A recent article in the UK paper The Telegraph reports that a priest has banned the teaching of yoga classes in a church building in Southampton. In a recent DDR post about the 2004 documentary “Yoga Unveiled,” we talked about the film’s discussion of various points of view about yoga, spirituality, Hinduism and Cathloicism. In the film, various Catholic representatives and practitioners talked about the practice–and some even went so far as to mention the view shared by some Catholics that meditation is dangerous, as it can “let the devil” inside anyone who practices it. Such believers are adamant about the fact that they think yoga has no business mixing with Christianity–or even Christians, for that matter. There is a ton of conflicting information (and passionate opinions) out there about this, too. It’s quite a powerful debate (and you thought that politics made your head spin–no pun intended). A somewhat radical Christian web site states that ““No amount of chanting, breathing, visualizing, or physical contortions will melt away the sin that separates us from the Lord of the cosmos—however ‘peaceful’ these practices may feel.” A bold statement indeed.
But when you hear about yoga classes being offered by the likes of the Boston Archdiocese, this debate can become even more complicated.
A 2011 Nerve article cited another Telegraph article, in which Father Gabriele Amorth claimed, “Practising yoga is Satanic, it leads to evil just like reading Harry Potter.” And even Pope Benedict XVI, according to an ABC News story, “warned that yoga ‘can degenerate into a cult of the body.’
But with esteemed teachers like Patricia Walden teaching at local churches (a teacher training program meeting and class will be held at St. Mary’s Church), one has to wonder where the line is drawn.
Cannot a religious person be spiritual? Cannot a spiritual person be religious? Isn’t honoring goodness, empathy and benevolence to your fellow man an esteemed enough purpose or goal that it should not matter which God you are honoring while you are practicing this path?
I don’t know about you, but after I’ve gone to yoga class, I feel like I am a better person. Or even, a better version of myself. I am able to slow down and be more patient and understanding of others. I feel more empathetic (=less road rage), too, because I’m relaxed and I’ve let go of toxic energy and all of the stress that causes us pain, suffering and other emotional obstacles that can stir up negative emotions. I consider myself a spiritual person. Growing up, I went to CCD and church. I am respectful whenever I enter a church–be it for a christening, a funeral, a wedding or what-have-you. Granted, I don’t go to church on a regular basis, but sometimes I pray for loved ones, or even strangers–and even people who have wronged me or those whom I don’t particularly like. In yoga, we call this “sending light.” And when I am dealing with a particularly difficult situation or if I am struggling with something spiritually, I allow my practice to center me and let me see things more clearly and without judgment (by practicing ‘ahimsa,’ or non-violence towards self and others). I love to ‘Om’ because it is a beautiful sound and it links everyone in the room together in harmony, and I feel that my yoga practice deepens every time I step on my mat (doesn’t that sound familiar to what Christians/Catholics feel when they step into a church?).
And when I teach yoga, I don’t expect my students to follow a “Hindu” doctrine–nor do I ‘preach’ to them about the spiritual attributes or benefits of yoga. It is a practice all their own and they must walk their own path, at their own pace. And whether that means having a spiritual aspect to their yoga practice or not, the decision is up to them.
In fact, that’s what I love about yoga. Yoga doesn’t care what size, shape, race or sex you are. It doesn’t care if you are flexible (or inflexible, for that matter). All that matters is that you take the time to get out of your head and onto your mat. And, if you get into your heart a little bit more in the process, great. But it takes baby steps. And that’s why they call it a ‘practice.’ I don’t consider it a sin to ‘practice’ being a better person. In fact, it’s something I hope I get to be really good at (ego withstanding, of course).