YOGA: What's So Bad About Feeling Good?

I’ve always had some sort of exercise routine—even if it wasn’t much of a “routine,” per se.

Eating well and staying fit has been part of my life more out of necessity than desire. It rises from chronic illness rather than vanity. The catalyst for me “working out” has been my calling to live out my vocation as wife and mother and never how I look in a bathing suit.

In fact, I use the term “working out” rather loosely since the same chronic illness that requires me to monitor my bodily well-being hinders my ability to really drill down and push myself to any physical limits. It’s not that I haven’t tried. I have—but there are always severe consequences. So I’ve had to find that balance between “working out” and not killing myself in the process.

Enter yoga.

Or the idea of yoga.

The appeal of the gentle movements and stretching of yoga really drew me in as I searched for the perfect exercise routine that would tend to my body but wouldn’t break me, and so I began researching it. I am a fairly grounded Christian but it was easy for me to see—rather quickly—that as a Catholic, yoga was a practice that I couldn’t or wouldn’t engage in. But a lot of Catholics do practice yoga. Each side—those Catholics who practice yoga and those who don’t—can make its case rather successfully. However, I found some points against yoga for Catholics to be noteworthy and determining.

For instance, there is this from the Hindu American Foundation:

 “Yoga is a combination of both physical and spiritual exercises, entails mastery over the body, mind and emotional self, and transcendence of desire. The ultimate goal is moksha, the attainment of liberation from worldly suffering and the cycle of birth and rebirth.”

As a Catholic the term “rebirth” in this excerpt should be very disconcerting. Catholics simply do not believe in rebirth. As Catholics we believe you are given one lifetime. You are baptized and will live your life as a believer in Christ as your Savior. You aren’t given multiple lives to work out your final destiny.

Additionally, Catholics “get” suffering. Maybe sometimes too much; but nonetheless, we don’t—as a group—run from suffering. We understand its redemptive value. While we may wish to be liberated from it and can certainly pursue that through Christ, we don’t see it as our “ultimate goal.” Our ultimate goal is to unite our lives with Christ, the Suffering Servant.

There is also this from the Hindu American Foundation:

“There is the concerning trend of disassociating Yoga from its Hindu roots. Yet, even when Yoga is practiced solely in the form of an exercise, it cannot be completely delinked from its Hindu roots.”

Many yoga-practicing Catholics say, “Yes, yoga may be of a different religion but I believe in Christ so I will be fine.” However, the above statement should quickly negate that false sense of security. In essence it indicates that even if the person practicing yoga sees it only as exercise, he or she is mistaken—and sadly misguided—since yoga cannot be completely separated from its Hindu roots. We—as Catholics—don’t even have to understand the implication of what that statement means (that it can’t be completely delinked from its Hindu roots) for it to have relevance in our lives as Catholics. The statement in and of itself ought to give us pause.

To reiterate the importance of the link between practicing yoga and its Hindu roots, here is another statement from the Hindu American Foundation: “One does not have to profess faith in Hinduism in order to practice Yoga…Yoga is an essential part of Hindu philosophy and the two cannot be delinked, despite efforts to do so.”

These are things that should matter to Catholics. To be very clear: This isn’t an indictment against those who practice the Hindu faith; rather it is a reminder that those who practice the Catholic faith ought to be aware that even their exercise program is a facet of their faith journey.

Cheryl Dickow
www.BezalelBooks.com

 Note: For Catholics interested in health and wellness Catholic style, The Rosary Workout by fitness expert, author and speaker Peggy Bowes is an excellent resource. www.RosaryWorkout.com

Comments

  1. I find this to be an excellent, easy to understand explanation. Thank you!

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    1. Thanks, Nancy! This has been something that keeps coming to my attention so I knew it was time to address it thoughtfully. I know it isn't an easy topic to address so I very much appreciate your feedback.

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  2. catholics really need to hear this message-often we are afraid that yoga is occult but it is just a tool

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    1. Melanie,

      I know this isn't an easy topic to address and appreciate all the feedback; however, I'm not exactly sure what you are saying when you write "It is just a tool." Could you elaborate a bit?

      Thanks!

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    2. you are absolutely right

      some people are terrified of anything connected with an eastern religon and would want to remounce yoga, put it on a censor list,

      just like mantras when in fact the Early church Fathers used them to pray with because they work, they are just a tool. They repeated scripture or words like maranatha (which means come Lord Jesus)

      yoga can be used by Christians and is "in the Lord" because the Lord is lord of our bodies as well as our hearts and spirits. He desighned them and knows what works to relax, strength--yoga, like a mantra is not bad in and of itself..it is a tool

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    3. when I say you are correct, I meant that a Christian cannot go to an eastern, Hindu style yoga class because you then become a participant in an eastern spiritual exercise, you ARE making yourself vulnerable to a spiritual side that is pagan.

      But a Christian can use the exercises with praise music, in silent prayer and contemplation or just as an exercise

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    4. see jenny and my conversation I finally understand you Cheryl..my apology

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  3. My question is--who decides someone's intention? Isn't it the individual? If the Hindu American Foundation says something, does that make it true? Perhaps they are just insulted that people can move their bodies around and be secure in their own intentions, and knowing it is God that made our bodies and authored its movements?

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    1. yes any movement in prayer, with the Holy Spirit is in Him. The evil one is the one who copies God, not the other way around. One of my sayings is

      "We must trust more in the power of God than we fear the devil. We trust more in the love of God and light than the power of darkness to deceive us."

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    2. Definitely a good question and I spent some time in prayer before choosing to answer.

      It is my realization at 55 years old that there are far too many things that I don't know enough about to easily dismiss them. Again, for me, as I gathered information about yoga, I had to be respectful of the Hindu religion and whatever its origins may be. For me, it seems irreverent not to take seriously that this practice has roots thousands of years old that may well have a power or an ability that doesn't need my intention or approval or acceptance to be made manifest.

      From that perspective, it is something that I know doesn't belong in my life as a Catholic. I am also old enough to know that many other Catholics will feel differently and have less respect or concern or worry (whatever the correct adjective may be) about the underpinnings of yoga. I respect that as well.

      I hope I was just able to bring some interesting points to light for my sisters-in-Christ to contemplate.

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    3. I am repeating my comment again to this answer because I do agree with you.

      It appeara that I was contradicting myself when I say you are correct, I mean that a Christian cannot go to an eastern, Hindu style yoga class because then it as as a participant with eastern spirituality; you ARE making yourself vulnerable to a spiritual side that is dangerous.

      But a Christian can use the exercises with praise music, in silent prayer and contemplation or just as an exercise and it is Catholic.

      Just like we Christianized Roman pagan feasts of lights at the winter soltice and turned them into Christmas and used some of their symbols at Easter. We Christianized colouring Easter Eggs

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    4. all my above comments are wrong thinking.. see Jenny's comment and my finally understanding Cheryl

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    5. Melanie,

      Thank you for clairifying. I know this is a hot button topic and the most important thing is to approach it with charity as we try to fully understand all the implications.

      Thank you, again, for taking the time to help shed light.

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  4. Interestingly one of my daughters was "doing yoga" this morning - I watched the exercises she did whilst watching a DVD.. - definitely nothing concerned me. When I was recovering from post-natal depression after my 10th baby I did Tai Chi! I do think we need to be aware of the origins of these activities & for Catholics/Christians avoid any of the spirituality - I take issue with the Hindu statement that you can't seperate the two. Just had to jump in & give my 2 cents ...:)

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    1. Jackie,

      I'm not quite sure what you mean with "you take issue with the Hindu statement." The way I look at it, other faiths may "take issue" with my statement that Christ is the Savior and the only way to Salvation but that wouldn't lessen or diminish that truth. Those who take issue with that truth could live their whole lives and show nothing "concerning" and yet that still would not diminish the fact taht Christ offers Salvation.

      And although the potential for "harm" could be negligable from practicing yoga, it still exists (see the other post with the "opening doors" response as that is excellent).

      I can't help but think of the apple. What could be so bad about eating a delicious apple?...

      I hope that I was able to understand your comment and that my response addresses it respectfully.

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    2. Well I was thinking meditation practices can be Eastern or Christian depending on your own beliefs - maybe we can use some yoga aspects in a Christian way. I do understand where you are coming from Cheryl - I certainly wouldn't expect Catholic Churches to be providing yoga on the premises. When I did Tai chi i noticed the group made a bow at the end to something or other - I certainly didn't. I think it is good to be aware of the origins & implications and thanks for your post.It also got me thinking of Anthony de Mello and the saddhana thingy - where sometimes Catholic writers have gone a bit off beam - also centering prayer and that type of thing. Just some thoughts..

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    3. Cheryl I take issue with this bit:

      “There is the concerning trend of disassociating Yoga from its Hindu roots. Yet, even when Yoga is practiced solely in the form of an exercise, it cannot be completely delinked from its Hindu roots.”

      It's my personal opinion...I can see why the beliefs behind yoga are totally against Catholic beliefs - tbh I don't think rebirth etc and all that stuff even figures in the sense that it is totally contrary to our faith and personally I don't think a few breathing exercises or poses opens a door to us believing in reincarnation.

      However i respect anyone who does think that.

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    4. Jackie,

      That is a statement from the Hindu American Foundation. I found it very, very telling and definitely worth sharing.

      I want to make sure that the readers here don't think that is my statement but understand that it comes from the HAF.

      In many ways I see that as our "warning" sign that try as we might to see practicing yoga in a "Christian" way or in a disassociated way, it simply cannot be done.

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  5. I have heard a nationally well respected exorcist condemn yoga. He said it "opens doors" even if one does not believe its spirituality and only uses it for physical stretching.

    Thank you for publishing this as it seems very common for Catholics now to practice yoga. It's even offered at many churches.

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    1. I agree if a Catholic is attending a new age, or hindu yoga class- for sure but what if it is simply movement in a blessed space, with a christian teacher whose eyes are on the Lord?

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    2. Jenny,

      Thank you for sharing both these important points.

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  6. He condemned it completely. I will try to remember so as to use his words correctly. He spoke of prayer posture in the life of the Christian. He related this to the fact that yoga poses are "prayer postures" as well, although not of a Christian nature. We are not using them as "prayer postures" and not even aware of the fact, but the danger still exists, even if we don't know exactly what we are doing. Just because our intention is different, it does not change the original intention associated with the movement. Does that make sense?

    I cannot listen to acid rock and instead of yelling profanity, yell the names of Jesus, Mary and Joseph to change the intent of the music. Does that make sense? The disorder is still present regardless of my intention.

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    1. ahh,,,I get it .... a light just went on

      so in other words the actual poses are designed to open a person's spirit to pagan influences, even evil spirits.It would be like saying sticking your tongue out and thinking holy thoughts makes that gesture a prayerful one

      my apologies Cheryl.. all above logic is faulty, drivel

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    2. Jenny,

      Bingo and Amen:-)

      When my friends and I were originally trying to get to the bottom of all this, one woman from our group came across a very enlightening article about the poses and their origins. Without getting too dark or disparing, you have been able to address this issue very pointedly.

      I often equate my unknowing with my inability to explain electricity or atoms or even gravity. Just because I can't explain or fully understand them, they work nonetheless. They don't need my permission or acceptance or guidance.

      All we can do is make ourselves aware of what we do throughout our daily lives and how it fits into our Christian life, the rest is up to each of us individually as far as what we then do with what we now know.

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    3. Thanks, Jenny and Cheryl. I completely agree. What seems harmless isn't always. Great analogies--and Melanie's about sticking out the tongue too. Our bodies matter. They're part of us. We use specific gestures at Mass and in the sacraments. I don't think a Hindu would accept using the Sign of the Cross as neutral, just because he was thinking Hindu thoughts when he made it. It's essentially Christian. And yoga is essentially Hindu. There are many exercise and stretching programs that don't have pagan origins. I'm assuming people in the west did stretches for centuries before the New Age Movement (which had the goal of supplanting Christianity) made yoga popular.

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    4. Thanks, Connie, for sharing your thoughts. Your examples are very good and definteily add to the continued quest to truly understand how we should approach yoga (or not approach it as the case may be).

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    5. Connie.
      your example of the sign of the cross as a body pose and gesture with meaning that exists no matter what thoughts are in your head really brings the point home that body movements, gestures and poses have intrinic meaning

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