A couple of friends sent me an article today called “Yoga – A Catholic Perspective,” and as soon as I saw the graphic and the one-line synopsis, I knew I wasn’t going to like it. But after getting through about three paragraphs, I realized I was wrong. I didn’t dislike the story; I HATED it. I have to say that this is one of the most insulting pieces — and that’s being really kind — I’ve ever seen written on the topic, and that’s saying something. I mean, I don’t know what this priest’s experience with yoga is personally, but there is almost nothing about this story that holds water for most of us who are intimately involved in the two aspects of his topic: Catholicism and yoga.
I am a Catholic yogi, a title I wear proudly. Yoga makes me a better Catholic. Always has. When I do yoga, I am more in touch with Jesus, more sensitive to other people, and more aware of the things I say and do. But after reading this article, I guess I’ll need to re-evaluate because maybe I’ve been doing it all wrong. Here, read this:
Adding on to the individual benefits, there are often attractive cultural aspects of yoga: it helps people meet beautiful people, so that they can become more beautiful themselves.
What’s all this about beautiful people? Clearly this guy hasn’t seen me on my mat at the 5:45 am. yoga class at our local YMCA. I am more Bride of Frankenstein than beautiful at that hour, and I’m guessing the folks on the mats around me probably feel the same way. We’ve just rolled out of bed. The most stalwart among our class have actually clocked miles on the elliptical machine or indoor track before they get to their mats. The room is dark. We have our eyes closed half the time. We start with an intention and end with a prayerful reflection. Yoga, for those who take it seriously, is not about sidling up to outer beauty but uncovering inner beauty — in ourselves and the people around us. At least if it’s done right, but that’s where this writer seems to get it really, really wrong.
He thinks he’s letting us in on some big secret: “Yoga, however, is more than a physical exercise with social benefits.” Well, I hope so. Otherwise I’ll just lift weights or run on a treadmill. OF COURSE, yoga is more than physical. As a Catholic, that’s precisely why I do yoga, and why I should do more yoga. Yoga calms my mind and settles my soul and allows me to enter more deeply into prayer and to recognize Jesus in the person sniffling and sneezing on the mat next to me, or cutting me off in the parking lot, or emailing me about how I’ve opened a door to Satan because I do yoga. Yeah, that’s not made up.
“…whatever their intentions may have been, many people experience yoga as a gateway to a spirituality disconnected from Christ.”
I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say that if practicing yoga turns you into a Buddhist or makes you shave your head and join a cult or causes you to renounce Jesus Christ, you probably had some issues going in. Let’s put the blame where it belongs: People become “spiritually disconnected from Christ” sitting in the pews of our Catholic churches every week, no downward dog pose required. They become disconnected from Christ because no one is feeding their hearts and souls, because dead liturgies and mind-numbing homilies have left them adrift. So perhaps we should take a good look at ourselves if we want to figure out why people feel disconnected from the faith of their birth. Yoga has nothing to do with it.
Let’s get one thing straight, yoga is not a path to godlessness. Yoga is a path to peace, love, and compassion. Funny, that sounds likes something else I’ve heard before. What is it? What is it? Oh, yeah, THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST. (And you can tell by the fact that I’m using all caps here that I didn’t get to yoga class this morning. I would be much more Christian right now if I’d been on my yoga mat earlier today.)
You know what this is about, people? Fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of something different from what we’re used to, fear of our own inner struggles and weaknesses and what we might do if we’re not always on guard. If our faith cannot withstand some yoga classes, well, I think maybe our commitment to our faith was already a little shaky at best or our mental or emotional health was previously compromised. Sure, yoga can become an idol but so can any number of Catholic spiritual practices if they are used in a way that is more about the ritual or exercise and less about the heart of Christianity. For those of us who know without a shadow of a doubt that our hearts belong to Jesus whether we’re kneeling in church or bent like a pretzel on a mat, there is no contradiction or danger. There is a seamless and beautiful symmetry, one that allows the best of what yoga has to offer to reflect back the best of what Christianity teaches.
If I had my druthers, we’d all do yoga, and, if we did, we’d all be a lot nicer to one another, because in that silent space on our yoga mats we’d come face to face with the Divine light that lives deep within each one of us. And that awareness coupled with our Catholic faith cannot help but transform us and, in turn, transform the world around us.
So I’d like to thank Father Ezra for making me more resolute about my yoga practice. This was exactly the reminder I needed to get back to class regularly, although I don’t think that’s what he was going for. And since this story is the first in a series, I’m assuming I’ll be writing more on this topic in the near future.
I’ve actually written about yoga and its role in my Catholic prayer life before. If you’re interested, you can read “Where Amen Meets the Om” by clicking HERE.