The Tablet Blog
Ban yoga? Our meditative tradition has borrowed from plenty of non-Catholic sourcesLiz Dodd
28 September 2012, 9:00
I spend most of the early morning upside down, or twisted into king pigeon, lord of the fishes or cow face. I've been practising yoga - on and off - since I was 12. I find it calming, enlivening, reassuring and challenging - so I was stunned to hear that Fr John Chandler, parish priest at St Edmund's, Southampton, has banned it from his church.
Yoga is based on a simple truth - that focusing your attention single-pointedly on something for long enough (your breath, what it feels like to be upside down) stills your mind. Mindful 'stillness' is an objectively healthy and scientifically measureable state. Clinical psychology teaches 'stilling' as part of mindfulness-based cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). The National Institute for Clinical Excellence recommend it as means of preventing relapse in people who have experienced depression. A Catholic who spends five minutes in downward-facing dog pose, counting their breaths, is at no more risk of being flooded with Hindu propaganda than a child in a handstand or a patient receiving CBT. 'Be still and know that I am God' (Psalm 46:10) doesn't come with the proviso that if you aren't upright, it isn't God.
The parish argues (via a spokesman) that the Catholic Church cannot permit activities which have their origins in non-Christian religions to take place on church premises. Certainly, much of modern yoga is derived from the meditative instruction of a second century BC Hindu philosopher called Patanjali. His teaching inspired devotees to use certain 'asanas' (poses) that were intended to line-up the body's 'chakras', or centres, and promote the circulation of energy.
But to forbid any practice that has its origins outside Christianity would outlaw swathes of Catholicism's own spiritual heritage. The origins of Christian contemplation lie firmly in non-Christian devotion. The Desert Mothers and Fathers of the third century AD - the spiritual parents of Christian contemplation - were inspired by the monasticism of secluded, non-Christian communities like the Essenes. Stylites - 'pillar saints' - like St Simeon Stylites - based their ascetic practice of living on small platforms (St Simeon notched up 37 years) on pre-Christian Syrian contemplative practice. Persian Zoroastrian, Mithraic and Greek and neo-Platonic religious movements all shaped early Christian tradition. And, of course, the Catholic Church succeeded so dramatically in Central and South America precisely because it integrated elements of indigenous religion into worship.
The Church has nothing to fear and everything to gain from the contemplative traditions of other faiths - as science, psychology and medicine are learning. No one religion can claim a monopoly on mindfulness. I was taught to end my yoga practice by saying 'Namaste' to the teacher and my classmates. It translates (from Sanskrit) to: 'I bow to honour the divine I see in you'. If Fr Chandler has a theological problem with that, I think his chakras need de-clogging.
Liz Dodd is The Tablet's News Reporter
Blessed By God
6 February 2013 19:15 (8 of 8)
Yoga began as worship to many gods. Christians believe in one God. To do Yoga is breaking 2 Commandments ...Love God above all else and Not to worship idols. This Priest is very good in protecting the flock. May more stand up to protect the world from lies away from God and our ultimate destiny of Heaven. Doing other than heading toward the Light(Him) is to head toward the dark and Hell. It is our choice.
19 October 2012 19:47 (7 of 8)
I was introduced to yoga by a priest, and have practicing it for years with my wife who is yoga teacher, and see no conflict. Please check out this website christianspracticingyoga.com/
9 October 2012 23:48 (6 of 8)
the document from the Catholic Church 'Jesus Christ: The Bearer of the Waters of Life--A Christian Reflection on the 'New Age' comments on the dangers of yoga beside other things. Yoga is not Christian and not just exercise just as the Ouiija board is not just a game for fun. Thank God for good priests who have the courage to teach and guide the TRUTH ,support him instead of making life more difficult .
6 October 2012 23:53 (5 of 8)
It is interesting that this very new pastor feels that he has the moral authority to ban things from 'his church.' The sooner these relatively newly-minted priests learn that collaboration is always much better than dictatorship, the better off they - and the rest of the parish - will be.
6 October 2012 13:28 (4 of 8)
I agree with Irene and Paul - whilst many see it as a valuable way to relaxation and inner peace, it advances the notion of Self as source and centre of our inner well being. Christian spirituality is about the indwelling of God and of union with Him - about God's action, not ours '“ it NOT about emptying ourselves, but about opening ourselves up and allowing God in. Part of the problem is that people confuse the idea of self emptying with what we necessarily must do to allow God in, ie. putting aside worldly concerns and inner clutter. The difference seems subtle, but it is actually pretty fundamental. Hindu and Buddhist techniques teach that inner peace and well being are achievable by one's own efforts - without God - and are accompanied by a philosophy of the 'higher self'¯. I am not suggesting that nothing useful can be found outside the Christian tradition, but I do think Churches have to be very careful what they are seen to be promoting. New Age spiritualities have flooded the western world, and the inner peace and well being they promote is exactly what most people are looking for, and not for wrong reason. But many do not understand the difference between these techniques and Christian the 'Way'. God alone is the source of inner peace and well being, and we only truly attain this by letting God in. Why are we so obsessed with Eastern techniques anyway? The Christian spiritual tradition is rich, and that is what we should encouraging people to draw from.
5 October 2012 14:53 (3 of 8)
What strikes me is that barely a year out of the seminary this young priest displays a level of certainty many of his elders would never lay claim to. In the late eighties the question of yoga was discussed in the Vatican, and while expressing the usual caution it affirmed quite strongly that even though its origins came from outside Christianity it was not to be dismissed but its lessons learned. This authoritarianism in one so inexperienced bodes ill for the future. Why did his superiors not tell him to lay off?
3 October 2012 10:19 (2 of 8)
Several years ago my daughter started doing yoga. I expressed my concern that it was rooted in Hinduism but she reassured me that it was just a form of mental and physical relaxation. A few months later she started quoting her guru; what appeared to be a mixture of relativistic psych-babble intermixed with pantheism. The yoga of the 70's was largely a form of exercise, now it is rarely far from various new-age spiritualities. I'd be extremely wary of letting it in our parish hall.
2 October 2012 21:13 (1 of 8)
I have practiced yoga, first while at University, the second time - by then a mother of four- in Malaysia. At University (it was an extra activity) we were taught some of the theory behind Hatha Yoga; in Borneo it was limited to postures during a timed 'breath in' and 'breath out' tape. Both times the groups were pleasant However, I came to the conclusion that Yoga is incompatible with my European and Christian make up. My objection to the meditation of Yoga is only one: the person practicing it has to focus totally on him/herself. The 'Self' becomes all-important and the centre of everything. That coupled with the encouragement of 'emptying one's mind of everything' strikes a false note. The desert fathers, hermits and so on, meditated on SOMETHING, or rather on Someone, i.e. Christ; then their meditation would lead to an attitude embracing the Other, the world, and so on, instead of making oneself -even for a short while- the centre of the Universe. Having said all that, I do not feel Yoga must be banned from the church premises; rather, the people doing it could also be offered some encouragement in Christian meditation?