Making the stretch 

From yoga to the gates of hell in Whitefish

The Third Street Market in Whitefish is part health food store, part town square. Along its cozy aisles, neighbors carry on extended conversations about herbal supplements and which dried fruits are best on a salad. Near the door, fliers hang announcing benefits for the Humane Society and classes in massage. These notices, and the literature for sale at the store, help spur the conversations that continue each day at Whitefish’s only organic grocery. Recently, one of those conversations made its way from the store onto the editorial pages of the Daily Inter Lake newspaper. It all started about a month ago with a flier at the market announcing yoga classes for women and children.

“That’s what did it,” says Brad Taylor, explaining why he decided to contribute his recent letter to the Inter Lake’s Saturday forum page. A self-described “Biblical Christian,” Taylor has harbored concerns about yoga for years. When he saw “women and children being drawn into this” he felt compelled to speak out.

Taylor warned readers not to be “deceived into believing yoga is a sort of benign exercise program.” “This isn’t just little old ladies stretching,” says Taylor. “This isn’t just your Richard Simmons exercise program.”

Instead, says Taylor, practicing yoga opens up souls to the influence of Satan.

“You might call it blanking the mind out. The guard is down and any influence can get in there,” explains the 47-year-old Taylor, who became a Christian 16 years ago after dropping out of the now defunct Cornerstone Trio, a rock band that used to play the Holiday Inn in Missoula.

Taylor says he knew he’d be “opening a can of worms” when he wrote his letter. In the Inter Lake, his opinions were followed up by a barrage of return mail from yoga supporters. At work, Taylor’s candid opinions raised even more eyebrows. Turns out, he’s the produce manager at the otherwise yoga-friendly Third Street Market.

Third Street’s support of yoga and other healing arts makes it Whitefish’s marketplace for ideas about alternative living. Taylor likes working at the store, even if it doesn’t bring him in contact with many others who believe that Satan is the force behind yoga.

Standing in the back of the store, Taylor offers friendly greetings to shoppers and suppliers dropping off produce. He’s mild-mannered, and careful not to let his words sound hateful.

But Taylor’s religious beliefs are as rigid as the unstretched bodies yoga aims to heal. He insists that it’s impossible to be both Christian and practice yoga. That’s because, according to his research, the goal of yoga is to “turn the body into a spiritual pathway to enlightenment.”

Therefore, says Taylor, it cannot be a pathway to Christ: “It cannot be Jesus Christ because Jesus Christ gives people his holy spirit. All other spirits are of the other master—Satan.”

Downward Facing Dog, Sun Salutation, Frog Pose—all these yoga positions are doorways to evil, says Taylor, because through deep breathing and meditation, each pose puts the mind in “a neutral gear,” where it is susceptible to dark influences.

Taylor is not affiliated with any church, but his views are supported by a variety of religious groups. From fringe publications like the end-times touting Last Trumpeter Newsletter to Southern televangelists to a recent declaration from the Vatican, there’s no shortage of warnings about yoga.

Released in early February, the Vatican report entitled “A Christian reflection on the ‘New Age’” urges Catholics to approach yoga with caution. Other church leaders have taken that warning one step further. In Slovakia, both Catholic and Protestant clergy came out against a plan in 2001 that aspired to teach yoga to schoolchildren. And in Wiltshire, England last year, a local vicar banned yoga classes from his church hall. Meanwhile in the Flathead, the practice of yoga continues to appeal to Christians and non-Christians alike. At the Windhorse Center in Whitefish, yoga instructor Mary Straub says that at least 50 percent of her students are churchgoers.

“For my Christian students,” says Straub, “they feel as if their connection to God becomes stronger when they practice.”

“It’s very common for members of the clergy to take yoga,” adds Marc Nevas with the Ananda Seva Yoga and Meditation Center in Kalispell.

In Whitefish, the Satsang Yoga Center was recently re-named the Whitefish Yoga Center. The name change occurred when new management took over the space late last year with hopes of attracting more students. “It’s a more neutral feel calling it the Whitefish Yoga Center. We wanted a place where the whole commu-nity felt comfortable to come,” says Samantha Gilman, one of the instructors now running the center. Gilman says that in addition to changing the center’s name, the new management also considered painting over a mural that depicts what appear to be Hindu gods blended into a mountainous landscape. “But we voted and the people coming here didn’t want to change it,” says Gilman, who continues to teach as she approaches her ninth month of pregnancy. “We’re just trying to get students in tune with their own bodies,” says Gilman. “Whatever spiritual belief you have, you can tune into that.” Gilman explains how deep breathing and meditation allow bodies to stretch and bend to their full potential. From there, yoga’s mix of exercise and relaxation lowers blood pressure and heals injuries. It provides peace of mind during otherwise hectic days.

On the wall of the Whitefish Yoga Center, behind an altar decorated with crystals, stones, bamboo and a coconut, the word “peace” is written in black on white paper. It’s part of an altar that one yoga instructor once decorated with statues of Hindu gods and a picture of the late Beatle, George Harrison. Today, Harrison’s image is gone and so are the Hindu statues. But at this and other yoga centers in the Flathead, the false idols remain. At least, that’s how Taylor sees things.

The husband and father of two has assembled a personal library of information on yoga and its demonic underpinnings. One book, titled Prepare for War, includes an illustration of a cartoon demon literally reaching into a mind rendered helpless by yoga.

“I’m not saying everyone is going to wind up demon-possessed,” says Taylor. “But to me, the evidence is just as clear as the writing on the wall.”

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