Friday, January 28, 2011

Eastern Mysticism; Western Christians

My wife and I just returned from a five day cruise in the Caribbean. It was wonderful with sun, warm air, great food and time to rest. One of the main events on the ship was health care. They had a big workout room with classes, exercises and a lot of ways to spend your money. Yoga was promoted everywhere.

That is not odd or different. I find Yoga, a practice of Eastern Mysticism developed by Hindus and taken up seriously by various Hindu sects such as Buddhism. It promotes meditation though emptying one's mind and focusing on making the sound of a Hindu god. It also promotes stretching and relaxation to relieve stress and build one's body. The health benefits are touted almost everywhere, including the Mason Community Center where I belong and work out.

I have always been a bit uneasy with Yoga and share my discomfort with those who practice it for its health benefits. It promotes meditating on a Hindu god which is contrary to the Bible's insistence that "You shall worship the Lord your God and have no other gods before you".

Many who practice Yoga insist that it is a purely secular and even a physical event. But I am not satisfied that is true. Nor do I believe that Eastern Mysticism, Yoga, is as good for us as is prayer and exercise from a Christian point of view. For example, I saw this research and was impressed that Christians can do better than Yoga.

Dr. Herbert Benson is a well-known researcher on whole person medicine and the Relaxation Response at Harvard University, has carefully researched stress and health. The Relaxation Response is his name for a physical response to deep breathing and calmness. Then he was challenged to include research on the addition of religion and health. He writes, “I thought that the Relaxation Response (with its emphasis on secular practices alone) was enough but I have come to see that the effects of this simple technique combined with a person’s deepest beliefs can create internal environments to help the individual reach an enhanced state of health and well-being.” (Beyond The Relaxation Response, Berkley Health, 1985)

Prayer and other spiritual approaches can be particularly beneficial for people with stress-related disorders. Dr. Herbert Benson reports that meditative prayer can ease anxiety, mild depression, substance abuse, ulcers, pain, nausea, tension and migraine headaches, infertility, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), insomnia, and high blood pressure.

Dr Benson’s entire approach to relaxation was changed to include religious practices that are consistent with the patient’s faith. A patient who asks for Christian prayer or Holy Communion is denied them at the risk of severe psychological and medical harm. This is, by definition malpractice.

Why then, do many hospitals with Christian origins promote Eastern Mysticism such as Yoga and yet do not practice Christian prayer, meditation and worship?

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