practice yoga, it is worth taking time to relay these personal stories. They might persuade some that the spiritual influence in yoga is the work of a spirit and not an energy.

But let’s first begin our series of case studies with the story of a woman unanchored to any faith tradition who—under influence of yoga—became an avid spiritual seeker and eventually turned to Hinduism. Her story demonstrates the power of the physical practice of yoga to turn a secular person toward spiritual syncretism and ultimately toward the Hindu philosophy undergirding yoga. Her story also reveals that there is a spiritual personality behind yoga that can call a person into a more heavily invested relationship with itself.

Beth Shaw, American Turned Hindu

Beth Shaw's YogaFit, 3rd ed

Yoga—even gym yoga—can turn a secular person toward Hinduism. Beth Shaw, founder of YogaFit, is a relevant case in point. YogaFit is a major American gym yoga and teacher certification provider. It was once the most secular and western of yoga schools. But now YogaFit reflects the influence of rishi thought or yoga philosophy. Although the certification program still emphasizes the exercise component that made it so popular, the program now delves into religious rites such as chanting the mantra “om” while rubbing mala beads to keep track of the number of repetitions, and meditating eastern style, particularly the novitiate form of one-pointed focus on a single object such as the breath or a yoga pose. Even the “community service” or internship component of certification that requires aspiring teachers to give free yoga lessons in their community is framed as a karma yoga practice of selfless service.2

Beth Shaw

The founder, Beth Shaw, did not start with rishi philosophy. In fact, she originally sold YogaFit on the promise of demystification. Gradually, however, YogaFit became more eastern in its orientation over time, heading back like a boomerang to the land of origin, India, and to the religion of origin, sanatana dharma or Hinduism, considered by Hindu leaders to be the eternal truth that transcends human history and that is the unifying world religion, “indivisible and ultimately nonsectarian”.3 The reason for this boomerang effect back to the land of origin and back to the religion of origin is that even stripped-down gym yoga exudes a spiritual influence. Says Shaw, “My yoga practice led me to become a spiritual seeker. Personal growth workshops, astrology, movement expression—you name it, I did it. I looked under every rock for an answer, a spiritual experience, and a connection.”The YogaFit program now fully embraces yoga doctrine as expounded in the classic yoga treatise, the Yoga Sutras (c. 250 CE), attributed to the sage Patanjali, a mythological snake-man or hybrid being who lived many centuries (such facts are omitted from training, no doubt):5

In 1994, YogaFit was born of an idea to make yoga more accessible to the Western public. In the last 20 years, YogaFit has evolved from a physical practice that introduces poses in the gym to a more holistic practice that includes teachings of the ancient yogic wisdom and lifestyle. YogaFit embraces the eight limbs (called ashtanga in Sanskrit) of classical Indian yoga as the way to explore the self more deeply and find deeper meaning in life.6

The company “now brings groups of students to Rishikesh, […] the birthplace of yoga at the base of the Ganges River in the Himalayas” where Shaw has made pilgrimages regularly since 2008.7


Beth Shaw and Sue in Rishikesh

In her fitness manual, Shaw lists the eight components of classical yoga from the Sutras with all the implications of the Hindu worldview appertaining (YS 2.29): ethical precepts that include veganism as non-violence and sexual abstinence as bodily detachment (YS 2.30); observances of austerities of detachment like exposure to the elements, fasting, enforced motionlessness and silence; religious disciplines like the study of Hindu scriptures and chanting of mantras (YS 2.32); breath control exercises that suspend respiration to suspend the mind (YS 2.49-51); and mind control exercises of sense withdrawal, concentration, and absorption into the transcendent state of samadhi—a spiritually loaded term that Shaw lightens by defining with ambiguous, feel-good modifiers like “connection” and “peace” that do not specify with whom or with what the practitioner connects (“the universe” = Brahman) or precisely what the nature or essence of this peace is (“to transcend the ego” = dissolution of the self).8

The Yoga Sutras to which Shaw subscribes describe samadhi as the cessation of thought, the voiding and vacuity of the mind, and the emergence of the state of “Absolute Consciousness Established in Its Own Self,” in yoga parlance, Cosmic Consciousness (YS 4.34).9 In Shaw’s manual, however, she generally leaves the identity of the “Divine” (which god? which nature?) open to interpretation, presumably to make her program as accessible (and unobjectionable) as possible. To this effect, Shaw uses the Sutras’ generic designation for a personal divine (“Ishvara” or “Ishwara”) to accommodate different notions of God that her students might entertain: “The guidelines of ishwara-pranidhana [surrender to a personal divine] are surrendering to God, to another higher power, or to the light and energy of the universe”.10 Yet Shaw’s own understanding of personal deity as subordinate to an impersonal universal nature is apparent, and the yoga practice of using personal deity (Ishvara) as a launching pad into the universal is apparent. Shaw cannot help but privilege the Hindu worldview as truth and reality because that is what she has come to believe:

Ishwara-pranidhana [surrender to the divine] is about your relationship to the divine energy of the universe. Everyone has a way to surrender to spirit and celebrate the universal connection.11

Shaw’s teaching is basic yoga philosophy overlaid with a western framework. The YogaFit program is like an Indian guru dressed in medical scrubs or business suit and tie, adding a western interpretive spin on what is clearly Hindu doctrine and/or practice. Medieval Tantric theory of metaphysical energy is explained in terms of western anatomy physiology: chakras or energy wheels are “nerve ganglia”; the Hindu concept of maya or illusion is downplayed as the unfortunate mistake of thinking you are in sum total your body; eastern style meditation is presented as a de-stress or relaxation therapy that lessens autonomic nervous system arousal and upgrades your biochemical profile; yogic yoking or union is defined as “bringing together or balancing the body and mind” into a harmonious whole, but no mention is made of the primary definition of yoga as union or yoking of the individual with the Hindu divine; and so forth. Although much yoga philosophy in Shaw’s presentation is submerged in humanist ideals and anatomy physiology, it peeks through: “Meditation is a wonderful way to […] stay in touch with your eternal essence”; meditation is a way to “tame your mind” and “stay centered”, to “slip into a state of awareness and being” and track with “inner peace”, a peace that emanates from your “bliss layer (anandamaya kosha)”, a subtle layer of being based on the Tantric construct of gross and subtle layers of the body and mind known as “sheaths” (italics mine).12

