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Is there a problem with yoga for Catholics

post #1 of 21
Thread Starter 
A friend of ours, Catholic, like me, flipped when he found out that his dd's teacher (grade 1) had the kids, in a Catholic school, do yoga.

We have no problem with yoga, obviously the Catholic teacher didn't either, but our friend does, as a Catholic thing. What gives?
post #2 of 21
I'm not Hindu or Catholic, so I might be wrong here, but because the best known practice of Hinduism is yoga, some Catholics see yoga as practicing Hinduism, and thus denying that there is one God and accepting the possibility of multiple gods.

Although I'm not Catholic, I am Christian, and I enjoy yoga. I often pray while doing yoga because it puts me in such a deep calm that I feel ready to connect with God because I'm prepared to listen. Downward dog does not deny the existance of God.

Personally, I don't see what the big deal is.
post #3 of 21
Well traditionally yoga is a spiritual practice of Sanatana Dharma, not just some exercise regime like it's sold as in the West. I'd guess that your friend is objecting to it on those grounds.
post #4 of 21
This is a controversy among many Christian groups.

Yoga is really more than exercises and stretching - it is part of a whole spiritual system, one which is not Christian.

However, in the West the physical exercises are often divorced from the larger system, and they work well as a healthy activity.

Some people still worry that there may be some underlying principle at work that is reflective of Hindu ideas and opposed to Christianity, and so refuse to practice it. They may worry that it could unwittingly open them to demonic influences.

I don't follow this POV. I think as Christians that we often borrow from what is good and true in other systems, because those things are also reflections of God. Yoga exercises work because they are about our bodies, which God made. We also borrow the language of Greek philosophy, or attach practices with pagan roots to our holidays. People who have become new Christians have always brought their foods, clothing, and dancing, which may have had ties to other religions.

I think yoga is the same. However, it might not be the best choice if it will really upset parents in the school. It would be good to educate them, but scandalizing them won't help. It also doesn't help convince people when some yoga practitioners have some rather flaky New Age ideas that go along with their exercise teachings.
post #5 of 21
Growing up (very devoted roman catholic family) my mother was very opposed to yoga because, at the time, it was generally taught along with trancendental meditation/chanting/mantras or within a spiritual framework that was outside the catholic fold (new age groups, studios with symbols from various religions, pictures of gurus, etc).

As yoga became more "secular exercise program" and less "physical component of a non-christian spirituality" she became less concerned that yoga would draw us away from the church. But it took maybe 25 years of more or less constant exposure to change her mind on this (we live in a "crunchy" town with a lot of yoga options, and DH/I even owned a house next door to a yoga studio for 6 years so my mom got to know the people there).

I do remember my mom saying that catholics should avoid things that might draw them away from the church and that yoga was "on the list"... I'm not certain if this was an actual list from the parish (our parish did have a list of ok businesses for a while, so this could be the case) or more of a thing a mother says to an 8yo who just wont stop asking. But it's possible your friend grew up in a similar setting and still worries that yoga might be a distraction? If you search google for Catholic Doctrine Yoga you'll find a number of articles and discussion forums that address this issue. It seems the discussion is split along "yoga as exercise" vs "yoga as eastern spirituality".
post #6 of 21
My yoga teacher is Catholic, I'm Catholic and I do yoga, and one of my daughter's godmothers, who is a very devout Catholic and has a nun for a sister does yoga. We do yoga for exercise purposes and meditate in a Christian way during our practice.
post #7 of 21
Paulist Press (A Catholic Publisher) has a book on Yoga as christian Spiritual Practice (The author is a Catholic priest and yoga teacher) that you might recommend to your friend:

