A Popular Practice
In Ireland, people have begun to question the spiritual compatibility of Yoga with Catholicism. The Catholic Bishop of Lismore advised in a letter to Catholic schools against the practice of yoga in their schools, and wants to remove it completely from the curriculum.
Understandably, people were upset because the practice of Yoga has become so popular in the west. Not many Christians see any real danger in it. Some engage in it for spiritual reasons, and others claim they do it merely for the physical and psychological benefits only.
It is not my intent to insult the Hindu religion. This is simply a post to show how Hinduism is not compatible with Catholic spirituality and shouldn’t be taught in Catholic schools.
Yoga has its roots in the Hindu religion, predating Christianity by about 3,000 years. The spiritual exercises and poses are considered sacrifices to the millions of gods and these are performed to aid them in their quest for spiritual enlightenment.
In addition, Yoga teaches monism. This is incompatible with Christianity. Monism is the belief that the material is the enemy, and the mind is everything. It goes further to suggest that the material world around us is only an illusion. Monism also posits the idea that there is no distinction between God and his creation. Its followers believe the Divine is the person and the person isn’t like God but IS God. There is no relationship with God; only that one discovers they are God or becomes God through these exercises.
Monism runs contrary to the Christian belief that there is a distinction between God and creation. In Christian enlightenment, we become like God by participation in the Divine Will, but we don’t actually become God Himself.
In Yoga, this enlightenment often plays out in classes where the people are invited to chant a mantra “so’ ham” (pronounced so’hum). What does it mean? It means “I am He” in other words “I am God.” I am the universal everything. I am the all-powerful one. Yogis further the idea that there are no sharp (material) boundaries in their meditation techniques.
This, again, runs contrary to the Christian belief, as stated in the Nicene creed, where we profess to believe in the visible not just the invisible. Most Christian parents who engage in Yoga are therefore opening themselves up to dangers for themselves and their children. Yoga promotes a warped view of the world, damages the intellect, and draws you further from a relationship with God towards a relationship with the self and the demonic.
An Insult To Hinduism
It is problematic to believe that one can separate the exercise of Yoga from the actual spiritual side of it.
The first problem is that it’s insulting to the religion to try and Christianize the practice or remove its spiritual roots, performing the exercise only. Many instructors with Master’s degrees in Yoga have written about this before. They find such behaviour as insulting to their culture and religion.
It would be like going down to the local Islamic mosque, doing the prostrations only for the exercise. “Hi there, I love your religious, physical practices, but I’d like to separate Mohammad and the Quran from this practice. I rather like the name “Islam” so I’ll keep that in there.” Can you imagine how insulting that would be to Muslims? It’s inappropriate.
Most secular western Yoga instructors however, do not teach just the exercise element, the philosophy and spirituality almost always accompanies it. We will now examine the second problem with Christians participating in Yoga practices.
St.Paul Dealt With This Question
St.Paul dealt with a similar issue in his letters to the Corinthians nearly 2,000 years ago. The question he was trying to resolve was whether or not it would be a sin to eat food sacrificed to pagan idols. Like us, he stressed that because it’s just food, there’s no sin in eating it because we don’t believe the spiritual aspect to it. He also addressed that anyone engaging with it believing in its spiritual power is wrong, and there’s only ONE God.
Many priests who are favourable to Yoga use this passage by St.Paul to demonstrate how it’s OK to do Yoga as long as it’s only an exercise. However, they are either ignorantly or intentionally not quoting the rest of the passage. The passage actually argues against these priests and theologians that one can engage with Yoga only for the exercise.
However, not everybody has this knowledge. There are some in whose consciences false gods still play such a part that they take the food as though it had been dedicated to a god; then their conscience, being vulnerable, is defiled,1 Corinthians: 8:7-13
But of course food cannot make us acceptable to God; we lose nothing by not eating it, we gain nothing by eating it. Only be careful that this freedom of yours does not in any way turn into an obstacle to trip those who are vulnerable. Suppose someone sees you, who have the knowledge, sitting eating in the temple of some false god, do you not think that his conscience, vulnerable as it is, may be encouraged to eat foods dedicated to false gods?
And then it would be through your knowledge that this brother for whom Christ died, vulnerable as he is, has been lost. So, sinning against your brothers and wounding their vulnerable consciences, you would be sinning against Christ. That is why, if food can be the cause of a brother’s downfall, I will never eat meat any more, rather than cause my brother’s downfall.
St.Paul goes on to speak about how it’s better to abstain from the practice. Why? Because although eating the food sacrificed to idols wasn’t harmful, it would be a scandal to others without that knowledge. What knowledge? The knowledge that it isn’t spiritually unhealthy as long as they don’t believe in the pagan spiritual religion associated with it. This is why St. Paul himself says he abstains altogether from eating the meat of Idols on that basis alone.
We can apply the same principle to Yoga. The exercises themselves, when separated from the religion, are not sinful. But when we are found inside a Yoga hall practicing Yoga for purely physical reasons, another Christian may see us and mistakenly believe that the spiritual practice of Yoga is compatible with Christianity.
Thus, they end up engaging with it spiritually, and we lose a soul and end up sinning against Christ because of the downfall of our brother. His conscience wasn’t fully formed, and so he falls away from the faith thanks to our bad example. For this reason, St. Paul abstained from eating the meat himself, and we should refrain from practicing Yoga altogether.
I hope this helps clear up the matter for many priests and theologians are arguing differently, creating much confusion among Catholics.