Are Yoga and Catholicism Compatible?

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Is it possible to practice yoga as a faithful Catholic?(photo source)

I struck out to find the Catholic Church’s official teaching on yoga, and found some information from the Vatican, some views from Christianity, and a lot of folks’ opinions along the way.

Is Yoga a Pagan Hindu Religious Practice or Just Exercise?

If one is to discuss this subject with any degree of intelligence, one must first determine if the physical motions of yoga can be separated from the spirituality that often comes with it, and which may be the foundation of the practice in Eastern religions.

It is clear beyond a shadow of a doubt that any dabbling in New Age or Hindu religious practice, any opening up of oneself to “Gaia” or Mother Nature or centering one’s soul with the collective consciousness or connecting with the earth, is counter to the Christian faith. Any practice that worships a pagan god, a god of “nature” or a god within oneself is intrinsically evil and against Christianity, where there is one God and one God only.

The fundamental question when a person of Christian faith asks, “Can I do yoga?” is whether this tree pose necessarily worships a foreign god in the sun, sky or otherwise, regardless of the heart of the person, or whether it is just an exercise in balance and control, one that my 5-year-old son just identified as, “Is that ice skating, or what?”

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(photo source)

Yoga: Sinful or Just Fearful?

A sin is an act of the will, and to sin requires full knowledge of sin as well as full intent. If one’s intent is to exercise, and nothing more, and one guards one’s heart against the sort of yoga that would draw a soul away from God and open it to paganism, can there be sin? Can there really be an opportunity to give the devil a foothold?

To be so against yoga embodies a spirit of fear. Must we be fearful of anything in the world that is not explicitly of God? Must we remove ourselves from the culture to guard our faith and practice it properly (and safely)? Pope John Paul II would say no. He often talked of the importance of being “in but not of the world” in his encouragement to the “new evangelization” of faith.

We cannot share our faith with people we never encounter, and we cannot connect with people outside the world of the Church if we cannot understand the culture in which we live. We are called to live in the culture, while at the same time remaining above the culture in our faith and morals.

We can’t be afraid of falling into sin on accident, especially if it causes us to remove ourselves from a world which so desperately needs our faith. A world which desperately needs to receive our faith shared, in love, from people who can see eye to eye with them.

In The Bearer of the Water of Life, the pontifical councils say, “The beginning of the Third Millennium offers a real kairos for evangelisation. People’s minds and hearts are already unusually open to reliable information on the Christian understanding of time and salvation history. Emphasising what is lacking in other approaches should not be the main priority. It is more a question of constantly revisiting the sources of our own faith, so that we can offer a good, sound presentation of the Christian message. We can be proud of what we have been given on trust, so we need to resist the pressures of the dominant culture to bury these gifts (cf. Mt 25.24-30).”

I am not afraid of yoga. It has no power over me. I choose to believe in the power of God’s grace, to root myself in prayer, to trust that God is so much bigger than an exercise and never allows Satan control over His people, unless they choose evil.

I believe that our bodies are created for good, to image God, to demonstrate His love. I also know that any creation can be used for good or for evil. A body can be used to embrace a loved one or strike someone in anger. A body can be used to toil to support a family or plunder time away at a casino. A body can be used to image the trinitarian love of God in the marriage embrace or in the exact same action, to stain two souls in an act of extramarital lust and spit in the face of God’s beautiful plan. (See the reflections on the Theology of the Body, here for Lent.)

A body can be used to worship God, and a body can be used to worship Satan, but the difference is in the intent, in the act of will. It is not the action that defines the intent, but the intent that defines the soul and guides the action.

That’s my honest evaluation of the whole issue. But more importantly, here is what I found in my research so you can begin your own informed, prayerful discernment process.

Arguments Against Yoga from a Catholic Perspective

Here are some of the resources and thoughts I was sent to and found myself:

  • You simply cannot separate the movements from the meditation; any pagan practice opens yourself to demonic influence.
  • An analogy from this site: if an atheist took Eucharist, the true Body of Christ, and simply said “I don’t believe it,” it’s still real and he still blasphemes the Body. We can’t just say “I don’t believe it” or “I’m thinking of God” and practice yoga safely. “Yoga is by its very nature a Hindu religious practice. Yoga is not primarily about limbering up the body; it is about using physical means to achieve a spiritual end. So the question of separating the physical from the spiritual in Yoga is really a contradiction in terms.
  • This short article is by Fr. John Hardon, of whom I’ve known for years and do greatly respect, but he really only addresses the spiritual form of yoga. “Although the psychic element is far more important in yoga than the body, the latter is more characteristic of this method of Hindu liberation. Its purpose is to secure the best disposition of body for the purpose of meditation. The practice begins with a simple device for deep and slow breathing.” Fr. Hardon goes on to describe yoga practices of meditation, but I don’t see a clear argument against doing a posture without entering into the mindset.
  • Finally this Catholic TV show with a priest as a guest puts forth many points, including:
    • Yoga cannot fit with Christianity – we live in a world of relativism where people think they can make true whatever they believe. If you say ìI can do the exercises of yoga and not believe that it’s leading to me “god” and then it’s not true or not harmful,î then the world tell you it’s all good. However, that would be like an atheist taking Eucharist and saying “I don’t believe it’s the body of Christ so it’s not,” and that’s not true. (Katie here: I can’t get behind this analogy. The Eucharist is an entity, a physical thing changed miraculously into the Body of Christ. If an atheist eats a bowl of unconsecrated hosts for breakfast, it may be weird, but not sacrilegious. It is the transubstantiation, which cannot be done on accident, that makes the Eucharist holy. If a consecrated host falls on the ground by accident, we make reparation for the disrespect to Christ. Our bodies, however, are created for many purposes, both good and ill. More on that below)
    • Practitioners and teachers of yoga especially are often afflicted with demonic spirits, etc. Not everyone, but it’s like playing Russian roulette, and we’re not called to do that with our faith.
    • Sometimes demons come in b/c we’ve opened the door, even if we don’t think we’ve invited them in. Fr. Gabriel, the exorcist in Rome, speaks unabashedly that Catholics cannot do yoga, that it’s dangerous stuff.
    • Stretching exercises are a dime a dozen and they all work; you don’t need something that opens yourself to potential temptation.

Arguments for Yoga

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(photo source)

The yoga I have done personally has been in two places: one at a studio that was certainly New Age and often made me think, “Well, this is frou frou junk, mother earth and all that. Better pray to the real God instead.” I imagined myself teaching Christian yoga instead of the transcendental nonsense my ears were filled with. Would I go back there? No.

The yoga I’ve done most recently was via P90X videos with Tony Horton, the buff guy making men in the armed forces kill their abs in the photo above. He says yoga is essential for flexibility and overall fitness and highly recommends it, but he’s much more likely to talk about not eating butter in your mashed potatoes or “standing on your tippy toes” than he is a heart center or a collective consciousness. He’s no Hindu shaman, believe me.

That’s my background, and here are my thoughts on Catholicism and yoga:

  • Many practices have been shifted from or shared with pagan religions and made holy: the Rosary (using strings of beads to count prayers was Hindu and Buddhist long before the 13th century when Mary taught us to use it), fasting, meditation, ritual sacrifice (for Old Testament Jews), holidays and traditions like a Christmas tree and countless others that we’ve commandeered and made holy. Just because a pagan does it does not automatically make a practice or movement intrinsically evil; why can’t a Christian simply focus on God while doing yoga?
  • Any motion can be done without intent – my kids can genuflect and it means nothing, if I haven’t taught them correctly. How many people enter a church and just go through the motions? Are they more holy because they did the motions or less holy because they were at church and not focused on God?
  • Although our bodily posture certainly can affect our prayer, can deepen its impact within ourselves, can demonstrate honor and respect, posture is not necessary for prayer. I pray in my car. I pray while walking. I pray while kneeling. I pray while lying in bed. No form of prayer is necessarily deeper, more powerful, or more effective than another based solely on posture, but it is the focus of my mind, my soul’s communion with God, how intensely I am praying, and how open I am to God’s work in me that makes the difference.

Catholic Church Teaching and Documents that Mention Yoga

Here is the important part of the post, where I find the only stuff that counts for beans when asking what God wants us to do. Clearly one cannot find yoga in the Scriptures, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church also came up empty on the subject itself. The closest I could find is this:

  • Mention of the first commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me,” which of course disallows the religious practice of yoga, but I still can’t tell if we can do the exercise without the turning of the heart.
  • Superstition, idolatry, divination and magic are all forbidden (2111-2117). The Ouija board is clearly included in divination, because its sole purpose is to ask about the future and nothing else. I was trying to find a direct link between the occult practice of Ouija and yoga, and I just can’t make any analogies quite work.
  • “Many martyrs died for not adoring “the Beast” refusing even to simulate such worship.” If we do a sun salutation or a downward dog, are we adoring Satan in our posture?

The document most related to the practice of yoga and its effect on the Catholic faith is called “Jesus Christ, the Bearer of the Water of Life,” a Christian Reflection on the “New Age” from the Pontifical Council for Culture and Interreligious Dialogue, found here. Many use the fact that it mentions yoga in a footnote as one of the Eastern religions in question to prove that yoga is intrinsically evil and should not be dabbled in.

However, a thorough reading of the entire document demonstrates that the Church is concerned about Catholics being swayed by the New Age theory that “recognizes no spiritual authority higher than personal inner experience.” Again, I simply cannot pinpoint a section that prohibits the exercise of yoga as exercise. Some key points include:

  • “Some stages on the way to self-redemption are preparatory (meditation, body harmony, releasing self-healing energies). Psychology is used to explain mind expansion as ìmysticalî experiences. Yoga, zen, transcendental meditation and tantric exercises lead to an experience of self-fulfilment or enlightenment. Peak-experiences (reliving one’s birth, travelling to the gates of death, biofeedback, dance and even drugs ñ anything which can provoke an altered state of consciousness) are believed to lead to unity and enlightenment.” (I definitely didn’t participate in any of THAT nonsense when I did yoga!)
  • “It is difficult to separate the individual elements of New Age religiosity ñ innocent though they may appear ñ from the overarching framework which permeates the whole thought-world on the New Age movement. The gnostic nature of this movement calls us to judge it in its entirety. From the point of view of Christian faith, it is not possible to isolate some elements of New Age religiosity as acceptable to Christians, while rejecting others. Since the New Age movement makes much of a communication with nature, of cosmic knowledge of a universal good ñ thereby negating the revealed contents of Christian faith ñ it cannot be viewed as positive or innocuous.” (This is the closest I come to being convinced that we cannot separate the movements of yoga from its religiosity. But. Read on.)
  • Some practices are incorrectly labeled as New Age simply as a marketing strategy to make them sell better, but are not truly associated with its worldview. This only adds to the confusion. It is therefore necessary to accurately identify those elements which belong to the New Age movement, and which cannot be accepted by those who are faithful to Christ and his Church.” (Here we go. Is most secular yoga simply a New Age marketing gig and not at all related to the paganism found in true New Age practices?)
  • The following questions may be the easiest key to evaluating some of the central elements of New Age thought and practice from a Christian standpoint. ìNew Ageî refers to the ideas which circulate about God, the human being and the world, the people with whom Christians may have conversations on religious matters, the publicity material for meditation groups, therapies and the like, explicit statements on religion and so on. Some of these questions applied to people and ideas not explicitly labeled New Age would reveal further unnamed or unacknowledged links with the whole New Age atmosphere.” (The key to asking the question: is the practice of yoga for exercise, without the Hindu or pantheistic viewpoints, really related to any of the points listed above? I certainly don’t think so. Yoga fits better into the following category:
  • There is no problem with learning how to meditate, but the object or content of the exercise clearly determines whether it relates to the God revealed by Jesus Christ, to some other revelation, or simply to the hidden depths of the self.” (It’s all about intent of heart!)

Last Words

When mentioning yoga, it would seem important to counsel folks away from the very spiritual yoga teachers and at least mention its pagan foundations with a caution not to participate in the soul-opening sense of the practice, just the exercise. Is it possible that, especially for those more shaky in their faith, that the practice of yoga could be a slippery slope into loss of faith? Could just doing it for exercise, particularly if the teacher is spouting all the ìone with natureî and ìsoul-centeringî and whatnot, give Satan a foothold into one’s mind, even if they don’t think it will?

Catholicism is a faith that requires total allegiance to the magisterium (the pope) on matters of faith and morals. If and when the Vatican says that yoga goes against our faith, I would stop doing it, renounce any of this post, and write a rousing argument against yoga being practiced anywhere outside a Hindu temple. But I’m just not seeing it right now.

There is not an official, faith and morals based, Catholic Church teaching on practicing yoga. Many holy priests and holy people can all weigh in, but the fact remains that yoga is a matter for an individual to discern how it affects them.

Yes, practicing yoga could be a sin. Yes, practicing yoga could be a pathway down which one could fall into pagan worship and away from God. However, doing a yoga pose is not an automatic pathway to Hell.

One must use Catholic teaching about the spirit to make certain that they’re using their body and mind for the purpose of seeking holiness and not seeking spiritual enlightenment, oneness with nature, or opening their heart to anything other than the Lord, who is God.

Be a person of prayer, remain in a state of grace, and let us focus our prayers on the salvation of souls and the good of the world. May we turn our minds to Eastern religions only to pray for the Light of Christ to shine in the East, particularly in Japan, where there are so many more dire physical and spiritual needs than in an American yoga studio.

Time to weigh in: do I even need to ask what you think of all this information? Can a Christian person practice yoga for exercise without putting their immortal soul at risk?

This article was originally published in full form here at Kitchen Stewardship. Check out the 150 comments if you want a little more debate!

Copyright 2011 Katie Kimball

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68 Comments

  1. Wow, this can be a very touchy subject, to be sure, but many years ago when my 3 oldest were quite little, I was overwhelmed by NOT being able to kneel in prayer at 3 PM everyday to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet. Most of the time, I was standing w/EWTN on, praying & folding laundry. A very wise & holy priest told me that as long as my *heart* was bowed before God, it mattered little what position my *body* was in. I daresay that the same is true for yoga/exercise as long as one is aware of what it is & what it should NOT be, in the end, it’s God Who knows our hearts. God bless your Holy Week!!!

  2. So many Catholics donot want to be told or to follow what the Church Teaches on the basis that they are strong & stable spiritually & intellectually to know what is good or bad. Many believed they are very good in self-control so nothing or nobody could sway them to the other side. Well, that’s what you think. Please remember the deception of the enemies are very subtle. You are so self-confident perhaps you are truly matured & stable in your faith but not me. I never would want to take any chances. It’s very important for me to follow the Church’s Teachings rather than experimenting.  

      • Katie:
        You’ve done good work here. Your research and your writing have paid off. Readers, I included appreciate it.
        What does the Church say about Yoga? The same that it says about any other religion or spirituality that is outside the boundaries of its doctrine and outside the boundaries of the teachings of Jesus. Yoga is a spirituality that believes that the divine is immanent in humans. This is outside the boundaries of Catholic doctrine. That’s on the “nature of God side.” Besides that, the moral teaching of the Church is that we, disciples of Jesus, should not presume that other spiritualities have no power over us. That, in traditional moral theology, is placing ourselves in the proximate danger of sin. In this case, sin against the 1st commandment. Just because you cannot find the word “Yoga” in a Church document, doesn’t mean that the church has no opinion about it. It does. More scientifically you could look in the Systematic Theology section of your local Catholic University’s library under Divine Immanence, Hypo static Union, Latria, Grace, Faith and whatever other references you get sent to from there. The Moral Theology section will hold treasures for you under Temptation, Human presumption, Occasions of sin, etc.
        This is the age of Google, but this is one question that can only be answered by plowing through a mountain of Theology books. By the way, How’s your Latin? :-)

        • AMEN PAUL DION!! Thank you for your response! I see that Katie has not replied to you in all these years! I hope she has stopped practicing Yoga! I don’t know when people will get it that Yoga should be off limits!

  3. dianne hofmann on

    You say “worshiping a god inside of oneself is intrinsicly evil.” Jesus in Luke l7:21, says “The kingdom of God is INSIDE OF YOU.” The Greek words here “entos humon” clearly mean “inside of you,” and nothing else. St Paul said “The secrete is this: Christ IN you,” and that we are the temple of the HolySpirit. The “yoga” that is do are just exercises. All around the world people have discovered through trial and error that certain exercises are good for you. You people are way too paranoid. It’s like not going to a marshmellow roast because people in India worship Agni, the fire god.

    • Big flaw in your analysis.
      The inner god in yoga is YOU, and is different in different people, therefor is not ONE god, hence Hinduism is polytheist.
      In Catholic teachings it refers to the Holy Spirit, the kingdom of the ONE and ONlY God, not some “inner god”.

    • When I receive Jesus in Holy Communion, Jesus is INSIDE OF ME! If you are Catholic, you have a lot to learn about your own faith. Day to day, it’s the Holy Spirit that is inside of me. Our God is a Triune God. He is ONE GOD!
      In Yoga, it is not only about the mediation that is wrong. It is the POSES THAT ARE WRONG and can OPEN YOU UP TO THE DEMONIC. STAY AWAY FROM YOGA!

  4. You said, “It is not the action that defines the intent, but the intent that defines the soul and guides the action.” Yet, to use your example, the marital embrace is a reflection of God’s love within marriage, and sinful without. A man living with his significant other may ‘intend’ to be showing love to his partner through intercourse, but is, in fact, still sinning. His action/sin does not change because of his intent.

    • This analogy has one fatal flaw. The natural law is brought into play with the issue of sexual morality, making his ‘intent’ contrary to what he knows in his heart to be wrong. The moral use of sexuality is written on the hearts of all men. Not so with stretching exercises.

  5. When I asked a good priest, faithful to the magesterium, about yoga, he told me he thinks of yoga as a form of exercise. As long as you don’t make more of it, it is ok.

    See also St. Paul’s words on eating food sacrificed to idols. He says actually there is nothing wrong with that, all food is good. Don’t ask a lot of questions. As long an no one says, “hey this was sacrificed to god so and so”, then continue with the meal. But if you hear that it was idol food, and you appear to be committing idolatry, stop eating. Don’t eat if it will hurt your brother’s conscience, or if it smacks of idolatry. Can’t remember which letter of Paul this was in. But worrying about whether the food itself will harm you spiritually is superstition.

    Similarly, thinking yoga–the exercise–can bring spiritual harm, is superstition. However, making more of it than exercise, making it a part of a larger spiritual program, is wrong. And attending yoga where the class is doing spiritual things, is wrong. And scandalizing weak christian souls who have these doubts, by participating when we know they are scandalized, is also wrong.

    Food itself is good, as long as it is not over indulged or spoiled. Exercize is good, as long as it is not overdone or lewd. Do all things with love.

    • This is such a wonderful comment! Thank you so much for sharing. I totally agree, and it has really helped me in my own discernment of doing yoga as exercise.

    • The main and original purpose of yoga is to be one with your “inner god”
      You said it yourself:
      “Don’t eat if it will hurt your brother’s conscience, or if it smacks of idolatry.”
      Even if you don’t do it with that purpose, your “brother”, your kids will learn that an explicit spiritual practice from a polytheist religion which main purpose is to be one with a false god (your inner god) is OK for Christians.
      Can’t think of a better way to “hurt your brother’s conscience”. At the very least is confusing for Christians.

    • That is why I never ask a priest with matters such as this. There are many IGNORANT PRIESTS OUT THERE. The ordination of a man does not suddenly make him wise to all that is Catholic. That priest HAS NO IDEA of what he speaks when it comes to Yoga. Stay away from Yoga and anything new age!

  6. I think you are travelling on very thin ice in making your conclusions that you know more than the well respected and knowledgeable authorities you have quoted in your article, and I know many more very holy priests who have commented on the evils of yoga. Why even put yourself in a situation where it could be a near occasion of sin? There are plenty of other types of exercises that could be helpful.

  7. Katie,
    I, too, have struggled with this.. Yes, there are many conflicting beliefs on this subject (as with everything). I decided not to take the risk that what I was doing might offend God, period. I have read everything I could find on the subject of whether Christians should do Yoga. Ultimately, this article convinced me that we should not.

    http://www.matsati.com/yoga.pdf

    Why is Yoga necessary? There are plenty of other exercises that one can do. Even if there were not, I would rather live in poor health than take the chance of participating in an action that is offensive to God.

    I will pray for you,
    Lisa

    P.S. Diane…BRILLIANT analogy, thanks!

  8. When you say that you are not afraid of yoga because it has no power over you, it strikes me as a person who says the same thing about someone viewing pornography. You are failing to realize that willingly putting yourself in situations that could possibly endanger your faith can itself cloud your intellect and weaken your will.

  9. While I commend the spiritual wariness of those comments which absolutely disfavor any use of yoga, I tend to disagree on this particular point. The article was well thought out and made the critical distinction.
    I too have used Tony Horton’s P90X program, which includes a ‘yoga X’ workout intended to increase muscle strength and flexibility (which it surely does!) Whether we call it ‘yoga’ or some other more scientific name (which might be preferable), this particular workout is completely lacking in any Hindu spiritual element. If you break it down to the physical actions being performed, it is merely flexing/tensing your muscles in a way similar to (but more challenging than) stretching before and after other workouts, albeit for longer. This particular workout will make you sweat, it will cause you some discomfort, it will challenge your will power (much like any hard workout), but it will not pull your mind/soul away from God unless you intend that. That same destructive intent could be had during any other otherwise non-controversial workout or activity.

  10. I don’t normally comment on articles, but for a moral question (whether it is good or bad to do yoga) there didn’t seem to be much moral philosophical or theological principles behind the argument. Neither have I read any in the comments below, which is just as troubling to me. You tip your hat to the two aspect of the act, and focus a lot on intention. So, let me without judgement or too much critique add something that might help the discussion.

    There are two parts to every act, the end and the means. We’ve all heard it said, “the ends don’t justify the means.” This is a true statement. We need to keep in mind that the moral act is either good or bad in four different ways. If the end is bad and the means are bad, the act is bad (the religious practice of yoga). If the end is bad and the means are good, the act is bad (new age religiosity without yoga). If the end is good and the means are bad, the act is bad. If the end is good and the means are good, ONLY in this case is the act good. So, our discussion dismisses the first two immediately. As Catholics, we are not discussing either of the first two; we all agree that that would be wrong. Our question is, whether the means are wrong in and of themselves. This, I believe is what you were getting at with the entirety of this article, and you conclude that the means are not in themselves wrong, nor has the Church decried the means. Allow me to go further.

    The means are intrinsically tied to the end. What I mean by this is that the end actually informs the means. The end determines the species of the act. For example, killing is itself not a sinful act (for all of those about to quote the decalogue, check the Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, the words used all refer to murder). Rather, murder is the sinful act. What’s the difference? The difference can be seen more clearly between self-defense, which is morally justifiable and murder. Without delving into a completely other discussion on murder, the ends of the two acts are completely different but the means are the same. As well, in this case the means are morally neutral. Whereas in case of contracepting, the intention ‘can’ be the same and wholesome, i.e. the responsible spacing of children, the means are in themselves wrong. What makes the means this the case of contraception wrong is its contrariety to God’s plan, to the nature of the act, and to the good of the family. I don’t think the same can be said about yoga-as-exercise.

    I’m not going to over step my own limitations to judge whether or not the means of yoga-positions-as-exercise is in itself wrong. However, I will say a few more things. The act as a whole are further specified by circumstances. We determine these by asking the questions, ‘who, what, why, where, when, by what aids, how.’ We know the who, and the what, we even know the why (exercise, flexibility). What we need to think about further is the ‘where and when,’ I think. Let me tell you what I think are the where and the when in general. First, the when; we live in a world that is saturated with moral relativism, syncretism, and sin. We are constantly bombarded with the message of ‘tolerance.’ Tolerance has replaced virtue, but it is, however, unconcerned with truth and the good of the other. What we need to push for is patience, kindness, fortitude, etc…, which can seem like tolerance, but is in fact better. I digress… The matter at hand, though it may or may not be good in itself is visibly indistinguishable from what we’ve already determined to be evil, viz. yoga as a religious practice. So, the next question is ‘where.’ You mention doing yoga in a studio and as part of P90X. I would say, the studio setting could cause and does cause scandal. I think this is clearly seen from a good number of the comments posted here, most of which in Christian charity out of concern. We ought to avoid scandal. It is sinful to lead others into sin. Yoga in the studio might be seen as scandalous. Now, P90X in private would not be scandalous, and as you have said has no religious intent. So, the question is: is yoga as exercise with no religious intent contrary to the plan of God, human nature, the nature of exercise, etc…?

    Now, one last note. Even if P90X yoga is morally acceptable, I would still avoid its use in public. I am not one to be scrupulous, but it is better to avoid the occasion of sin.

    • You will hopfully be edified to learn that P90X is an at home program….it is not done in a studio or group setting.

  11. It is certainly possible to separate the particular forms of exercise from their intended goal. You could take ballet classes, for instance, because you think it is a good exercise; but, the goal of learning every move in ballet is to master it so that the little skills you gradually obtain will culminate in the ability to do larger movements well and ultimately so you can tell the stories of tradition within ballet or create beauty through dance. The forms of ballet aren’t spiritual.

    In the case of yoga, if the form is what makes it specifically a pagan spiritual practice, then, you must ask if the form can actually be preserved and transformed into a Christian form. Labyrinths, for example, were used for pagan spiritual practices, not for meditational prayer. This pagan form was able to be transformed into a valid Christian form for meditational prayer and penance because the form of a labyrinth was not the form of the pagan practice. From what you have said about the yoga positions, it seems like the positions are the form of the pagan religious practice. If you were to change the form, it wouldn’t be yoga anymore. Making it Christian doesn’t really work. There is no such thing as Christian positions for meditation that also exercise the body. This is a not a Christian concept.

    Yoga is just a fad of our present culture. As Christians, Pope Benedict XVI has said, we are called to be counter cultural. Being in the world doesn’t mean we can embrace all forms of the world and transform them into Chrisian forms. It just isn’t always possible.

  12. Another point to consider: Catholicism teaches that there can be elements of truth in other cultures and religions, and we are to reject the errors and accept the truths. And Catholicism has always undergone a process of inculturation everywhere it has spread, giving rise to the many different Rites.

    Regarding yoga, there are many scientific studies of physical yoga postures that show concrete health benefits beyond ordinary western-style stretching and exercising. In India, there are indigenous Christians, descendants of St. Thomas, including priests and entire religious orders in union with the Catholic Church, who practice yoga postures as a matter of keeping good health. So it may be possible that the physical practice of yoga for health is a good insight of Indian culture, to be separated from the errors of Hindu spirituality.

    To be fair, there are also Catholic leaders in India who warn against yoga due to the possible influence of Hinduism, but it seems the problem is lack of good catechesis for the ordinary people, who could be led astray because they simply don’t know enough to recognize the difference between a Catholic belief and a Hindu belief.

    I think the test would be: are there people who are believing, knowledgeable Catholics, who have practiced yoga purely as exercise and consciously rejected any suggestion of non-Catholic spirituality or worship in the practice, who nevertheless have experienced problems with false spirituality or demonic interference? I’ve searched the Web and can’t find any, all the testimonies are of Christians who got into yoga but were ignorant of their own Christian teachings, didn’t know the difference, and so unawarely also got caught up in Hindu or New Age spirituality of yoga – and it was the spirituality that gave them problems.

    If anyone knows of a testimony of a believing, practicing Catholic in a purely physical practice yoga, knowing the difference between and consciously rejecting Hindu or New Age spirituality, yet who nevertheless experienced spiritual or demonic problems, please share them here.

  13. Of course a prayerful, thoughtful, Catholic with an active and serious faith life can engage in Yoga as an exercise.

  14. @ Cordelia

    From what you have said about the yoga positions, it seems like the positions are the form of the pagan religious practice. If you were to change the form, it wouldn’t be yoga anymore. Making it Christian doesn’t really work. There is no such thing as Christian positions for meditation that also exercise the body. This is a not a Christian concept.

    I’m a Roman Catholic, but I’ve been to a few Melkite liturgies where you are standing for over two hours. Standing for two hours is exhausting! Maybe I’m not in shape, but I found the experience meditative (it was the liturgy!), and good exercise.

    There is no physical position that is intrinsiclly immoral. Exercise is exercise!!

    I think a Christian should take yoga positions, go to an area where Yoga had not caught on, and advertise, “Christian Yoga!” All they need to do is read something from scripture and say “meditate on this”, maybe rename the positions, (the pretzel? the tree? the-impossible-to-do-for-norma-men position, whatever) , and then voila, you’d have “Christian Yoga.” Unless someone was steeped in the paganism of Yoga Yoga, no one’s going to know the difference at the clas. God is certainly not going to say, “Ah ha! Gotcha. You’re teaching them positions that pagans use!” That’s just silly. For example, I’m sure some pagans kneeled to pray to Zeus.

    An exercise position is no more spiritually unclean or dangerous than meat cooked medium rare. (yum).

    • There are all sorts of Christian yoga classes, from local ones taught at churches to a couple DVD series, both calling what they do yoga or ‘borrowing’ yoga postures and calling it anything but yoga so that they don’t offend Christians who are afraid of yoga. I wouldn’t know this on my own, but many of my readers at Kitchen Stewardship left links to these places in the comments at the original post. ??? I’ve read 250 comments on this stuff – and all I can think is that we should be focusing on something more important to immortal souls and Christian charity. –Katie

  15. For 40 years I did yoga and Canadian 5BX exercises on a daily basis and the only reason I stopped is because spinal stenosis causes me too much pain.
    I loved every minute of my routines and never once even thought of things like Hindu gods and Gaia!
    I think intent is everything.
    If you do yoga with the intent of worshipping false gods and other crazy stuff then, yes, of course, doing yoga is sinful.
    Otherwise no way is it against Church teaching.
    To support this statement I offer you readers this: about 4 weeks ago our local chruch bulletin dedicated all of the front page to enrolling people to join a yoga class to be held in one of the parish’s own halls. Since I am sure the bishop checks these bulletins out surely he would’ve prohibited this blatant affront to Catholic teaching, if, in fact, it were?
    For those who still are unconvinced, I ask what about cremation which used to be prohibited to Catholics but is now freely available, but only if our intent is in line with Catholic teaching.
    Cheers.

  16. Parents beware of your young adults getting involved in the “Art of Living”. It is an international organization that promotes yoga for stress relief. This group has connected itself to many college campuses. I’ve lost my sister in a certain sense to this group. She meditates daily using yoga and even keeps a picture of guru or leader in her bedroom. She actively recruits people to attend Art of Living courses and is training to be an instructor.

  17. I had enjoyed yoga for years oblivious to the anti-Christian spirituality of it, and then I happened to watch a Women of Grace episode on EWTN (the first time I’d ever watched the show) that discussed yoga, and why Catholics should not participate in it. I was not fully convinced, but some the message from the show stuck with me and I pondered it over a number of days. One of the things said was that if you have trouble giving up yoga, that just shows what a hold it has on you! Then I started paying attention to articles I came across by accident about the spirituality of yoga, and those articles combined with the thoughts the Women of Grace episode had put in my head, plus the fact that my very talented yoga teacher has her class on Sunday morning made me decide to give it up. That could be an over reaction, but when someone feels the need to wear a rosary bead bracelet or say prayers to Jesus during yoga to protect oneself from the anti-Christian vibe, I feel confirmed in my decision to stop going even though I’ll miss it a lot. Instead I’ll take more long walks and maybe give pilates a try.

  18. My difficulty with it isn’t so much the positions (though I do think there’s something to wonder about there as we are a people of posture) but that of giving scandal and possibly putting oneself in a precarious position.

    We must never assume that we won’t be tempted by something. All the “oh please I can tell the difference between godly wisdom and New Age nonsense!” sounds a might bit presumptuous. A person in pain or difficulty could very likely be tempted by the promises of something different and seemingly harmless. Even a person who thinks their faith is strong.

    Please understand I used to be a rather outspoken advocate of yoga but my mind has changed over the years as I have witnessed people who thought they WERE strong in their faith fall prey to the New Age. It just made me realize how utterly dependent we are on God’s grace and I think some things are better left alone, no matter how nice they seem.

    I don’t think it’s superstitious to be careful, I think it’s prudent and something we are in constant need of discerning.

  19. Two comments, even if I am late getting into the game. I could make a long list of reasons why your reasoning is false and why Catholicism and yoga (Lower case “y” or upper case “Y”) are incompatible. My comments will focus on the two points which you made about the first commandment and the Christianized practices and items. I will refrain from giving you the traditional moral theology about placing oneself in the proximate danger of sin, in this case, sin against the first commandment. As to your comment about the first commendment, I suggest that you read your own words carefully as they appear in your post, and you will see just how insidious the pratice of yoga, “just for the exercise” can be. Even you admit that you are not prepared to recognize how or when the heart can turn. I bolded it for you.

    “You shall have no other gods before me,” which of course disallows the religious practice of yoga, but I still can’t tell if we can do the exercise without the turning of the heart.” Catholic moral Theology and Catholic traditional spirituality dictate that we avoid putting ourselves in environments of this nature in order to avoid temptation. Doing so wilfully under the presumptiion that I am not afraid of yoga. It has no power over me is sinful. Eve was sure that the serpent had no power over her.
    As to the commandeered practices, etc…
    “Many practices have been shifted from or shared with pagan religions and made holy: the Rosary (using strings of beads to count prayers was Hindu and Buddhist long before the 13th century when Mary taught us to use it), fasting, meditation, ritual sacrifice (for Old Testament Jews), holidays and traditions like a Christmas tree and countless others that we’ve commandeered and made holy. Just because a pagan does it does not automatically make a practice or movement intrinsically evil; why can’t a Christian simply focus on God while doing yoga?”
    You, Ma’am, like so many others miss the essential point of difference between yoga and the practices and items that you and many others mention when engaged in a discussion about this matter. The practices and items that you mention are not actuators of the divine like the asana that is practiced in yoga. The rosary, the animal sacrifices and the Christmas tree are realities that actuate our memory and our sentiment toward the essentially separate Being that God is. They are reminders that God wants us to relate to Him. Our Christian (and Jewish too, by the way) prayer postures signify that we accept God as being close to us, but essentially separate from us. The fact that we adore Him as a God of Love underlines that reality. Love is what makes us relate to one another, God and creature, not the posture. These practices, postures and artifacts do not have divine powers like those attributed to yogic postures. Our Biblical tradition, Christian and Jew alike, never come close to attributing us with divine powers.

    I close by saying that there are two kinds of power: agressive and violent, insidious and attractive. Yes, ma’am, we must fear both, for “fear is the beginning of wisdom.” (Proverbs 9;10 and Psalms 111;10)

  20. @ Paul Dion

    Exercises are just exercises . . . Voodoo does not exist! If you accidentally put a piece of someone’s hair on a doll and stab it with a pin, nothing will happen.

    Everyone’s talking as if the physical postures of yoga exercises are intrinsically evil! That’s as crazy as saying the meat itself, offered to a false god, is intrinsically evil to eat.

    Exercises are just exercises.

    • Demons can and do possess people and objects, voodoo participates in this and does exist. It is a form of black magic whether you believe in it or not.

      If anyone out there is wanting to practice yoga I would encourage them to look into pilates instead. Pilates is completely non-spiritual and works miracles for strength and flexibility. There are a lot of great Pilates studios available in most cities and you don’t have to worry about scandal at all.

  21. And you know what, if the postures are named after hindu gods, then rename the postures! If it’s good exercise, it’s good exercise.

    A physical posture does not funnel evil forces into your soul or body. A physical exercising posture is not inherently evil in itself.

  22. A little off topic, but I’m concerned with the amount of yoga showing up in public school phys. ed. classes. If I do yoga how can I speak against it at the local school?

  23. I would not choose to purchase an artifact that has religious meaning to a non-Christian culture, even though to me it would just be art and is devoid of any religious or spiritual meaning. I feel the same way about participating in yoga. Jesus sacrificed too much and His love for me (and us), and my love for Him, is too great to dishonor and minimize Him in this way. Also, we cannot know what goes on in the spirit world.

  24. Mr Ambrose: You’re right, exercise is exercise. In Yoga, the positions of exercise (asana) are assumed to energize the divine part of our being in regions called chakras. This is not voodoo, it is Yoga. It’s against the basic commandment of our one, loving God who is separate from us and demands that He be the one and only divinity to whom we turn.

  25. Yes, they are assumed, but they don’t really energize your “chakras,” which as you and I know, doesn’t exist. So if you take out all of the pagan mumbo jumbo, and teach the exercises as purely exercises, there would be no harm in that.

    Art is one thing. Exercises is another. There’s an exercise called the “hello dolly,” Marines do it all the time as an ab workout. You’d be called crazy if you made a connection between the exercise and promiscuity.

    A statue of Buddha is very obviously a statue of Buddha, recognizable by everyone. I wouldn’t purchase it either for that reason. However, a type of position in yoga, if the people you are teaching it to have never taken a ‘real Yoga’ class, will not be identified with energizing the so-called chakras.

    And yes we can know what goes on in the “spirit” world. The “Spirit” world you refer to consists of angels, demons and God. Their activities are very much knowable and known.

    Posssession does happen, but only when a person wills it, allowing satan to possess them.

    Pilates are a great idea! Great way to exercise for some people. Some people, even Catholics, might prefer the yoga exercises to pilates, though. Objectively speaking, devoid of an pagan spiritualism, the exercises themselves are not intrinsically evil. They’ve got pagan names? Rename them, the positions themselves, are not intrinsically evil.

    You gotta make a distinction, like Katie does, between the objective, morally neutral exercises, and the very dangerous pagan spiritualism. They are seperable.

    • Guiseppe,
      I appreciate you standing up for me, even though I barely take sides on the issue at all in the long run. 😉 I do have to say, from experience of people I know, that one does not have to will demonic possession for it to happen, in all its gory reality, unfortunately. A very holy person can be possessed by a demon…and it was one of them who told me that we can’t be afraid of demons, that God is so much bigger and more powerful than that. It was she who inspired the section on yoga and fear. I’m not afraid of demons, although I won’t be inviting them into my home on purpose…and I really don’t think yoga postures w/o spirituality does that, although if it does, the bottom line is that God is bigger. Not through any power, faith, pride, or self-assured-ness of my own, but by His own power.

      Thanks, Katie

  26. You and I are saying the same thing in a different way. Yoga is not compatible with Catholicism. We don’t believe in chakras and the power of asanas, but Yoga does as is readily evident by it essence of its very definition. What I am saying is that though Catholicism and Yoga are separable, yoga and the exercises are not. Therefore a Catholic doing the yoga exercises is moving too close to the flame to avoid feeling the heat. In old fashioned Catholic language, the Catholic is hovering too close to an occasion of sin against the first commandment.
    In absolute, intellectual terms, I totally agree with you. However, we all know that life is not defined in absolutes. Temptation, in fact often insinuates itself into our lives and we sometimes get won over by it because it pleases us and we rationalize our actions by saying that they result in our well being. That is why, we should not tempt God by assuring ourselves that Yoga or any other spiritual system outside of our Catholic practices has no power over us. Isn’t that what is written in the story of the temptation of Jesus in the desert?
    BTW, I like the story about the marines. But stay away from Yoga. It is more insidious than “Hello Dolly.” It’s more than about names, it is about a spiritual system. Peace and joy to you and yours.

  27. @ Paul Dion
    I don’t think Guiseppe Ambrose is saying anything like what you’re saying.
    Certainly I don’t agree with you and neither, apparently, does my parish priest or my bishop.
    See my post #18 above.
    What do you make of that?
    Michael

  28. Sir:
    Here’s what I make of that.

    What I am seeing here is the arrogance of human beings vis-a-vis the insidious power of attraction to something that we want to do. Intent is not everything. Intent is a human activity of the intellect and the will. It is not a spiritual action. Catholics, traditionally, are very wary of human intent. It is easily deviated and redirected if it is not in harmonious relationship to God’s grace. A truly dedicated disciple of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob does not turn to Yoga for anything. Human beings are not strong enough in and of themselves to avoid sin. Yoga is a spiritual system that considers the human being as living a partially divine existence that with practice can make the individual more God than human. Look it up. That’s what yoga is. There is no Christian or Catholic Yoga. Your priest and your bishop are sincretists giving themselves over to a God that is not the one that they went to the seminary to get to know and serve better. Now they no longer think that He is complete enough to satisfy their drive (and yours) for perfection, so they give themselves over to Eastern Theosophies and they become missionaries for paganism. They are not the only ones. There are many of them, all of them wrong. So if your intent is to follow the Catholic teachers who have direct access to you, I am here telling you that they are teaching you wrong.
    Finally, I dare to enlighten you about my credentials. I earned a masters degree in Theology from the University of Saint Thomas in Rome, Italy. I have been working in Church ministry for more than 50 years. I am not a right wing whacko. I know my God. I know Yoga. The two are not compatible. Period. Tell your priest I said so.

  29. Paul, so I’m a heathen as is my parish priest as is my bishop who, incidentally, has his doctorate in theology, not just a masters and has been in Church ministry for as long as you and more intimately.
    Hmmmm.
    Furthermore, I see nothing in the CCC opposing yoga which you’d think there’d be if you were on target.
    I’ll say it again, intent, as confrimed by Jesus teaching about adultery, is everything.
    But I do have to agree with you when you say you’re not a right wing whacko.
    You’re just plain whacko.
    Go get help.
    Cheers.
    P.S. Cremation is indeed on topic when talkling about Hindus (from whom yoga comes) who’ve converted to Catholicism and who most certainly must have no intent of being re-incarnated to be cremated. Intent is everything, old boy, everything. QED.

    • Michael,
      I’m disappointed that you would use a public forum, on a Catholic site, for name-calling, and during Holy Week, no less. You and Paul, although cordial in your correspondence after this comment, should probably stick to saying a prayer for one another (and me, too, please, while you’re at it, as motherhood no longer allows more than 2 minutes a week at adoration) and cease the discussion, since neither of you are going to change the others’ mind.

      God bless, Katie

      • I just want to share my thoughts on yoga which i practise as an exercise.

        I use yoga as an exercise and have not deviated from my belief in Our God ALmighty, His Son Jesus, His Holy Spirit, our Holy Mother Mary.

        I do not claim to be a ‘Holy’ Christian though i go to Sunday Mass, Receive Holy Communion, Say my daily prayers with my family as well as the Rosary at least thrice a week.

        I cannot say that i am in any way as CHRISTLIKE that Jesus would want me to be. I have faith that my Jesus understands my iniquities so long as i do not intentionally harm, or be rude and cause hurt to the least of my brethren. And when i realize i have caused hurt – i seek forgiveness of my brother with the promise i will not repeat it again.

        I believe that My Jesus the mighty healer, fortress and rock and protector, guided me to YOga classes conducted in a sports club.

        My Yoga guru (teacher)is a HINDU, who Chants the OM and some prayers in Sanskrit at the start of each session.

        He does not care if we do not join him in his prayers. He does not tell us to join his prayers. He does not preach Hinduism to us who attend his Classes.

        Whilst he prays, i lift the exercise session up to Jesus and his Mother Mary. I thank Jesus for guiding me to the exercise sessions and for the relief and cure i have experienced through this exercise and acupressure. I ask Jesus to bless each exercise that both Me and my husband do at that time that it may strengthen my muscels and help us reduce weight, and keep my hubbys hypertension under control . I ask my Jesus for wisdom to refrain from doing those exercises that may cause me further physical harm. I pray during this time for the health of my children as well. I use this prayer time to talk to Jesus.

        I do not chant the OM as i heard ( i do not know if this is true) that OM is a HIndu prayer.

        All through the session, the YOga Guru (teacher) advises against surgery and extols the virtues of Yoga as the best alternate medicine. Every Asans that he teaches us, he keeps reminding us of which part of our body is benefited as well as which of the glands are being activated which prevents the NEW AGE LIFESTYLE diseases setting in, such as Hypertension, Diabetes, Kidney failure, Jaundice etc.

        He simultaneously recommends the preferred diet as per the seasons of the year. ( He explained that our body has three major elements that is ACIDITY(Pith) GAS (Vayu) and COLD (Kaph) which must be in balance. WHen any of these elements turn excessive, we get related health problems like rheumatism, arthiritis associated with excessive Acidity etc. He mentions that this is a science that the Yogis of ancient times learned through the ages.

        He advises that we should cleanse our body of TOXINS every morning by drinking warm water ( this is an asan/exercise). we should stimulate the throat muscles to vomit out this water – this helps in ridding the stomach of bile, and clearing the nasal passages of the cold and congestion as well as activates the bowels.

        He talks about how a clean stomach rids the body of all ailments.

        He recommends we eat everything in moderation (just as we do not take excessive medicinal doses, we should also not eat excessively)

        I believe that Jesus has healed me by guiding me to this form of exercise and alternate medicine of acupressure.

        Through the past ten years of excruciating pain and morbid thoughts on account of the pain, all i used to pray to Jesus and His Mother Mary was to give me the strength to bear the pain and to bless me with the use of my limbs and senses for as long as i lived, since surgery was not advisable for my incurable condition of cervical stenosis and slipped disc.

        I can say i am healed and active with this form of exercise, which i lift up to Jesus to bless my actions at every yoga session.

        If Yoga is Evil because it was discovered in Eastern parts of the world.

        Are Medical and life saving inventions in Allopathic medicine evil, because some Non-Christian has researched and discovered a cure in these inventions?

        If we believe in the saving and redeeming power of the precious blood that Jesus shed for us on the Cross, we should not fear of being overpowered by the EVil one, through some poses/(exercises) which are not part of a religious ritual.

  30. Easter eggs were a pagan practice, but Christians picked it up, painted them red to signify the death of Christ, and when the eggs were opened they signified the Resurrection. St. Mary Magdalene gave a red egg to the Emperor Tiberius as a witness to Christ. We still give Easter eggs today. Is that wrong, too? Maybe we should revoke Mary Magdalene’s sainthood.

    The body belongs to God, and it can be used rightly or wrongly. The same sexual act can be a virtue or a sin, depending on how it is used – within marriage with openness to life, or in adultery or outside of marriage. The fact that pagans used sex in fertility cults and had temple prostitutes and practice Tantric sex doesn’t mean that we should therefore always avoid sex, because no matter our intention we are worshiping false gods in the act.

    Paul in the bible tells us we can eat meat sacrificed to idols – just not in the pagan temple, lest we give the impression of worshiping false gods. It’s just meat, the gods are not really gods.

    East Indians are concerned about bodily health along with spiritual matters, and yoga in part developed as a system to promote bodily health. Scientific studies verify this fact. Actually part of the roots were a system to help young men with raging hormones learn to control their passions, through learning to control the body with yoga. It wasn’t all about worshiping false gods. In what way is that incompatible with Christianity? We are also supposed to learn to control our bodies, in part through ascetical bodily practices.

    Just don’t do it in a Hindu or New Age environment. Take classes at a gym, or buy yoga tapes that have nothing to do with spirituality (there are plenty on the market, with really good instructors), that focus entirely on developing strength and flexibility, and in that way promote bodily health.

    I’m still waiting to hear of any devout Catholic who suffered bad spiritual effects from a completely non-spiritual, purely physical practice of yoga as exercise. I still haven’t heard anything, just lots of (to me) superstitious assertions. And frankly, yoga gurus in India say that if you do yoga without the spirituality, it’s not yoga at all, just gymnastics. So even in their book you can separate the physical exercises from the spirituality.

  31. Michael,
    Thank you for your well thought out, intellectually astute, well constructed response to my comment. Heathens you and your ilk are not. You are playing with their fire though. I also don’t fear a discussion with your priest or your bishop or both. In fact I’m sure that it would be quite engaging and enlightening. I stand by my position on this matter. I will now leave you and your hierarchical friends to your own devices while I take your advice to seek help. My favorite asana is kneeling before the tabernacle, where my Therapist holds Office. Join me every morning at 7:45, Pacific time, USA.

    • Paul – You respond to Michael, but not me? I’m so hurt.

      But I have to warn you: Kneeling is one of the yoga positions. You better not do it because you might get possessed by a demon. So is sitting, standing, and prostrating – guess you can’t adore our Lord at all, because no matter what position you take or what your intent, it’s something done in yoga and therefore dangerous!

      And falling off a high horse can be especially painful. So I have to tell you that your spiritual superiority is oozing. Join you? As if we don’t already adore our Lord, before the tabernacle and in our local adoration chapels. And while stretching, exercising, working – doing all things “as serving the Lord, and not men.” (Col 3:23)

      The debate over yoga is a worthy debate, and I think it should continue. The Church herself has not made a judgment. The Church has not spoken on the issue of the physical practice of yoga, only a committee has issued a (non-Magisterial) opinion, mentioning yoga in passing, in the context of spirituality, not in the context of physical exercise.

      Someday I welcome Her opinion, but in the meantime I still await even a single story that serves as actual evidence against the physical practice of yoga. As I asked earlier in this thread, if anyone knows of any, please share it.

    • Paul,
      Thank you for saying my comment was “intellectually astute” but you know that wasn’t what I intended at all. My intention was to explain something in a very simple way for a simple mind to understand.
      But clearly I didn’t do too good a job and since I don’t know how to reach down to the kindergarten level to explain things, I’ll just have to give up.
      As with Martin Luther and other stubborn and stiff-necked contrarians its your way or the highway.
      Sad.
      Nonetheless I’ll say a prayer for you and wish you a very happy Easter.
      Michael

  32. Theo:
    Welcome to my world. I mean it. The discussion about this topic is so engaging because for me it sets two world views in a Thesis/Antithesis position that is very powerful. The one side the creating, loving God and the other the created working at devising ways of divinizing itself. It is so Gnostic, so foreign to everything that Yahweh and His Son have set out to do. Lately the Scriptures have been rich in recalling Elijah to mind. When I think of Yoga and the rest of the human efforts to generate divinity from creatures, I remember Elijah on Carmel, I remember Jesus on Tabor and the disciples not getting the message and I ask myself, “What more does God have to do?”
    I know I get passionate about this. I am one who doesn’t feel as though I have to wait for the Church to form my relationship with God in every microscopic detail. I take what He gives me and I run with it.
    To you, I say, thank you for the gentlemanly admonition and the truly honest statements in your original post and in your approach to me. I am tough when it comes to my faith, but I am also dedicated to the truth, where ever I find it. I tell you that I am satisfied with the truth that way I see it concerning Yoga. I see myself being in the same boat as Irenaeus and his uphill struggle against Gnosticism. I see myself as in good company there. If that be arrogant, so be it. I suppose we all have some convictions that we feel are worth picking up the gauntlet for.
    Thank you once again for living up to the name you carry. If your father was/is as Catholic as mine was, I’m sure that you know why you have it. So far, in my context, you’re carrying it well.

  33. The debate on yoga and Christianity is interesting, though I feel, it is very narrowly focussed.If the logic of the lead article is taken on its face value, it is time we gave up on the concept of evangelisation itself. If we recognize the right of everyone else, assuming that everyone to whom you would like to take the Word is already part of one or the other belief system, to close their mind to everything else, the whole idea of evangelisation is redundant, irrelevant and logically defeatist. Only in a world open to thinking and ideas is there any relevance for evangelisation.

    You call yoga by any other name, but to the extend that it helps you ‘tick the God within you’, you should be happy and receptive to the idea. The inner happiness that you experience through serious and systematic practice of yoga is a Godly experience – let’s take it as ‘Our Godly Experience’. If and when every human being on earth can have that experience and sustain it, we have truly succeeded in bringing in God’s Kingdom on earth, which all God’s people would claim to be their ultimate objective. In this context the following excerpts from a feature prepared by Mr. Kurien Joseph for our Parish monthly News letter (Delhi Dominican, March 2011) is relevant to be quoted:

    Fr Malachy O’Dwyer’s
    homily of Sunday 13 February, 2011,
    the 6th Sunday of the ecclesiastical year, explained
    the intent of Jesus’s message: “You are the salt of the
    earth – you are the light of the world” (Mt 5, 17-37).
    Fr Malachy explained that “the first Christians, many
    of whom were Jews, were puzzled … After all their
    whole lives, until the time when they became followers
    of Jesus, had been formed by the teachings of
    the Old Testament. Did all that not have any meaning,
    any value, for them any longer? Should they
    forget all that had been handed down to them?”
    Fr Malachy then helped us to introspect. “What
    is the relationship between being a Christian and
    being an Indian? Or, in a more specific context,
    what is the relationship between Christianity and
    Hinduism? Does being a Christian mean rejecting
    all that is non-Christian? … How does being a follower
    of Christ affect my relationship with those of
    other religions and other faiths?”
    For the answers, Fr Malachy explained, we
    should “take our guidelines from Jesus’ own approach
    to the problem … There was no question
    of an outright rejection of what had gone before – ‘I
    have not come to abolish the law and the prophets’
    – nor was there any question of disregarding or not
    respecting the past; on the contrary, anyone who
    did so was censured.” Indeed, if we are called to
    be ‘the salt of the earth’ and ‘the light of the world’,
    “that means that it is our duty to bring out the flavour
    in, and to highlight the beauty of, what is already
    there, to preserve all that is good no matter where
    it comes from.” Clearly, the richness and the beauty
    of India’s culture is something that deserves Christian
    “salt” to preserve and “light” to brighten it.
    Fr Malachy himself, as an earlier Provincial of
    the Dominican Order in India and a canon lawyer,
    has high credentials indeed. Yet he goes a step
    further by quoting from no less than Pope John
    Paul II’s address to the Catholic Bishops of India
    during his visit to India in 1986.
    “Inter-religious dialogue”, the Pope had then
    said, “is a serious part of your apostolic ministry….
    As ministers of the Gospel here in India, you have
    the task of expressing the Church’s respect and
    esteem for all your brethren and for the spiritual,
    moral and cultural values enshrined in their different
    religious traditions.” [Emphasis added.]

    In a world, where fanatic and fundamentalist elements are working overtime to reinforce the religious divide among God’s people, shedding God’s people’s blood, let us work overtime to help bring about God’s Kingdom, taking everything beautiful, no matter from where it comes. Let us also not forget the fact that everything modern today that we claim to be practicing, had a pagan root or origin. When the tribal christians of India dance their way to the alter carrying their offerings, when the African christians carry with them their ethnic/aboriginal practices into the modern christianity, the so called modern christianity is not compromised, but strengthened as what drived them into the flock is the Word. If we seek to shut out the room for those practices, you will eventually be shutting out the world of the Word for those who thus far denied of it.
    Dr. Jacob Antony

  34. I reply to Dr. Antony.
    “You call yoga by any other name, but to the extend [sic] that it helps you ‘tick the God within you’, you should be happy and receptive to the idea.”

    I take this to be the premise of your entire comment. Everything that follows it relates back to it, so I think I understand what you’re trying to say. I am not, therefore going to address each and every connecting dot because the first dot is the important one. It is also outside the sphere of the faith of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus. The truth of our faith is that there is no god within us. There is only one single human being who had God within Him, and that was Jesus. (We won’t bring Mary into the discussion because that is not the nature of the “within” that we discussing here.) No other human being was able, and none other will be able, to sustain divine nature. None of us is endowed with the hypostatic union. There is no divinity in us to “tic”. We are neither humanly divine, nor divinely human.
    What we have in us is an effect of the existence of God, the gift of His Grace, freely proffered and extended to us to enjoy as His creature. God is forever separate and disparate from us and it will never be other than that, even in heaven. We are human and through Grace, a free gift from God, we are created in his image (a separator concept) and strive to become more and more like Him by responding to His ever flowing Grace.
    You want us all to be divine so that your statement that evangelization is an exercise in futility will make sense. There would be one god in many modes that would make the world one in the divinity of the one god in all and for all.
    Thanks to His free gift of Grace, which is an action of His that has an effect outside of Himself, it is possible for us to have a personal relationship with Him. Part of the relationship is to …”go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,(Matt.28;19). That’s what God wants, as told to us by His very own Son.
    God Himself teaches us in many ways that He is separate from us. Today, in fact, at the Mass of Holy Thursday we hear Jesus telling Peter, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” (John, 13;8) I could give you a dozen or more examples of God teaching us in and through the Holy Scriptures that He is separate from us and He wants us to be His and His alone. Don’t you remember His saying,
    “2 I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
    3 Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
    4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
    5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; 6 And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.” (Exodus 20)

    Evangelization is mandatory per the words of Jesus Christ, Son of God. In evangelizing we respect the beliefs of others all the while staying separate from them and praying that they will embrace the God in whose name we carry on the mission. Not the god that you say is a part of us all.
    I repeat, Yoga, in any form and in any degree is not compatible with Catholicism.

  35. I don’t believe there is anything wrong with the practice of yoga purely as a form of exercise or even a means of spiritually connecting with God-the one true God. As a practising Catholic (who loves my faith), I can tell you that it is possible to attach a completely Christian element to your practice if you so choose-as always, intent is key. While doing the poses, I’m thinking of carefully getting my body into whatever pose it was without falling over or injuring myself (lol), rather than considering some other spirituality that goes counter to what I believe. My faith has not diminshed ANY just because I practise the physical exercises of yoga. On the contrary, it calms my mind and makes me more connected to my Lord and my God. Habitally after my practice, I say my rosary in thanksgiving to God for day (I tend to practise yoga after work) and find I can more deeply focus on my prayers.

    As I said, you can attach a totally Catholic/Christian element to your physical exercises if you wanted to. In the last 2 years or so, I have been doing my poses to Gregorian and Benedictine chants. I burn frankincense oils and light candles to build on the more heightened sense of well-being and connectedness to Jesus that I experienced initially. My Catholic faith is as intact as it has ever been-and by frequent prayer and personal communion with God, my faith is such that nothing else will get in between that.

  36. I can honestly say that anything that enhances your ability to be more relaxed and at peace cannot be harmful. If you find some relaxation from yoga then congratulations. If you find it by performing a holy hour at an adoration chapel then that is great too. God has blessed us with so many ways to let go of the outside world and focus our thoughts inward so we can be of service. I think that many rivers run. To the same ocean taking different paths. If you get a health and stress benefit as a result of yoga.. how bad can it be? If you can deal with others with a less stressed and uptight attitude, why can’t it be anything but good? There are so many ways we can use the things of this world to seperate ourselves from God, but in the end they are just tools for our use. We don’t blame keyboards for mispellings.. and we can’t blame yoga for for devil worship.

  37. This is a really important topic for me. It was at the end of yoga practice, during savasana, 3 years ago, that I heard a voice say, “I am the Holy Spirit and I am love.” The voice was clear and strong and not my own.

    At that time I knew almost nothing about Christianity, certainly I had no idea about the Holy Spirit. The experience led me to RCIA and ultimately to being baptized and joining the Catholic faith.

    I heard God’s voice during my yoga practice. I love my faith and I enjoy yoga. I attend mass at least once a week. I practice yoga many times each week. I have been accepted into a yoga teacher training program, this summer.

    I am very interested in advice and information that will help me protect my relationship with God while also expanding my yoga practice.

    • Hi-congratulations on your Baptism and welcome to the faith! You can always try performing your asanas to the Benedictine and/or Gregorian chants as I tend to do; incorporating any calming/mellow Christian music should do in opening the heart and mood and making you happier and more receptive in general to receiving the Holy Spirit and hearing God’s voice. I have a CD of hymns from the Russian Orthodox church which I find quite beautiful too.

      As for the meditation aspect of the practice, you can try contemplating on the face of Christ or the Cross whilst meditating…yoga, just like anything else, can be portal for connecting to the one true God if used responsibly and properly..intent is a big part of it.

      If you have frankincense in any form, burning it and releasing that special smell will lift your mood and give you a lovely feeling in your heart…that smell always reminds me of Mass on special days (Christmas, Easter Vigil, Holy Thursday)…so don’t be afraid to connect with Him in whichever way you prefer and He will reach out to you.

      And don’t hesitate to pray a decade of the Rosary in thanksgiving for your practice when you’re done…I’ve often been moved to doing so after final relaxation. Good luck!

  38. Your response was interesting. I am a traditionalist Catholic and have no problem doing yoga. I had voice lessons with a well known vocal coach, recently deceased within the last few years, who leaned towards ‘new age’ practices at times, but….I think it is entirely possible to take what is good and reject what is bad. Deep breathing MAY be a part of martial arts or yoga, but essentially it is a good physical practice to enable the body to learn to calm itself and help blood pressure and for singers, enable the body to feel where the abdominals are working – essential for any decent classical singing.
    I have an autistic adopted daughter and have been getting quite a lot of flack for doing NAET and muscle testing from practitioners who use the laser injected energy vials that are laser injected with the electrical or energy signature of the various allergen – it has helped her but…a lot of Catholic friends have accused me of dealing in the ‘occult’ for doing this. What is the alterative? Drugging her with pharmaceuticals? That certainly could be argued to be related to alchemy and medieval witchcraft – in fact the pharmaceuticals do more killings every year than any other form of ‘medicine.’ I see people all over from catholics to evangelicals who endorse pharma but condemn as ‘diabolic’ ANYTHING on the alternative side. I know Padre Pio told a converted mason that there were elements in masonry that were true – otherwise they wouldn’t ‘hook’ people into the lodge. I think that certain physical properties of energy, even though eastern mysticism has tried to incorporate these things into their ‘religious’ viewpoint, are obviously part of how God made us all up physically, and I think the danger is that newer medical discoveries and the use of some therapies based on those discoveries which may or may not have some basis in eastern medical practices which can be related to eastern mysticism end up with people throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I never got possessed doing singing lessons and I certainly do not feel like I need an exorcism doing muscle testing with my very religious (albeit protestant) naturopath. I also have a retired very devout Catholic nursing friend who does NAET work with the energy vials to help keep people suffering from food allergy related arthritis out of the nursing home and off the drugs. My friend who criticized me for doing this work – we both suffer from spinal arthritis problems – is herself entirely addicted to oxycodone. So…THAT is the moral preference? I fail to see where God would want me to become addicted to a pharmaceutical that leads to all sorts of side effects to my body, but using an energy vial and tapping on some energy meridians is ‘occult’ or ‘devil worship.’ I prayed to St. Alphonsus and my friend who does the energy work said she discovered it after long novenas to ST. Alphonsus looking for some legitimate safe way to work with herself and others who suffer from food allergy arthritic problems. I need to see more evidence on the subject. Thanks for your post.

    • Moira,
      Well said! Isn’t it amazing that God has created the world such that we can heal ourselves with the incredible knowledge we have? I’m so glad you and your daughter have found something that helps you. God bless you!
      :) Katie

  39. I wouldn’t mind jumping into this one because My wife asked me to research Yoga before she joined some of her Catholic friends in a Yoga club.
    It is not mentioned in name by the CCC simply because it’s not that big on the radar of our church. However NewAge religions are… And yes “yoga” is one.
    If you place your hands on an idol, but you instead pray to our God while holding it up in front of you, do you see the obvious problem in that? Yoga positions were given in enlightment to humans in order to serve demons masquerading as Gods. This is a way that Satan uses to teach false religion and keep millions of humanity away from the true God! Do you really think you can now know this and still hold on to demonic poses and worship God?
    Someone earlier put it on this small audience to prove anyone ever became possessed by Yoga… Really??!! Possession is a rare thing and it has more than one stage of full blown crazy! It should be good enough for you to trust the Church in Rome who chose Fr A. To be the official lead exorcist and he states undeniably the danger is there in Yoga. It opens the risk factor – he has seen it.
    I suggest you form a new named exorcise with fewer ( and verified not to be any in Yoga) positions and then teach to do the rosary. Or you can simply put on your blinders and disregard the yellow and red flags you have noted in your research.

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