Yoga is not a sin.
Last month, Father Roland Colhoun, a Catholic priest in Londonderry, Northern Ireland sparked a debate online as he joined a long list of Christians and people of other religions to link yoga with the devil.
During a sermon at Mass on February 22, 2015, he told the congregation that “it’s a slippery slope from yoga to Satan.” With regard to the risk of yoga specifically, he reminded us that Pope Francis said “do not seek spiritual answers in yoga classes.” He went on:
“There’s the spiritual health risk. When you take up those practices from other cultures, which are outside our Christian domain, you don’t know what you are opening yourself up to.
The bad spirit can be communicated in a variety of ways. I’m not saying everyone gets it, or that it happens every time, and people may well be doing yoga harmlessly, but there‘s always a risk and that’s why the Pope mentioned it and that’s why we talk about that in terms of the danger of the new age movement and the danger of the occult today. That’s the fear.”
His choice words echo not only Pat Robertson but also a friend-of-a-friend of mine, a woman who not long ago tried to persuade me that the world is run by Satanists (okay, maybe it is) and, furthermore, that yoga and dharma open up our minds to evil, dark spirits and are therefore to be avoided. She tried to gain credibility by telling me that she used to be a yogi.
After she called me ignorant because I chose not to enter into her debate, I ended the conversation and went about on my merry, diabolical way, chanting OM and forming complicated mantras with my fingers.
In reply, Rajan Zed, President of the Universal Society of Hinduism, wrote:
“Yoga, although introduced and nourished by Hinduism, was a world heritage and liberation powerhouse to be utilized by all. The Vatican Library itself reportedly carried various yoga related books; like Bhaktiyoga, Yoga-system of Patanjali, Yogic Powers and God Realization, etc.”
Why is yoga so popular? Because it improves our well-being and quality of life.
Even just regularly practicing the physical aspect of yoga (which is what many practitioners do) results in a slew of overt benefits. Much of modern yoga is basically advanced calisthenics with some deep breathing and positive thinking thrown in.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
(Or is there?)
Why are the teachings of yoga so often criticized by some religious believes while practiced by others?
Yoga is denounced by conservatives who view it as “New Age,” which refers to an amorphous cultural movement with no hierarchy, dogma, doctrine or official membership whose influences can include Oprah, astrology, “manifesting,” Goddess worship, occult practices like Tarot card reading, vegetarianism and veganism, “positive psychology,” Taoism and/or self-help.
New Age originates from 19th century “New Thought,” whose founders were most influenced by Ralph Waldo Emerson, who was heavily influenced by Vedanta, the spiritual teachings of Hinduism. Ralph Waldo read the Bhagavad Gita and considered himself a yogi.
In stark contrast to monotheism, pop yoga culture totally embraces the Vedantic concepts like: all is one, the universe is everything and humans are spiritual beings in physical bodies, we are co-creators and life is a journey toward awareness of our true source.
Many religious people criticize New Age thinking, because its tenets are in opposition to the belief that there is One True God, namely theirs, rather than, God forbid, a Goddess.
The Roman Catholic Church published A Christian Reflection on the New Age in 2003, criticizing New Age practices such as yoga, meditation, feng shui and crystal healing.
The priest’s comments are aligned with the views of his church, and I am not holding my breath until the Pope “disciplines” his wayward sheep.
Yoga is neither angelic nor Satanic. It is a personal practice that may be physical, intellectual, spiritual, emotional, educational and/or enlightening.
Retaliating and attacking is getting us nowhere. It’s not about who is right and who is wrong. It’s not about generalizations (“Christians are judgmental hypocrites” versus “yogis are brainwashed hippies”).
May we remember that awareness, kindness, meditation, compassion, morals and ethics, are the basis of all good religion and spirituality.
Author: Michelle Margaret Fajkus
Editor: Catherine Monkman