http://www.amazon.com/Prayer-Heart-B...1030475&sr=8-1
post #8 of 21
I don't think that yoga is specifically against Catholic doctrine. Having said that though, just because I know XYZ priest or nun or other Catholic that does something doesn't automatically make it ok either. Considering the current state of the Church and sadly how often we find clergy and laity alike doing and teaching things against Church doctrine their example can not be automatically taken as worthy of emulation.
post #9 of 21
~~~~~~~~~~Heyla all!~~~~~~~~~~~~~

This is a friendly reminder from your (hopefully friendly) neighborhood moderator... I've removed a few posts to bring this thread back on topic. When posting, please keep in mind that the MDC community is very diverse and the Spirituality forum is designed as a "safe space" for people of all different beliefs. The Spirituality forum guidelines say:

Quote:
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post #10 of 21
Thread Starter 
I'm rather stunned that he's not alone. I'm lost for words.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Katala View Post
Paulist Press (A Catholic Publisher) has a book on Yoga as christian Spiritual Practice (The author is a Catholic priest and yoga teacher) that you might recommend to your friend:

http://www.amazon.com/Prayer-Heart-B...1030475&sr=8-1
Thanks for the link, I'll check it out.

Thanks for all the responses.
post #11 of 21
Not sure about Catholics, but my kids are in a 'Christian" school in a very Catholic town, and they do yoga, and they say it's 'to connect with their inner truth' - sounds fine to me!
post #12 of 21
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bluegoat View Post
This is a controversy among many Christian groups.

Yoga is really more than exercises and stretching - it is part of a whole spiritual system, one which is not Christian.

However, in the West the physical exercises are often divorced from the larger system, and they work well as a healthy activity.

Some people still worry that there may be some underlying principle at work that is reflective of Hindu ideas and opposed to Christianity, and so refuse to practice it. They may worry that it could unwittingly open them to demonic influences.

I don't follow this POV. I think as Christians that we often borrow from what is good and true in other systems, because those things are also reflections of God. Yoga exercises work because they are about our bodies, which God made. We also borrow the language of Greek philosophy, or attach practices with pagan roots to our holidays. People who have become new Christians have always brought their foods, clothing, and dancing, which may have had ties to other religions.

I think yoga is the same. However, it might not be the best choice if it will really upset parents in the school. It would be good to educate them, but scandalizing them won't help. It also doesn't help convince people when some yoga practitioners have some rather flaky New Age ideas that go along with their exercise teachings.
I agree with everything.


We attended an Assembly of God church (obviously, not Catholic in the slightest) and they had an issue with yoga...they referred to it as part of an "Eastern Religion." I, on the other hand, practiced as an exercise to deal with severe knee pain (with no insurance I was trying everything and it helped so I did it frequently) I always felt like I couldn't tell them... The pastor's son thinks that people that practice yoga are weird or whatever. *shrugs*

I also noticed the same thing that a PP did...when I do yoga (or even brief meditation) I can center my thoughts and focus on prayer and God so much easier than if I just sit down and try to start praying out of nowhere.

Currently, it helps with my restless legs!
post #13 of 21
Years ago, when I was still in (catholic) school, one of the teachers taught a few lessons in yoga to help with relaxation. Apparently several parents called in to complain and it was quickly put to a stop. It was disappointing and I never really understood it.
post #14 of 21
Quote:
Originally Posted by Oceanone View Post
Years ago, when I was still in (catholic) school, one of the teachers taught a few lessons in yoga to help with relaxation. Apparently several parents called in to complain and it was quickly put to a stop. It was disappointing and I never really understood it.
This reminds me of an exercise a friend of mine, who was a Catholic school teacher did; she would have her class do some brief asana followed by a relaxation in shavasana when they needed to settle down. Their relaxation would always include some Christ-centered visualization ("imagine that you're meeting Jesus, what would you say to him?" etc.) I can't really so how any Christian parent could object to that (and none did.)
post #15 of 21
Quote:
Originally Posted by simonee View Post
Not sure about Catholics, but my kids are in a 'Christian" school in a very Catholic town, and they do yoga, and they say it's 'to connect with their inner truth' - sounds fine to me!
Not sure how to word this so it won't be in violation. The OP asks a question about a problem, and I'm trying to help point out a problem, so here goes.

According to Catholic teaching, the purpose of prayer is not to "connect to your inner truth," but to come closer to God. The whole idea of an "inner truth" is something that is very common in some religions and traditions, but not in traditional Christianity. There is Truth, and it is the same for everyone, so it's not like I'm plugging into my "truth" and you are connecting to "yours."


The way I look at it, there are lots of completely secular ways to get a good workout, so why would I even need to borrow from a practice that is so rooted in Hinduism? Seems kind of disrespectful to both traditions, like if a Hindu decided to pray the rosary as a form of meditation, without really believing in the special importance of Mary to Christianity.
post #16 of 21
My friends mothers gos to a church "stretching class" they don't call it yoga but it is yoga.
post #17 of 21
Quote:
Originally Posted by sarahsmiles View Post
Not sure how to word this so it won't be in violation. The OP asks a quelike if a Hindu decided to pray the rosary as a form of meditation, without really believing in the special importance of Mary to Christianity.
Actually, not to derail this thread too far... many Hindus (and others--including myself) pray with a mala which is similar to a rosary, only with twice as many beads (108.) I've heard that the practice of the rosary was inspired by Christians who came to India and saw people praying with malas. I'm not 100% sure of the accuracy of this claim though but it's something I've heard often.)

It's also worth mentioning that the practice of yoga is not, nor was it ever actually a specifically "hindu practice." Yoga philosophy itself, and Patanjali's Yoga Sutra stems from a philosophy called Sankhya (sometimes spelled Samkhya.) Sankhya is a duelist philosophy that's actually atheistic. Yoga philosophy itself is not atheistic (though it is, like Christianity as I understand it, dualistic.), but it doesn't get into which deity to worship, which religion to be, or anything like that. Patanjali's Yoga Sutra is written in such a way that it's really accessible to people of almost any religion.

The few Sutras that directly reference God (These are the ones I can pinpoint offhand, there may be a couple more):
1.23 From practicing the presence of God, Samadhi (liberation) become imminent
1.24 Ishvara (God) is a particular being unaffected by affliction, actions, the result of actions, or the latent impressions of these.
1.25 In Ishvara, the seed of consciousness has reached its utmost.
1.26 Ishvara is the teacher of former teachers because there is no limitation in regard to time in Ishvara's consciousness.
1.27 The sacred word designating Ishvara is OM
1.28 Japa of that name, cultivating and absorbing it's meaning is called Ishvara pranidhana--practicing the presence of God [note: a person living in the world would not actually practice japa--the silent, continuous repetition of a sacred word or sound--often aided by the use of a mala--on the word OM by itself. That would be a practice for a renunciate or someone nearing the ending of their life, not someone who is active and participating in the world, that person would use another mantra that a teacher deemed suitable for them, or a universal mantra like "soham" in their japa practice.]
2.45 From devotion to God, Samadhi (Freedom, liberation) is attained

There's a translation of the Yoga Sutra called "How to Know God" that does an excellent job of explaining the sutras to a western, Christian audience (interestingly enough, it is also written from an advaita vedantic--or non dual perspective.) It's very clear and short, with almost no Sanskrit.


And to also note, when the sutras were written (and that time frame is often debated) "asana" simply referred to one's meditation posture (the word asana basically can be translated as "seat".) not the sun salutes, downward dogs and standing poses of today.

The hatha yoga practices didn't come about (or at-least weren't written about) until the middle ages. These include asana (in this context, referring poses besides a meditation posture too) pranayama (breathing practices), bandha (physical locks to build heat in the body, increase mental attention to energy, and control the flow of energy throughout the body) and mudra (gestures, or seals--subtle techniques for controlling the flow of energy.)

And actually, many of the hatha yoga practices that are taught today (standing poses, etc., much of what you would find in a typical class) only date back to the late 1800s. Many of these asanas were introduced by Sri Krishnamacharya and many are said to be inspired by other disciplines like gymnastics. Krishnamacharya was a pioneer in teaching yoga in a therapeutic context. Previously, Ayruveda, yoga's sister science, was the discipline that people tended to turn to for healing the physical body, and yoga was seen as a purely spiritual (though not sectarian) pursuit. As you can probably tell...things have changed quite a bit