The evolution of YogaFit and its founder Beth Shaw illustrate the spiritual power inherent in yoga, though it appears to be just exercise. That power can change the trajectory of a person’s life: it certainly did Shaw’s. That power seems to have hand-picked Shaw as its representative at a time when she was a gym enthusiast with a background in swimming, running, aerobics, and tennis before she got heavily immersed in yoga.13 Consider the following brief account about Shaw’s spiritual call to yoga:

YogaFit with Weights

One day while stretching (yoga) I saw the sky part with a white light, and the message came to me that I would one day be very, very successful in the health and fitness industry.14

Who or what was the messenger Shaw saw, heard or felt? There is no speech, text or other form of communication apart from a being who communicates at the other end of the line; a message is always given by a messenger, and the more personal the message, the more personal the messenger is or wants to be. The message Shaw got was very personal: it was about her future; it was about success. No doubt she interpreted the message as a prediction, but it was not a prediction: it was a proposal. It was not a foregone conclusion; she had to accept the offer and come into agreement with the one making the offer. Since the message was spiritual in content, inviting her to walk a path she had not yet considered and predicting what would happen if she did, the messenger also was spiritual. And since the message came to her while she was doing yoga and since it turned her toward yoga philosophy and Hinduism, the messenger was an agent and emissary of yoga and Hinduism, in other words, a spirit of yoga. Not coincidentally, one of the paranormal powers that is a product of yoga practice is “knowledge of the past and the future,” what we would call fortune telling or psychic reading, but what amounts to an invitation or offer or agenda for our lives from the spirit realm that observes and targets us (YS 3.16).15 In Shaw’s case, the encounter was more than an invitation for a one-time spiritual transaction: the spirit caller invited Shaw into a business partnership with itself and offered Shaw success in exchange for her representation.

YogaFit Center

Beth Shaw YogaFit

In the introduction to her manual, Shaw expresses a profound gratitude for physical being, a gratitude she directs toward yoga. She also describes yoga as “the light” and the way to “the light”.16 Her capacity for appreciation of life and movement is beautiful, but did yoga make her? Did yoga give her life? Did yoga design her to move? Is yoga her source? Is the spirit in yoga the life giver of all who live? There is a spirit in yoga. That is the crux of the matter with yoga. Yoga is spiritual all right, but it is not a universalist form of spirituality. In fact, there is no universal spirituality because spirituality depends on a spirit, and a spirit is specific. Yoga fosters a definite kind of spirituality and that is “modern” Hinduism (over 2,500 years old). Yoga is an internal quest for the divine. The “dedicated practice of yoga” is “the path of self realization” in Hinduism.17 Overt proselytization is unnecessary since yoga is communion and has the power to convert:

While many Westerners come to yoga primarily for its health benefits, it seems safe to say that most people who open to yoga will, in time, find its meditative qualities and more subtle effects on the mind and emotions equally (if not more) beneficial. They will, in other words, come to see yoga as a spiritual practice.18

Now if yoga has the spiritual power to turn a spiritually non-committed or secular person like Shaw toward Hinduism, what kind of influence does it exert on a nominally committed or zealously committed Christian or Jew? Could it suppress or hinder the sacred purpose of a Christian or Jew?

Derek Prince (1915-2003), former nominal Anglican

Derek Prince latter years

Derek Prince, a level-headed intellectual by nature, was born to a multi-generational British military family. He studied philosophy at Cambridge University prior to his conversion to Christ in 1945, which was followed by 58 years of ministry as an international Bible expositor. Prince was a logical, no-nonsense, scrupulously honest man, giving him considerable credibility in broaching the subject of preternatural experiences with spirit of yoga. How he acquired this spirit at a time when yoga was relatively unknown and unpopular is an interesting cultural story. Prince was born in Bangalore, India, to a father who served as an officer in the British Army in Colonial India during WWI. His parents were too busy to raise him, so as was customary, they handed him over to an Indian Ayah—a caretaker and nurse—who was Hindu.19

Years later, Prince realized that by the time he was two years old, this woman’s influence over his life, which far exceeded his parents’, opened him up to spirits of Hinduism and yoga. He also realized that as a young child, these spirits manifested in him as a continual internal “Parliament” or discussion in the plural “we” form: “Shall we do this? Shall we do that?” The inoculation with these spirits as a child predisposed him years later to study Hinduism and practice yoga. As an adult, he became “deeply involved in yoga” despite yoga’s obscure and suspect status at the time. Prince describes himself as being “about one generation ahead” of the popular quest for truth in “fashionable Oriental cults and systems”.20

In retrospect, Prince also realized that his involvement in “meditational and positional yoga” became “a tremendous invisible barrier” to understanding the redemptive work of Christ. Despite his scholarly intellect and exposure to the gospel through mandatory attendance at the Anglican Church while studying at Cambridge, he could not grasp the significance of Christ’s atoning sacrifice for the remission of sins or its relevance to him personally because of yoga: “I could acknowledge Jesus as a guru, but not as the Son of God”. Prince described the influence of yoga as “a power from below” and “a certain kind of supernatural experience” that could not “bridge the gap between the ideal [he had studied in philosophy] and the actual [in other people and himself]” and that was attended by “a grey depression that settled around” him. This “power from below” was broken in part and a mental block to the gospel was dispelled in an encounter with Christ during his service as a hospital attendant in the British Army Medical Corp during WWII.21

Derek Prince in British military during WW2

Derek Prince studying Bible

Prince had brought along a Bible in his Army-issue kit bag, reasoning that it was his “philosophic duty” as an academic to read the one book that was “more widely read and more influential than any other book in human history”. He found the Bible a tough and tedious book, yet the faith of some Christians in Yorkshire where he was stationed made him marvel. He felt as one “suspended between two worlds”. One night in his Army barrack room as he was straining to pray through a barrier, he sensed the presence of an invisible Person he recognized as Jesus Christ. He lost control of what he was saying and repeated over and over, “Unless you bless me, I will not let you go, I will not let you go, I will not let you go…”. While repeating this, Prince was airlifted up off a stool and gingerly deposited backwards on the ground with his hands lifted in the air as he continued to say, “Make me love you more and more and more and more…,” effusive sentiments totally out of character for a stoic Brit.22

Prince describes the power that airlifted him as “Power from on high,” coming from the invisible Person in the room that countered “the power from below that I had been in contact with many times” through Hinduism and yoga. Something in his innermost being broke loose, and a knot dissolved; sobs erupted from the pit of his stomach, and unclean debris flowed out of him as his whole body shook for half an hour: “It was as though unknown, evil forces were being flushed out of my body by this strange, mysterious river of power.” Then the sobs turned to laughter, softly at first, then louder and louder, until he “was sinking in a sea of laughter that was reverberating all around the room,” and he awakened another soldier who was bemused by Prince’s involuntary antics, rollicking around on the floor.23

The next day Prince found himself radically altered. He no longer blasphemed compulsively. On his way to the pub, his legs locked and he lost his craving to drink whiskey, a habit since youth to self-medicate chronic indigestion and to blunt his frustration over the rift between philosophical ideals and the reality of life. He found himself spontaneously thanking God for simple things like water and praying easily and constantly about anything and everything. And Bible reading turned from drudgery to delight overnight:24

The previous day, the Bible had been a baffling, wearisome book that I didn’t understand. The next day, wherever I read in the Bible, it was like this: it was as if there were only two persons in the universe—God and me—and the Bible was God speaking directly to me.25

Through this Christophany—this encounter with the presence and power of Christ in an Army barrack room—a major obstruction from yoga and Hinduism was removed. As a consequence, Prince accepted Christ as Savior, was baptized in the Holy Spirit, received the gift of tongues, and began a long productive career in ministry.

Derek Prince at pulpit

Derek Prince as intellectual

Fast forward. Years later in 1996, toward the end of his life, Prince had a second power encounter, and another obstruction was removed—this time in his relationship with his heavenly Father. He was in bed in the midst of his morning devotionals taking communion with his wife Ruth “when something unexpected” and “very physical began to happen to me”.26 He explains:

I found a power that was moving in my feet, and then in my legs, and then up my body. But at the same time, I was aware of what was like a long arm stretched out from somewhere over my right ear trying to press down a black skullcap on top of my head. It was as if I was caught in a conflict between these two powers. And Ruth [my wife] told me later that my whole body was affected by this struggle. She said, “Your color changed to purple.” […]

Then the power that was in me overpowered the power of this arm that was trying to stretch out the black skullcap and force it on my head. And it was withdrawn, and something happened, and immediately I knew God as my Father. It became totally natural for me to say, “Father.” […]

Now I want you to know that I had the doctrinal knowledge for many years. In fact, I even preached a series of three messages on tape about knowing God as Father. I had all the theory—and it was true; it was correct; there was nothing incorrect or insincere. But what I didn’t have was the experience.

In a gentle and profound way […] knowing the Father has revolutionized my life.27

While the encounter with Christ in his conversion experience had brought Prince great freedom, the release into a child-like relationship with the heavenly Father opened up “a whole dimension of love, intimacy,” security, and simplicity that he had never previously known; his longstanding  strenuous exertion to achieve and maintain success was replaced by rest in “the bosom of the Father”.28

Prince believes that the skullcap-wielding arm was the spirit of “an Indian god,” but he declined to disclose which god, possibly because he did not want to dignify it by mention, but mainly because he did not want to violate the Biblical injunction not to take the name of another god on his lips (his interpretation of scripture on this point is strict; see Ps 16:4; Isa 26:13):29

And I believe it was that Indian god, and I believe I know the name of the god, but I’m not going to give the name because the Bible says don’t use the names of foreign gods. It followed me up through my life through more than 55 years of Christian ministry, but its power and its presence had never been totally excluded.30

Most likely it was Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction and patron deity of yoga and meditation. The relevance of the skullcap to Hinduism is manifold. The least macabre use of the skullcap is as an ornate headpiece placed in ritual ceremony on the head of a statue of Shiva by Shaivite priests.31 Otherwise, the skullcap is generally a bowl-shaped vessel crafted from a human cranium used by ascetic mendicants (sadhus) for begging alms or by Tantric yogis for drinking ritual libations, and especially taboo substances that are thought to hasten liberation from embodied existence precisely because they defile and profane the body and violate sensibilities about the body and respect for bodily existence. In Hindu deity images, the skullcap is filled with human blood. Several Hindu deities are depicted holding a skullcap as a bowl of human blood, namely, Shiva in his fierce or Bhairava form (as if Shiva himself was not fierce enough), and Durga and Kali, consorts of Shiva. Tantric yogis who worship Shiva (such as the Aghoris and Kapalikas) collect dismembered body parts, including skulls, from charnel grounds—known as sky burials—where corpses are strewn in an open field to decay. The bones are used to make various ritual implements (skull cap, skull drum, skull trumpet) and ornaments (crown, necklace, bracelet, armlet, anklet, skirt).32 The purpose of handling implements and wearing jewelry made of human bones is to meditate on the transient nature of bodily existence; to detach from the body and the material realm, which are deemed delusional; and to enact the philosophy of human life as an expendable waste.33

While most Shaivites (Shiva worshippers) do not engage in morbid and perverse practices like these, such practices do comport with Shiva’s persona as a destroyer god whose cosmic role in Hindu mythology is to destroy the universe by fire at the end of each era. Shiva exhibits “necrophilia” (love of death) in myth after myth: by frequenting funeral grounds and smearing himself with the ashes of corpses; by incarnating as a corpse; by dancing with the corpse of Sati (Shiva’s first consort), and so forth. Shiva is sometimes depicted as wearing a garland of human skulls or trampling a corpse underfoot or being trampled underfoot by his consort. Hinduism interprets such motifs of violence, death, and destruction in a salvific way—for instance, cosmic destruction as “purification” and the trampling of corpses underfoot as the crushing of ignorance, forgetfulness, heedlessness, lethargy, apathy, and inertia. Yet Shiva is a destroyer par excellence; yogic meditation is the art of self annihilation; and the tradition of cremation ground asceticism manifests a demonic drive.34 In all likelihood, Shiva is the Hindu god whose spirit Prince was supernaturally set free of.

What is mind-bending about Prince’s second power encounter late in life is that even as a Holy Spirit filled believer who had consecrated himself to holiness and who observed Biblical morality and who functioned in the power of the Holy Spirit to heal many and to deliver many from demons over the course of several decades, he himself had a demonic holdover from his B.C. (before Christ) days that blocked a relationship with the heavenly Father and kept him to some extent stoic (and affection starved) and driven to perform.

Prince’s testimony highlights a number of important points:

  • Hinduism and yoga are closely aligned; Hinduism leads to yoga and yoga to Hinduism.
  • There is supernatural power in Hinduism and yoga that is subtle, beguiling, oppressive, and demonic.
  • Childhood experiences are formative in nature and set the trajectory for adult life.
  • A person can become demonized by exposure to another person who is a carrier of a spirit (or spirits) of yoga and Hinduism, or through the practice or philosophy of yoga.
  • A child is especially vulnerable to receiving a spirit from anyone who has influence or control over the child.
  • A spirit (or spirits) of yoga and Hinduism hinders a person’s ability to comprehend and accept the gospel and blocks attempts to communicate or otherwise connect with Jesus.
  • A spirit (or spirits) of yoga and Hinduism hinders a Christian from relating to God as a heavenly Father and experiencing deep comfort and security.
  • To get free, a person needs spiritual intervention.

Derek Prince deception quote

Demonic hinderance manifests differently in the lives of believers and unbelievers. The primary assignment against believers is to prevent them from living in God’s Presence, moving in God’s Power, and fulfilling their life purpose, which would make them spiritually effective and formidable to rebel powers of darkness. The primary assignment against unbelievers is to prevent them from receiving Christ. One way hindering spirits do this is by creating spiritual confusion about good versus evil, right versus wrong, true versus false, which impairs a person’s ability to discern and exercise good judgment. Other ways are by suppressing or thwarting a person’s capacity to understand the Biblical salvation message, to hear or perceive accurately, to communicate freely, and to make an informed choice in his or her best interest.

Wolf in Sheep's Disguise

In Prince’s case, spirits of Hinduism and yoga were partly to blame for his failure to grasp the gospel, even after years of exposure to Christian doctrine through obligatory attendance at an Anglican church. The Church was also to blame for majoring on formalities and minoring on God’s presence and power:35

I went to church as an Anglican for about 20 years, never found any supernatural power in the church and decided that I’d have to look somewhere else for it. And I went to philosophy and oriental cults, yoga, Buddhism, and all sorts of things. And I became a practicing yogi for a short time. I got into the supernatural, but it was the Devil’s supernatural, and when I later wanted to come to Christ, the greatest barrier between Christ and me was not the sins I had committed, but the fact that my mind was imprisoned and captivated with the teaching of yoga. And it took a divine deliverance to set me free before I could really believe in Jesus Christ. You see, whatever you go to for supernatural help or power or understanding that is not the true God is a false god: it’s a demon.36

Although Prince was a church goer in his youth, he had never experienced the presence and power of Christ to transform him personally. What he experienced was a Christian cultural tradition—an institutionalized form of Christianity—and not a vibrant relationship with Christ, not the comfort and security of a heavenly Father. As a 15-year-old, Prince despised institutional Christianity as “a harmless occupation for old ladies of both sexes” and “a crutch with which weak-minded people hobble through life”. He refused to be confirmed, but his father (who was not the least bit devout) insisted on confirmation as the cultural norm: “All the boys are being confirmed. You will be confirmed”. So Prince practiced perfunctory religion: he did not know God in a personal way, and he did not know God’s power to redeem his personality.37

Derek Prince faith works quote

Traditional, cultural Christianity and Judaism or dead religion is one major reason why some Christians and Jews can practice yoga without feeling the least bit conflicted or uneasy. They have a form of godliness but deny its power (2 Tim 3:5 NKJV). Deception is another major reason, and this can affect even earnest and zealous believers. But dead religion is why (to quote the American Yoga Association):

Many American Yoga Association students who have practiced Yoga intensively for many years continue to follow the religious traditions they have grown up in or adopted without conflict.38

Religious tradition devoid of the presence and power of God does not conflict with yoga; it yields to yoga. In fact, the spiritual vacuity of religious tradition is a good reason and incentive to seek spiritual presence and power elsewhere, as in yoga. This is what happened to Prince until he had two power encounters, one with Christ and the other with the heavenly Father.

Derek Prince tombstone

Now let’s turn to a story of a man who was raised Catholic who got into yoga.

