The third part of this study is based on a chapter in Dionysios Farasiotis’ book, The Gurus, the Young Man, and Elder Paisios (Greek Edition). This chapter is called The Influence of Yoga on the Body and the Mind. It is only found in the Greek edition on pages 381-393. For some reason, the translator Fr. Alexis Trader (who is also a spiritual child of Geronda Ephraim and is a monk at one of his Athonite monasteries, Karakallou) decided to omit this chapter from the English edition.
As in the first part, the following are excerpts from the photocopies that were distributed by St. Nektarios Monastery in Roscoe, NY. The similarities are interpolated within the text in brackets […]:
*In the beginning, one truly feels a healthiness, well-being and revival. However, it is suggested to attribute this improvement to certain ‘hidden powers’ and a certain ‘secret wisdom’ that exist hidden within the Yoga exercises (stances). [In Monasticism here, most beginners experience a grace and this is always attributed to their Geronda Ephraim’s prayers and their blind obedience. Many novices have been told that once they make the prostration to Geronda Ephraim signifying their submission to him, then invisibly they receive an innumerable amount of crowns free from his immeasurable and overflowing resource of graces and crowns. Any breach in this peace and euphoria is either the demons—which are allowed by God to tempt the beginner so he can be trained and learn the art of warfare—or it’s the disciple’s fault through his disobedience or accepting thoughts against his elder].
*Every metaphysical explanation of this well-being (i.e. via endorphins due to change of life-style and healthier living) is superfluous. Persistence in such an explanation simply becomes personal preference or curiosity that hides other goals. Only beginners have this feeling of well-being. The more advanced start to have problems; pains in the waist, knees, back and joints. [All monks start having health issues not too long after starting out in the life. As time goes on, the longer one is following the monastic typikon, one generally starts to develop back and knee problems. Illness is said to go hand in hand with the monastic life as everyone needs a cross to bear. The back and knee problems are pretty much a guarantee. Novices are encouraged to stand as much as possible during the all-night vigil as they tend to fall asleep easier during services when sitting. Combine that with a day of hard labor, only 6-6 ½ hours of sleep broken up into a 4 hour (4 ½ if one wants to sacrifice the only free time they have to themselves during the 24 hour period) and a 2-2 ½ hour period after an all night vigil followed by breakfast. Not to mention all monks generally have 150 daily prostrations as a rule (300 prostrations during Great Lent), except for Sundays. However, one can also rack up multiple prostrations during the day due to mistakes or disobediences they make. These are all expected to be fulfilled so the demons don’t have anything to hold against them during the soul’s ascent through the toll-houses. These things take a toll on the body after awhile].
*The main aim of Yoga gymnastics and postures is neither the development of muscles nor the acquisition of blessings. Their aims are the alteration of the organism’s biochemical equilibrium. Someone seated in these postures puts pressure on the internal organs of the body: the heart, intestines, liver and lungs. Certain postures particularly press and act upon the endocrine glands (they are called chakras in their terminology). The pressure incites the glands (most times) when we have an over-functioning and effusion of great quantities of hormones inside the body. Other times, the exact opposite occurs. Every group of postures (asanas) exerts pressure on the various glands. [During the prayer of the heart portion of a vigil—the times differ for each individual monastic—one sits on a very small stool, which props their knees above their waist, and head is bent, body somewhat crouched. One wonders if similar things occur in the body with the pressure this posture puts on the internal organs of the body. There are some monastics who will do their daily kanona before they go to sleep so they can spend the entire duration of their nightly vigil (up to 3 or more hours) in such positions doing prayer of the heart. Though the bodily position and breathing exercises for this method of the prayer are not the be all and all of the prayer, they are used as aids to assist in acquiring the prayer. When one of the monks in Arizona was asked about similarities between the Jesus Prayer and Hindu mantras, the response was that many Indians and Brahmans travelled back and forth from Egypt during the height of monasticism, they were so impressed by the spirituality of the Desert Fathers that they stole some of their techniques for themselves trying to imitate them].
*Once, Elder Paisios told me, “The devil cannot hide completely. God doesn’t allow it. If the devil hid in some sack, a certain horn would protrude. But what does the devil one do? What’s this, he says, it isn’t a horn, it’s an eggplant”. The gurus also follow this tactic. They explain these clearly bodily phenomena as spiritual experiences and as spiritual progress. They interpret the condition (which doctors consider sickness) as ‘draining up energy from higher centers’. Egoism will flatter these people into thinking that they are more advanced; they aren’t like the others. The purpose of this tactic is to make these people more attached to the gurus with the hope that they will also reveal other deeper secrets to them; higher techniques that will make them superman, gods or whatever else they desire. Thus, the maypole of deception is weaved. [In monasticism, everything is very black and white, there are not too many gray areas. A monastic’s experiences are either from God or the Devil, Grace or the demonic imitation of Grace. Only the Geronda or Gerondissa can properly discern if the source of an experience is the uncreated energy of God, or the created energy of the devil. The monastic is heavily encouraged not to believe or trust anything he feels or thinks before first confessing it to his/her superior; the superior will give them the proper interpretation. And even if the superior is wrong, it is still better to do obedience and be safeguarded from delusion as Geronda Ephraim teaches using examples from the Desert Fathers].