Also, I do find it worth noting that yoga is not "Hindu" but it is Indian and many postures are named after particular characters in Indian mythology, and the majority of people in India are what we would call "Hindu." It's natural that the religion would influence the culture and the culture would influence the practices.

I often think of the fact that, for many years I danced ballet, which has strong roots in France and other European countries that have Christian heritages. Many ballets have Christian themes, reference Christian storys, use Christian names, etc. but that doesn't mean that one needs to be Christian to dance ballet, and as dance can often be extremely spiritual--it doesn't mean that a non-Christians can't have a strong spiritual experience while dancing a Christian-themed ballet.


If you're interested in learning more about the history of yoga asana, I can highly recommend Mark Singleton's "Yoga Body" and additionally, if you're interested in learning more about yoga from a Christian perspective, in along with the book by Father Ryan I mentioned above, the late Father Bede Griffith has written many good books about yoga and other eastern practices within the context of Christianity.
post #18 of 21
The issue is too broad to really address, because there are so many types of yoga. With your standard YMCA yoga class, there's not much spirituality involved. It's offered as a workout. Theoretically, there shouldn't be any contradiction because it's not a religious thing.

I go to a small yoga studio that focuses on traditional yoga. We chant, we have Buddhist and Hindu artifacts, and there is nothing western or Christian about what we do. To be frank, I don't know why a Christian would want to do that, because it IS contradictory to Christianity.
post #19 of 21
Quote:
Originally Posted by sarahsmiles View Post
Not sure how to word this so it won't be in violation. The OP asks a question about a problem, and I'm trying to help point out a problem, so here goes.

According to Catholic teaching, the purpose of prayer is not to "connect to your inner truth," but to come closer to God. The whole idea of an "inner truth" is something that is very common in some religions and traditions, but not in traditional Christianity. There is Truth, and it is the same for everyone, so it's not like I'm plugging into my "truth" and you are connecting to "yours."


The way I look at it, there are lots of completely secular ways to get a good workout, so why would I even need to borrow from a practice that is so rooted in Hinduism? Seems kind of disrespectful to both traditions, like if a Hindu decided to pray the rosary as a form of meditation, without really believing in the special importance of Mary to Christianity.
I have to disagree with this. Christianity is similar to many other religions in understanding the Divine to have both immanent and transcendent aspects. Augustinian theology and spirituality, for example, both look inward to discover truth about God. We also believe as Christians that the logos is at the center of all things, moving them and making them what they are. It is very similar to the Hindu understanding of immanance.
post #20 of 21
i think it's largely a matter of interpretation.

my interpretation--and i don't know what the current church's rulings on this may be--is that yoga is a spiritual discipline. a spiritual discipline is a technique (or technology) that develops ones spirituality.

because so many spiritual disciplines are shared across religions, it seems clear that disciplines can be "divorced from" whatever their origin is (historical/religious context). Prayer, for example, tends to be used by a lot of religions, even though the individuals are praying to different understandings or beliefs about the deity that they worship.

while it is true that yoga was developed in the vedic context and is integral to sanatana dharma, it is not integral to the practice of yoga that one utilize it within a vedic context. that is to say, that if one is hindu, one most definitely practices some form of yoga, because hinduism (broadly, generally) cannot be practiced without some forms of yoga. but yoga can be extracted from hinduism, such that one can practice yoga in a spiritual way, but within their own religious context.

this is also, then, how one can say "one cannot be catholic without prayer" it is true that prayer--among many other spiritual disciplines--are integral to the practice. but it is possible to say "prayer is a phenomenon that occurs across religions, as jews, christians, muslims, various forms of pagan and animistic religions, hinduism, and so on all contain prayer as one of the disciplines that create or develop the adherent's spirituality.

So, with this belief about yoga, anyone in any religion can practice it. simply put, they practice it with their chosen deity in mind, or spiritual practice in mind.
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