Catholic News Service
TRIANGLE, Va. (CNS) -- Some might call Christian yoga an oxymoron, and, indeed, a quick Google search of the two words presents a clear divide between believers and nonbelievers of blending prayer with the exercises of Indian origin.
But Donna Kocian, a parishioner of St. Francis of Assisi Church in Triangle, is all for it. In fact, she said, yoga has done nothing but strengthen her Catholic faith.
"Our world is so frenetic and crazy," Kocian said in an interview with the Arlington Catholic Herald, diocesan newspaper. "We always seem to be moving in fast-forward motion. I like to give people the opportunity to pause and really start to find themselves again, to pray within themselves, to pause in their lives, to reflect, to give thanks and to heal. It really takes on a different facet for each person who comes..."
Helen Sherman, a St. Francis parishioner, finds a healing, accepting space in Kocian's class.
"'Spiritual' sums it up for me," she said. "It helps you physically, it helps you spiritually, it helps you mentally. You have permission to relax and be in your own little world. It makes your life a better life to live..."
Why is Yoga incompatible with Catholicism?
FATHER JOHN HARDON, S.J.
Yoga is incompatible with Catholicism because the best known practice of Hindu spirituality is Yoga. “Inner” Hinduism professes pantheism, which denies that there is only one infinite Being who created the world out of nothing.
Indian spirituality is perhaps best known by the practice of yoga, derived from the root yuj to unite or yoke, which in context means union with the Absolute. Numerous stages are distinguished in the upward progress toward the supreme end of identification: by means of knowledge with the deity; the practice of moral virtues and observance of ethical rules; bodily postures; control of internal and external senses; concentration of memory and meditation–finally terminating in total absorption (samadhi), “when the seer stands in his own nature.”
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.
Stopping the right nostril with the thumb, through the left nostril fill in air, according to capacity. Then without any interval, throw the air out through the right nostril, eject through the left, according to capacity. Practicing this three or five times at four hours of the day, before dawn, during midday, in the evening, and at midnight, in fifteen days or a month purity of the nerves is attained.
After such preliminary exercises, more complicated practices are undertaken, but not without the guidance of a professional yogin, called guru. The meditative phase begins with fixing the mind on one object, which may be anything whatsoever, “the sphere of the navel, the lotus of the heart, the light of the brain, the tip of the nose, the tip of the tongue, and such like parts of the body” or also “God”, who on Hindu terms is the only real being who exists.
Gradually by sheer concentration of attention; the mind reaches a state of trance, where all mental activity stops and the consciousness rests in itself. The state of samadhi is the culmination of yoga and beyond it lies release. The life of the soul is not destroyed but is reduced to its “unconscious and permanent essence.”
Hardon, John A. “Ask Father Hardon.” The Catholic Faith 4, no. 2 (March/April 1998): 54-55.
Reprinted by permission of The Catholic Faith. The Catholic Faith is published bi-monthly and may be ordered from Ignatius Press, P.O. Box 591090, San Francisco, CA 94159-1090. 1-800-651-1531.
Father John Hardon, S.J. is Executive Editor of The Catholic Faith. He is a popular speaker and author of dozens of excellent Catholic books including The Catholic Catechism.
(This next article appears to be pruned at its original web site - but I found the complete text elsewhere and have included it below):
Catholic faith and yoga: incompatible
Experts on cults and Catholic spirituality agree that yoga cannot be divided from its own spirituality. Ft Myers bishop bans classes at parish, Voice of the Faithful objects.By Catherine Marie Rhodes
CATHOLICS AND YOGA
Part I – An Inspirational Story
As a Catholic contributor, I never write for human respect. If that were my purpose, I would have already curtailed writing. Because my intent is to speak the truth, I never expect a pat on the back. But I maintain it pleases me to learn that my work does not always fall on deaf ears. Like most Christian writers I have encountered admirers and detractors. The positive feedback has been rewarding, but one specific incident is prominent amid the others.
One morning while checking my message machine, I heard a female voice announce, “I’m searching for the woman who writes for Catholic websites.” From her amiable tone, I sensed she was not a detractor and I returned her call.
When I phoned her, she introduced herself and will be referred to herein as “Mary.” She indicated she had read some of my articles and wanted to ask a question about the “New Age” dilemmas prevalent in her hometown. Though Mary and I had just met, it was soon apparent our passions were considerably alike!
Next, Mary shared a very inspirational story with me. She had discovered that a nearby Catholic parish in Fort Myers, Florida, was offering Yoga classes in the Chapel that surrounded the main altar. Mary and a few friends including a relations manager from Relevant Radio, arrived at Pope John XXIII parish on the morning of February 5, 2007.
After arriving, Mary proceeded into the church and lightly sprinkled holy water and blessed salt in the church before the Yoga classes commenced. Then she entered the parking lot to distribute leaflets about Yoga, to approximately 25 women as they arrived for the classes. Mary reasoned the women probably did not understand the dangers inherent in Yoga and she wanted to offer guidance. While distributing the literature Mary was confronted by the Yoga teacher (the Deacon’s wife). The Yoga teacher told Mary, “I wish that you would leave Church property.” Mary in turn professed the same wish to the instructor.
A few minutes after the guru re-entered the church, Mary recited the Blessed St. Michael’s prayer and re-entered the church as well. She slowly opened the door to the Chapel and was horrified by what she witnessed. The Chapel was dark with the exception of a few dimly lit recessed lights. Mary thought, “I’ve never seen an aerobics class like this before near a consecrated altar.”
Mary noticed the women were dressed in leotards and slouched on their Yoga mats in a half circle, or crescent moon position. The teacher/guru was advising the participants to visualize “love and light.” Writers Note: The meditative phase of Yoga begins with fixing the mind on one object which may be anything whatsoever. Mary viewed signs that advertised Yoga products and Yoga classes and noticed a table adorned with a basket for donations.
Mary also observed that much of the Yoga material was embellished with the Om Brahman symbols. As Mary began taking photos, the women seemed to snap out of their trances and became irate. After a few minutes of insults hurled at Mary, she closed the chapel door and left.
As Mary headed to the church parking lot to depart, she learned that the guru and her followers had summoned the police. After Mary and her friends spoke to the substitute priest (the Pastor was not available), he communicated to the police that there was not a problem, and the police retreated.
According to a short article by the Yoga instructor, the regular Pastor/Administrator is a Yoga practitioner himself. Upon his return, he continued to support the Yoga classes and had blinds installed for those who found the classes offensive. Hopefully, most of us understand that window blinds would not have prevented our Lord from seeing the sinfulness that transpired near His altar.
Though horribly distressing that these women had desecrated our Lord’s house with their occult practices, the story does have a wonderful conclusion.
Shortly after the incident, Mary gave Bishop Frank Dewane various articles and photos regarding the offensive Yoga classes. Though he has not explained his decision, he ordered the classes discontinued. The bishop and Mary deserve credit and praise for their courageous actions.
Mary’s account might remind you of a similar one. I think most of us can recall how our Lord angrily threw the moneychangers out of His Father’s house. When necessary, our Lord acted with righteousness and did not hesitate to call unrepentant sinners –“hypocrites,” “sons of hell” and “broods of vipers.”
New Age practices and beliefs have become rife and deeply embedded in Catholicism. The New Age Movement is really not new at all. Its evil is recorded in Genesis. The challenge for Catholics is to discern authentic spirituality and be willing to confront the New Age serpent-speak when we witness it. After all, speaking out really can make a difference!
Part II: Why Yoga is Incompatible with Christianity
What is Yoga? The word Yoga means union. The goal of Yoga is to unite one’s temporary self with the infinite Brahman. Brahman is not a personal God but a spiritual substance which is one with the cosmos and nature.
Fr. James Manjackal, a Catholic priest who was raised in a traditional Catholic family in India, states: “Yoga is not an elaborate system of physical exercises, it is a spiritual discipline purporting to lead the soul to Samadhi, the state in which the natural and divine become one. It is interesting to note that postures and breathing exercises often considered to be the whole of Yoga in the West are steps three and four towards union with Brahman.”
In a recent phone conversation with Fr. Paul E. Demarais, he stated that “there is no safe level of Yoga practice.” Fr. Demarais is Diocesan Director of the Cult and Occult Awareness Network in Providence, Rhode Island.
The late Fr. John Hardon SJ also affirmed that Yoga is not compatible with Catholicism. “Inner Hinduism or Yoga professes pantheism which denies that there is only one Infinite Being who created the world out of nothing. This pantheistic Hinduism says that followers will have brief tastes of heaven between successive rebirths on Earth.”
Dr. John Ankerberg states in his article Innocent Yoga? “Regardless of the school or spiritual tradition, Yoga practice tends to alter a person’s consciousness in an occult direction. Even when Yoga is practiced innocently, it can eventually produce occult transformation.”
There are those who claim there is nothing wrong with practicing Yoga for exercise purposes only, but even the teachers of Hindu have stated that the philosophy and the practice of Yoga are inseparable. From Johanna Michaelsen’s book “Like Lambs to the Slaughter” (pp 93-95) she states, “You cannot separate the exercises from the philosophy… The movements themselves become a form of meditation.”
Denial about the New Age is a common obstacle. (2 Tim. 4:3) “For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine, but will follow their own desires and insatiable curiosity.”
As Christians, we cannot straddle the fence. Sadly, many ask themselves, “How close can I get to the fire without getting burned?” The answer: There is no such thing as Christian Yoga.
To see article on a bishop’s ban of the practice of yoga in the church,
click here: The News-Press (link no longer works - V)
“With the present diffusion of Eastern methods of meditation in the Christian world and in ecclesial communities, we find ourselves faced with a pointed renewal of an attempt, which is not free from dangers and errors, ‘to fuse Christian meditation with that which is non-Christian.’ Proposals in this direction are numerous and radical to a greater or lesser extent.
Some use Eastern methods solely as a psycho-physical preparation for a truly Christian contemplation; others go further and, using different techniques, try to generate spiritual experiences similar to those described in the writings of certain Catholic mystics. Still others do not hesitate to place that absolute without image or concepts, which is proper to Buddhist theory, on the same level as the majesty of God revealed in Christ, which towers above finite reality.
To this end, they make use of a ‘negative theology,’ which transcends every affirmation seeking to express what God is, and denies that the things of this world can offer traces of the infinity of God.
Thus they propose abandoning not only meditation on the salvific works accomplished in history by the God of the Old and New Covenant, but also the very idea of the One and Triune God, who is Love, in favor of an immersion ‘in the indeterminate abyss of the divinity.’ These and similar proposals to harmonize Christian meditation with Eastern techniques need to have their contents and methods ever subjected to a thorough-going examination so as to avoid the danger of falling into syncretism.”
- Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger