I refer to the criticism levelled at The Bishop of Waterford and Lismore, Alphonsus Cullinan concerning the practice of yoga in Catholic schools. A Roman Catholic bishop is a successor of the apostles; he is indeed shepherd of his flock, and carries a staff as a visible symbol of this role. As bishop, he has a sacred duty of pastoral care.
This includes teaching and upholding the tenets of the Catholic faith, which comes to us from the apostles, commissioned by Jesus Christ himself. Regrettably, the Catholic laity has largely been left without any ongoing guidance from the clergy on the subject of yoga and other New Age practises, for far too long, despite the church guidelines published on the subject.
Both the Hindu and Buddhist religions inform yoga, despite constant claims to the contrary.
It was originally employed as an ascetic ritual by both traditions in order for people to undergo a series of reincarnations to finally achieve nirvana, which is regarded as a state of enlightenment, where there is no suffering, nor any desires: Rather a sense of emptiness is felt. This particularly applies to Buddhism and is believed to happen when people are finally released from Samsara, which is a constant cycle of death and re-birth.
DeMichaelis (2008) Yoga in the Modern World: Contemporary Perspectives.
Whereas in Hinduism, the Hindu syllable “om” is one example used to induce a trance-like state. This ostensibly leads one to a higher spiritual awareness, union with the inner self, or the supreme self. Ultimately with God, known as Brahman in Hinduism.
Performing exercises and relaxation techniques without religious or philosophical connotations are not in contradiction with the Catholic faith, but the fact that mantras are used in yoga indicates that the process involves meditation and self-realisation techniques which are at variance with Church teaching.
Furthermore, in A Call to Vigilance, Archbishop NR Carrera (1996) states that “the physical and spiritual connotations of yoga cannot be fully separated: therefore, their occultic meaning remains unchanged”. Consequently, the practice is non-Christian and pantheistic in nature.
While for many, the ultimate goal is relaxation and exercise: for others, yoga is self-realisation, which can sometimes lead to both mental and physical health issues for the participant. Clients are not always informed of possible side effects, which may occur when they commence practising yoga. This applies in particular to Kundalini yoga. Lawson (31 July, 2015) Yoga and Christianity, Are they Compatible? (Catholic Ministry, Chennai, India). In 1989, a Vatican document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith entitled ‘A Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Some Aspects of Meditation’ cautions against exercises involving prayer and meditation which do not have the Trinitarian God at their heart. By following Christ alone, Catholics recognise that He alone, is “the way, the truth and the life” - John 14:6. It is therefore essential that those engaged in fitness regimes distinguish between simple fitness techniques and others, which may carry an ambiguous message.
Julie Walsh Power