Mike Shreve, former Catholic

Mike Shreve at Side Roth's TV studio

Mike Shreve was a devoted Roman Catholic into his early teens. As an altar boy, he was involved in the ceremonies of Catholicism but never had “a real encounter with God”. He then began to question the exclusive claims of Christ and of Christianity, as for example:39

And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ Whom You have sent.—John 17:3 NKJV

I am the way, the truth, and the life: No man comes to the Father except through Me.—John 14:6 NKJV

All who ever came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.—John 10:8-9 NKJV

For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.—1 Timothy 2:5 NKJV

Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved [other than Jesus Christ].—Acts 4:12 NKJV

Deeming the “one way” doctrine too insular, restrictive, and unaccommodating for teeming humanity, Shreve abandoned Catholicism for hedonism until college when he almost died and felt his soul slipping away and “passing into a very ominous, pulsating darkness” for which he felt “totally unprepared”. After being confronted by his own mortality, he quit partying and dropped out of academia and any career prospect—all of which seemed trivial in light of his life purpose. Through an Edgar Cayce group that heretically bent the Lord’s prayer into a shoehorn for eastern mysticism, Shreve began sampling alternative spirituality until he settled on Sikhism (semi-deconstructed Hinduism) and specifically, Yogi Bhajan’s Kundalini Yoga.40

Shreve helped to set up an ashram (a religious commune) for Bhajan in Daytona Beach, Florida, where yogis passed their days meditating, chanting, studying Hindu scriptures, and practicing hatha yoga exercises and breath control. During this time, Shreve experienced a profound tranquility and had astral excursions (disembodied trips into an immaterial plane of existence) and technicolor dreams, which raised his hope that he was detaching from the material realm. He relocated to Tampa, Florida, to teach extracurricular yoga classes to hundreds of students at four universities. At his students’ behest, he founded an ashram, and at the apogee of his meditative outings, he felt “absorbed into white light” and “had the distinct impression that [his] soul exited [his] body” and “was drawn into a very intense and timeless radiance”.41

Mike Shreve illustration

At this time, the Tampa Tribune published an article about Shreve and his Kundalini Yoga beliefs. The article was cut out as a most wanted ad and posted on the bulletin board of a fervent Christian prayer group: Shreve was on the hit list for rotations of daily fasting and prayer. In the group was a man Shreve had admired from a distance, “one of the most advanced students of yoga in the Tampa area” who baffled and scandalized the yoga community when he forsook all to follow Jesus. Within a few weeks of prayer rounds, a college buddy of Shreve’s who had also dropped out to study yoga under a different guru wrote Shreve that he had been radically converted after walking into a church and hearing an audible voice say, “Jesus is the only way!” He told Shreve point blank, “You’ll never find ultimate peace through yoga and meditation. You have to go through the cross. Jesus is the way to eternal life.” Shreve balked inwardly at the “immature religious mindset” of the “lesser path,” but politely congratulated his friend and countered with “All religions are different paths to the same God”.42

Mike Shreve newspaper article

Shreve hoped that would end it, but the letter gnawed on him until he admitted that he had never given Jesus a proper chance to prove Himself. So he decided to dedicate one day to Jesus—barring the obligatory yoga class he had to teach. Instead of his usual ashram routine, he spent the day reading the Gospel of John and the book of Revelation, praying and inviting Jesus to confirm Himself as Savior. As he hitchhiked to his yoga class, a Christian who had other plans that day and who never picked up hitchhikers was prompted by the Holy Spirit to forgo his plans and take a different route and pick up Shreve. Shreve’s heart bolted as he climbed into the van: there was the man—the former yogi he admired—and a “large picture of Jesus taped to the ceiling of the van”. Shreve was so shocked by this sign that he was ready to commit instantly—under one proviso—that the “disturbing doctrinal issues” of Biblical Christianity be settled once and for all. Shreve raised objection after objection, and every time, the man offered Jesus instead: “Don’t worry about that! Just try Jesus!” Finally, Shreve relented and opted to try Jesus rather than get congruence with his eastern world view.43

Mike Shreve as hippie

In retrospect, Shreve realized that apologetics—a reasoned argument justifying Christianity—not only would have flopped, but repelled him to boot. Why? Because god as “an impersonal cosmic energy or life force” cannot be reconciled with God as a personal Savior and “heavenly Father” (1 Tim 4:1). More significantly, the yoga doctrine that he believed was not just a doctrine of men, but a doctrine of spirits, and these spirits were hostile to biblical truth. Shreve had become demonized through yoga and the guru-disciple relationship:44

Though I was unaware of it at the time, when I studied yoga, I came under the influence of a counterfeit spiritual power that was not the true power of God. This passed to me from the guru under whom I studied [Yogi Bhajan].45

Without a doubt, during the out-of-body experiences I had during long periods of yogic meditation, I was actually overtaken by demonic beings that granted me false experiences of the supernatural world.46

The “serpent power” unleashed in meditation is not the power of the Holy Spirit, nor is it merely the latent power of the soul. It is a power even gurus admit can be very destructive to the yoga practitioner.47

These demons were active in Shreve when he was considering Jesus and being prayed for and witnessed to. Their doctrine was in the foreground of his perspective, like a visual obstruction blocking his view of anything beyond. Their way of thinking had long steered Shreve’s thought processes and would have hindered his understanding and decision-making: he would not have been a free agent to head in a new direction. Given the opportunity, they would have insinuated themselves as third party interference into any discussion between Shreve and the man who invited him to accept Jesus. Any argument about doctrine would have triangulated the man, Shreve, and the demons in Shreve who would have spoken to Shreve’s mind in the first person as “I think; I believe; I know,” suggesting their ideas as his ideas. Demons enmesh themselves in the human personality and eclipse truth with their own world view.

To read Shreve’s testimony, click this link:

Now let’s consider a young woman who abandoned her childhood affection for Jesus and got embroiled in yoga and the New Age for a good long while.

Jessica Ahner Smith, Evangelical Pentecostal

Jessica Ahner Smith2

Jessica Ahner Smith was raised “half Christian”: her mother practicing and her father non-practicing. Her mother took her to a Foursquare (evangelical, pentecostal) church until junior high, and after that a Christian Missionary Alliance church.48 Jesus was her childhood love, her God-friend, the one in whom she confided and found solace long before she became a shrewd, skeptical, self-determined young woman. But as her feeling and reasoning capacity grew, she began to chafe against strictures and ask hard questions about the moral imperatives of the Bible; she became more and more dissatisfied with “because” answers un-buttressed by explanations. So in high school she began to trade in her moral standards for pleasure and popularity, and by college, she took pleasure in scandalizing Christians. However, the abrupt death of a friend exposed the instability of her convictions and her troubled eschatology: she agonized over the final destiny of her friend’s soul, an agony that drove her—through a demonic setup that God allowed—to sample spiritism, an occult practice condemned by the Mosaic law. The relative who served as a medium for the deceased friend impressed Smith with details about the manner of death (a motorcycle accident) and mimicked her friend’s communication style. This supernatural knowledge was accompanied by an intense euphoria and “rushing wave” of energy shooting up from her feet through her body. The insider’s information and sensational sensations convinced Smith that she had stumbled upon another dimension of life far better than her own.49

After this life altering, metaphysical power encounter, Smith began browsing the Metaphysics and New Age sections of bookstores and meditating eastern style (emptying the mind) to develop the skill of openness to communicate with the spirit realm. The Biblical injunctions against necromancy she dismissed as materially corrupted portions of the Bible. One interest led to another, and she wound up sojourning in India—the epicenter of eastern mysticism—to attend a traditional yoga teacher training program where she learned to “yoke” herself with the “universal godhead […] said to be the ultimate source of creation and perfect state of being”.50

Returning as a certified yoga teacher and master level Reiki healer (Reiki is a form of energy medicine in which the practitioner channels a putative universal energy out of the palms and inscribes occult symbols in the air over a recipient), Smith planned to open a yoga, meditation, and Reiki center. However, a turbulent relationship with a young man exposed her emotional volatility despite frequent meditations and professions of pacifism. The strain of the relationship precipitated an eruption of demonic forces she had invited into herself through an eclectic array of occult practices from Tarot card reading to astrological charting to crystal bowl meditations and from a slinky panther spirit animal to spirit guides such as the Buddhist bodhisattva Tara and various (fallen) angels.51

Several disturbing, paranormal incidents triggered by altercations with her boyfriend convinced Smith that she was harboring malevolent guests. First, she felt driven against her own better judgment to follow a suicidal directive to drown in the ocean, which her boyfriend intercepted and averted. Somehow Smith had opened herself up to a spirit of death. Whether the spirit of death had attached to her during her introduction to necromancy (consulting the dead) or during a near drowning incident in Costa Rica or through yogic meditation, which is a form of self annihilation, or whether it was empowered by all of these incidents is uncertain: what is certain is that the thoughts of escaping through death escalated in frequency and intensity after she returned from India:52

I would have strange, totally spontaneous, and surprising random thoughts of the sweet relief that dying might bring. […] These thoughts would fly in randomly, and at the strangest times: While having a glass of wine with friends, it would happen: “Man, what’s the point? It would be great to sink into nothingness and leave this body behind. I’m just so….done…with this planet.”53

In the second incident, Smith had an experience that she refers to as a dance with death. She became so disgusted with her life that she sank involuntarily into a catatonic stupor while lying on a bed and detached to the point of life ebbing out of her; she lost control of basic motor functions, including the ability to track with her eyes and squeeze with her hand; she became swallowed up in “numbness”—a bottomless disinterest in life. During this incident, she was “aware of a presence in the upper right corner of the room”. Her boyfriend likewise sensed a supernatural presence and became alarmed, preventing her from checking out through his pleading.54

At her mother’s behest, Smith and her boyfriend sought counseling with a Christian couple under the condition that the counselors not proselytize, a stipulation that Smith herself set. While there, however, she felt such an acute yearning for Jesus that she diplomatically fired all of her spirit guides, thanking them for their help over the years and informing them that from now on she would only work with Jesus as her spirit guide. This summary dismissal of other spirits in her life, her genuine remorse for slighting Jesus over the years, and her contemplation of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, precipitated a third incident at her apartment, in which she was overcome with self loathing and hostility toward humanity and began to maul herself with her fingernails, after which an eerie and ominous presence rolled into the room, a terror overshadowed her, and she was flapped about in a series of involuntary, convulsive movements and vocal utterances: lurching forward at a table, retching, and hissing repeatedly. As she observed her abdomen contract in a “typical hurling motion” to expel or “vomit” one entity after another, she suddenly realized that all of the energies and spirits she had entertained over the years were actually demons that were now enraged by her breach of contract with them. She also realized that all of her New Age protocols of protection were vain. Finally, she realized—thunderstruck—that all Biblical injunctions were valid, only she now knew the reason why—a reason nobody else had been able to explain to her: the reality of evils spirits and their attachment to outlawed practices. Smith shut down the process, sensing that at least one (if not more) powerful demon/s remained.55

The Shattering

To buy Smith’s book, click this link:

Smith arranged for a full scale deliverance at the Christian couple’s ranch after purging her apartment of all contact objects associated with other spiritual paths. Before heading out, she phoned to ask whether the deliverance would be finished in time for her to teach her gym yoga class. The husband warned her that her life would be in jeopardy if she kept that commitment, so she resigned her teaching position without understanding what the big deal was about gym yoga, a form of yoga that in her estimation was stripped of the most important spiritual elements—the chanting of mantras and meditation. At the ranch, the wife probed for the identity of any remaining spirit, and Smith heard the word “Serpent”. Suddenly, Smith made a series of disturbing connections: the special type of breathing she had practiced in yoga was a “super intensified” low sibilant sound as that of a snake (ujayi); the special type of energy that yoga roused was called kundalini or serpent energy; and the Bible portrays Satan as a serpent who deceives humanity. Was this all coincidental? She thought not: “these facts struck me in a very strong and disturbing way”. During deliverance, Smith’s body spontaneously performed several involuntary, automatic movements: her fingers formed several yogic gestures (mudras) related to yogic meditation and her right arm executed the opening moves of the Sun Salute, a series of yoga poses that form the axis of the practice. Following each of these mechanical executions, her chest lurched forward, her arms flung backward, and she “hiss-vomited another release,” marking the eviction of two more demons—one associated with mudras and the other with the Sun Salute.56

After deliverance, Smith noticed several dramatic changes: she no longer felt an aversion for the name of Jesus or scorn for Christian music; she became sensitized to spiritual defilement in American culture—media and entertainment and certain words and jokes—about which she previously had been indifferent or enjoyed; and she developed a voracious hunger for the Bible and a conviction to accept it wholesale without compromise. Nobody could have convinced her that there was something wrong with her spiritual path or her “peaceful and loving work,” and especially Reiki and yoga: she needed a demonic jack-in-the-box to startle her. Perhaps the most arresting realization that emerged from the upheaval of her understanding of life is that pleasant and agreeable emotions and physical sensations that accompany a practice do not validate and legitimize a practice since demons can induce such experiences. Smith’s truth grid shifted from soul and body based forms of validation to Biblical doctrine after the veil was lifted to the spirit realm.57

About yoga, Smith realized two things: first, that the physical aspect of yoga is “only a tiny sidebar,” and that yoga is fundamentally a “spirit-ual practice” no matter how it is presented: “all forms of yoga are spiritual, and all have spiritual effects,” including gym yoga. Second, since the practitioner’s “intention is irrelevant,” yogic spirituality is not interchangeable or replaceable: you cannot just “plug in” Jesus or the God of Abraham in the place of Shiva or Vishnu or Brahman because yoga poses are in themselves “acts of homage (or worship) to the gods associated with each pose or movement”. Dedicating the pagan practice of yoga to the God of the Bible is an act of syncretism or co-worshipping other gods in addition to Jesus or YHWH.58

Comparing Stories

Jessica Smith’s story, my story, Mike Shreve’s story, and Derek Prince’s story all corroborate the demonic nature of yoga. Collectively we cover four generations. There are some interesting differences in our experiences, however, that suggest that yoga is demonic no matter how you modify it. Derek Prince practiced yoga as an unbeliever; Mike Shreve and Jessica Smith practiced yoga as former Christians; and I practiced yoga as a Christian. Prince, Shreve, and Smith all practiced traditional Hindu forms of yoga, whereas I practiced an ostensibly demystified, westernized, secularized form of yoga in public venues, and devotional yoga to Jesus in the privacy of my own home. All of us got demonized. This suggests that non-Hindu forms of yoga—gym yoga, Christian yoga, and Jewish yoga—are not really non-Hindu, but covert Hinduism disguised as a great workout or Abrahamic worship. This means that Christians and Jews who practice gym yoga, Christian yoga, or Jewish yoga are unwittingly engaging in dual communion with dissimilar divines: the Hindu divine and the Biblical divine.

The demonic assignments against us were similar but different: for Prince, a spirit of yoga tried to prevent him from receiving Christ by making the gospel incomprehensible to this intelligent, Cambridge educated scholar of philosophy and by confounding his attempts to pray to God. For Shreve and Smith, a spirit of yoga radically misdirected their lives for a season and turned them into public relations representatives for Hinduism. For me, a spirit of yoga exerted a subtle oppressive influence and prevented me from living in God’s presence, moving in His power, and fulfilling my life purpose. There were other consequences as well, too numerous to recount here, except one ironic one: I suffered back pain and squirming discomfort in sitting that I managed through yoga. The back pain and restlessness mysteriously disappeared after the demons of yoga and oriental medicine were cast out of me within a week of each other. Afterward, I realized that afflicting spirits can pose as healing arts. I also realized that such spirits physically harass a person to drive a person to practice an Asian healing art for the rest of their lives for relief and that this relief is only a temporary abeyance of harassment and is not true pain management, much less a cure. I also realized that Asian healing arts are the practice of religion in disguise because Asian healing arts are inextricably intertwined with Asian religions: in the case of yoga, Hinduism, and in the case of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Taoism and Chinese shamanism.

The demonic operates differently depending on the spiritual status of the practitioner, but is best summed up as hindrance to the authentic sacred: hindrance to understanding the truth and living the truth as the Bible presents it.

Origin Matters

To the spirit realm, modern yoga—even the kind devoid of overt references to Hinduism—still counts as ritual worship of Hindu beings and the practice of transcendence (which affirms the Hindu Supreme) and therefore attracts a snake spirit. Yoga is a religious ritual whether a Hindu or New Ager practices it, a Christian or Jew, or a humanist or atheist. Yoga does not suddenly become secular just because a humanist practices it or sacred just because a Christian or Jew practices it. If Derek Prince, Mike Shreve, and Jessica Smith acquired a yoga spirit through a traditional Hindu form of yoga, anybody can. If I acquired a yoga spirit through a non-traditional, secularized form of gym yoga in public and Christian yoga in private, anybody can. Evidently, gym yoga is not secular, and Christian yoga is not in sync with Jesus (nor is Jewish yoga in synch with Adonai, by corollary). The spirit realm is no respecter of persons or of personal intent. The practitioner’s intent to worship no god or a different god than the god/s associated with yoga does not matter, at least not to the snake spirit. It seems that the snake spirit recognizes yoga as an invitation and does not require informed consent; the practice itself constitutes consent, regardless of the practitioner’s understanding of the ramifications. This means that those who try to reassign yoga to Jesus, Adonai, or Allah actually wind up in dual communion with their God and the snake spirit.

What is the upshot? Yoga is non-transferable. It cannot be reassigned. This is reducible to spiritual legality: issues of origin, authorship, ownership, possession, and control:

Origin matters.

Origin indicates authorship.

Authorship constitutes ownership. 

Ownership determines rights of possession and control.

Origin is the source of a created work and refers both to its creator (or creators) and the place or context of creation. The creative environment can influence the quality of the created work to some extent, but ultimately the creator determines the nature of his work and designates its purpose. A created work is like its creator because he makes it out of his own being: as an extension of the creator, the created work partakes of the creator’s nature; it may even be patterned after the creator. The creator has authorial command; he alone has authority over his work to determine its use: he owns, possesses, and controls his created work and does with it as he pleases. These facts are extremely important in understanding the spiritual ramifications of yoga.

Yoga was not invented in America as a great workout or as a supplement to monotheistic Abrahamic faiths. That is not its birthplace or creative environment. Yoga was developed in India for the purpose of merging with the Hindu divine. India and Hinduism are its cultural context, a context that is indelibly imprinted in the practice. Yoga retained its primary function of merging with the Hindu divine despite auxiliary functions of fitness and nationalism that were added during the early 20th century to equip Indians for Independence and as an expression of Indian esprit de corps (group spirit).49 Westerners were introduced to yoga through Hindu gurus or disciples of gurus, implicating all practitioners of yoga in guru lineage and spiritual transmission, however remote.

Yoga is not just a human invention, but a spirit creation. It is a collaborative work co-authored by human beings and spirit beings, human beings aspiring to spiritual states and working in conjunction with the spirit realm to elicit those states. Passive yoga or seated meditation was developed by ancient Indian rishis or forest philosophers (c. 600 BCE) to vacate from personal being and vanish into Brahman. Meditation positions facilitate this and hail a spirit that can facilitate this. The repertoire of seated meditation postures was developed over the centuries by yogis; an early record is Vyasa’s list of eleven meditation positions in his commentary (c. 500-600 CE) on Yoga Sutra 2.46.60 Active yoga and its acrobatic posture repertoire was developed later, but also over the centuries: early contributors were medieval Tantric yogis; mid contributors were yogis in the pre-modern period; and late contributors were modern yoga gurus, all of whom worshiped Hindu deities such as Shiva, Vishnu, and Hanuman and who practiced and taught yoga as the path to enlightenment or dissolution of the self into Brahman. All the founders of yoga created yoga by inspiration of spirit and in service to spirit to facilitate an experience hosted by spirit. Yoga is a joint venture between human beings and spirit beings that was co-created by ancient rishis, Tantric and pre-modern yogis, modern yoga gurus, and the spirits operating in and through them. Co-authorship of the practice constitutes co-ownership of the practice, and co-ownership confers mutual rights of possession and control.

Consequently, human beings are not the only parties with a vested interest in the practice. Spirit beings also have a vested interest. Human beings cannot renege the rights of spirit beings because those rights are not theirs to renege. When an uninformed westerner undertakes the practice of yoga, supposing it to be only a health practice, an exercise regimen, or a performing art because that is all she wants out of it, she is gravely mistaken. The spirit realm wants something more and is entitled to more because it furnished ideas and bestowed experiences to human beings that make yoga what it is. Moreover, human beings have entertained and honored spirits through the practice and dedicated the practice to spirits from antiquity to modernity. Biblical bans against offering pagan practices to God confirm the exclusivity of preowned devotional practices. No matter how much a practitioner modifies and adapts the practice to suit herself, removing any elements she deems incompatible or objectionable and substituting others she prefers, the physical practice itself is still identifiable and traceable in origin: spirits recognize what belongs to them, and they will piggyback on the practice, and the practitioner may pick up a few hitchhikers unaware. But most spirits will keep a low profile and not manifest in obvious ways through a dramatic kundalini experience in order to remain undetected and unchallenged.

In all likelihood, there is a principality or spirit ruler over yoga. The Bible reveals that the unseen realm is populated by spirit beings in hierarchical rank of authority. That is true of the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of Satan (and earthly kingdoms as well, for that matter). The Apostle Paul describes the rank ordering of spirit beings in Satan’s kingdom as follows:

For we do not wrestle agains flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in heavenly places.—Ephesians 6:12 NKJV

The word principality, also translated as ruler, is the Greek word arche, which means beginning or origin. It refers to the first person in a series, the leader who commences something, the one by whom something is engendered and comes to be; the agent or active cause of a thing. In the foregoing verse it is applied to fallen angels or demons that are in chief in rank and therefore first in rule or magistracy.61

The designation of a principality or spirit ruler as origin or beginning is a significant piece of information about the identity and job profile or work of the spirit ruler. The title origin or beginning not only refers to the spirit ruler’s status as first and foremost in rank, it also refers to the spirit ruler’s function as a messenger of origins or beginnings, a teacher of philosophy about origins or beginnings. The same word arche is applied in Philippians 4:15 to the “first preaching” of the gospel: “in the beginning [arche] of the gospel” (NKJV). Clearly, the spirit power in yoga preaches a gospel, but it is another gospel, a different gospel than the biblical gospel about God, creation, and mankind, about where you come from, who you are, and where you’re going.62 Yoga philosophy texts preach the gospel of yoga, but so too does the pose system and accompanying practices. Yoga preaches a doctrine of origin or beginning antithetical to the Bible. The Hebrew Bible declares in the very first verse, “In the beginning God created” and goes on to enumerate all the things God created as separate and distinct entities and beings from Himself (Genesis 1). The rest of the Bible presents God as personal and relational and moral. In contrast, yoga philosophy and practice points to all creation as god, and ultimately, as impersonal and amoral. Subsequent chapters in this book unpack what the pose system preaches. Suffice to say, the power of yoga practice to indoctrinate practitioners in ideas concerning origins indicates the presence of a principality or ruler whose specialty is origins.


If you don’t know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, you can receive Him into your heart, and He can deliver you from darkness and sin, and have your name written in His Book of Life.

If you are sincere, you can say this simple prayer to the Father (it doesn’t have to be word for word):

“God, I recognize that I have not lived my life for You up until now. I have been living for myself and that is wrong. Please forgive me of all of my sins just as I forgive others. I need You in my life; I want You in my life. I acknowledge the completed work of Your only begotten Son Jesus Christ in giving His life for me on the cross, I believe in my heart Jesus is Lord and was raised from the dead and I long to receive the forgiveness you have made freely available to me through this sacrifice. Come into my life now, Lord. Take up residence in my heart and be my king, my Lord, and my Savior. From this day forward, I will no longer be controlled by sin, or the desire to please myself, but I will follow You all the days of my life. Those days are in Your hands. I ask this in the Lord and GOD Jesus’ precious and holy name. Amen.”

One thought on “The Spirit Power in Yoga

  1. Yoga is so good for the mind, body and soul. People today had so much external stress that it can overwhelming. If they don’t detox and balance their mind, body and soul it can destroy their emotional, spiritual and physical wellbeing. Great article


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