*The Yogic exercises and other similar techniques act upon the endocrine glands and bring about hormonal changes to the body. You will hear that they act upon certain centers – ‘chakras’ (which give them mystical extensions) from where you derive energy. This is a ‘spiritual origin’. Is this change without danger? Is it safe for someone to experiment and play with his body’s hormones? God (nature if you prefer) has regulated and fixed our body in a certain way. We have a very strong, intricate equilibrium, so why do we want to change it? The smallest hormonal disorder causes serious illnesses (sterility, high blood pressure, goiter*, diabetes, cancer). It is very dangerous. It is opposite of what they advertise. It has a deep influence upon the body. Someone can become gravely ill; suffer a galloping form of cancer; he can go mad, ending up in a psychiatric clinic. [Monasticism doesn’t put as much emphasis on the bodily postures as the yoga asanas. The prayer of the heart bodily aids are just that, means to an end, not the end itself. However, the combination of drastic diet change which is also food deprivation, forced sleep deprivation—which also interferes with the circadian rhythm—hard labor to fatigue the body does have an effect on an individual. Combine that with doing psychosomatic exercises on 4 hours of sleep after a full day of work and starvation and depending on the blessing, after chugging a mug of cold coffee to wake up. Over a period of time, this will start affecting the natural equilibrium God designed for the human body. There is also research that shows caffeine can cause auditory hallucinations:
*Nobody knew these things. Nobody talked about these things in the 70’s. Ten years had to pass for many cases of illness to appear in order for something to start being whispered. Again, the gurus threw the burden and error on their disciples. They didn’t do the exercise well. They didn’t make good preparations, etc. The first cowardly questions started to occur. Afterwards, suicides compelled the gurus to start speaking about the dangers. Many people fell from the clouds, so dangers also exist. [In monasticism, the burden is always thrown on the disciple. Geronda Ephraim has stated a disciple can enter hell with a blessing and not be burned or harmed. Thus, almost 100% of the time, if something happens to a disciple—nervous breakdown, developing psychological problems, becoming “possessed” or deluded, leaving the monastery, severe depression, self-harm, suicide, etc.—it’s almost always deduced as the disciple did not have clean confession, is negligent in their spiritual duties or didn’t do their obedience properly (i.e. with a good disposition, unquestioning, without judging, etc.). There are the few rare instances where these things are blamed on the devil’s envy and demonic warfare, though again allowed by God’s Providence for any given reason. A Geronda or Gerondissa almost never take on the responsibility for themselves. For instance, in one monastery, the Abbot admitted that the monk in charge of construction was going to lose his soul if he remained in that diakonima because it was not helping him and he was becoming more problematic, argumentative, egotistical, and was challenging Geronda at every step. Though as the Abbot reflected, he then stated, “But we save so much money with Kassianos, we need him to remain where he is, he is the only monk who can do it. He has saved the monastery millions.” On a later occasion, after a brief argument between this Abbot and the monk, with the monk rebutting and challenging everything that was being said, the Abbot turned to a couple of his monks afterwards and lamented Kassianos’ end, stating what a difficult end he would have, and he was concerned because he didn’t know how he would fare in the afterlife. But, in the end analysis, it would seem saving millions of dollars on construction projects is more valuable than saving one individual soul (which Christ has stated is more valuable than the entire universe). Again, all the fault is cast on the monk because he doesn’t do obedience or have clean confession].
*What did Satyanenta say when speaking about the techniques? “Together with this redemption from restrictions and misfortunes, from the other side, you can go mad and pass your remaining years in a psychiatric ward. Unfortunately, this has happened to some people who followed practical Yoga without guidance or, otherwise, they didn’t obey their teacher’s instructions.” That is, he throws the blame on the disciples. He puts ‘oil’ on himself. [In Geronda’s teachings, he doesn’t hide the fact that monks can go mad and be possessed. He frequently tells such stories from his experiences on Mount Athos—even a story where he prayed to be possessed so he could understand and empathize more with the possessed, which he states God allowed briefly. As well, a large portion of the literature read describes monks possessed, who went insane and had to be chained for periods of time or committed suicide. But again, all these things happen because a monastic hides their thoughts or follows their own will. Also, as the Athonite Fathers explained to younger monks and novices, “Geronda will only ask once, twice, maybe three times. However, if he sees one doesn’t listen, he washes his hands of this disciple. He shouldn’t have to stand there with a gun to the disciple’s head; it’s up to the disciple to either obey or disobey. There are monks at Philotheou and they don’t even exist for Geronda Ephraim, he gave up on them long ago due to their disobedience. And some don’t even realize it. One of the worse delusions is for a monk to think they are in obedience when in reality they are doing their own will.”]
The remainder of the article can be read here: