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What is Yoga? A Catholic Perspective (Part I)

January 29, 2014 by  
Filed under Fr. Sullivan, New Age, Yoga

Editor’s Note:  Today, Fr. Ezra Sullivan, O.P.  joins our team of writers.  Father Ezra is a Dominican Friar of the Province of St. Joseph and we are blessed to have his contributions on our site.  Please welcome him warmly.

Yoga is hands-down — toes-up — one of the most popular forms of exercise in the world, including the United States. It is alsoYoga Yogin_with_six_chakras,_India,_Punjab_Hills,_Kangra,_late_18th_century controversial, eliciting strong reactions from enthusiasts and denouncers alike. Among Christians, perhaps the most commonly-heard question is, “Can I practice yoga?” or, said with a different emphasis, “I can practice yoga, right?” With a nod to modern practicality, in order to do justice to the question as well as to the questioner, we ought to consider a number of different issues.

This series is meant to address these issues head on, beginning with the nature of yoga and ending with a discussion of how Christians can exercise their souls and pray with their bodies. St. John tells us that we should not believe every spirit, but to test them to see if they are from God (1 John 4:1). It’s going to be an enlightening experience, so set your intention and come join us as we explore yoga from a Catholic perspective.

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I – What is Yoga?

 

There is something funny about yoga. It is one of those things that can prompt double-speak, as I have found over and over again. Here is a typical conversation:

“So, Father, what do you think about yoga?” Someone will ask.

“Well, I have some misgivings about it,” I’ll say.

“But what’s wrong with yoga,” they will press. “It’s just exercise.”

“Then why not try Pilates?” I reply.

“I wanted something more holistic, something that focuses on body and soul. I like yoga because it’s spiritual too.”

“Then it’s more than physical exercise.”

To get beyond this impasse in the Tibetan peaks and valleys of conversation, let’s begin by analyzing a portrait of the typical yoga practitioner.[1] A 2012 Yoga in America study shows that 20.4 million Americans practice yoga. This was an increase of 29% since 2008. In addition, 44.4 percent of Americans could identify as “aspirational yogis”—folks interested in trying yoga. Among these millions, the most common yoga enthusiast is a youngish, upper-middle class woman.[2] Yoga is a thriving industry: practitioners spend ten to twenty billion dollars a year on yoga classes and products, including equipment, clothing, vacations, and media.

In and around the popularity of yoga stretches and twists, a vocal portion of the population nevertheless regards yoga as a way to become spiritually bent out of shape. Questions and misgivings arise, and people begin to wonder: what is this thing that some of my friends practice and so many celebrities preach – what is this thing called yoga?

At first glance, yoga is simply a great form of exercise. The top five reasons for starting yoga are: to improve flexibility, to aid general conditioning, to further stress relief, to improve overall health, and to promote physical fitness.[3] Doctors and practitioners both agree that, when practiced moderately, yoga can strengthen a person, help her lose weight, and give her more energy. It is also often associated with positive emotional well-being: because yoga calms the body, it often soothes the feelings. 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; it is often convenient; at a base level, it doesn’t hurt the wallet.

Yoga, however, is more than a physical exercise with social benefits.

One indication of yoga’s spiritual nature is the way it affects practitioners over time. The International Journal of Yoga published the results of a national survey in Australia.[4] Physical postures (asana) comprised about 60% of the yoga they practiced; 40% was relaxation (savasana), breathing techniques (pranayama), meditation, and instruction. The survey showed very significant results: although most respondents commonly began yoga for reasons of physical health, they usually continued it for reasons of spirituality. In addition, the more people practiced yoga, the more likely they were to decrease their adherence to Christianity and the more likely they were to adhere to non-religious spirituality and Buddhism.

In other words, whatever their intentions may have been, many people experience yoga as a gateway to a spirituality disconnected from Christ.

Doing justice to the complete nature of yoga, therefore, requires a more well-rounded definition: “A comprehensive system of human culture, physical, moral, and [psychological], and acting as a doorway on to the gently sloping paths that gradually lead up to yoga proper,” that is, the spirituality of yoga founded in Hinduism.

Its aim is to control the body and the various forms of vital energy, with a view of overcoming physical impediments standing in the way of other, spiritual, forms of Yoga. Its object is to ensure a perfect balance between the organic functions. Its ultimate goal and true end is to prepare man for the acquisition of that repose of spirit necessary for the realization of the “Supreme”, or for “experiencing the Divine.”[5]

Yoga’s religious and spiritual end is often forgotten or denied in a Western context; most people see it simply as a physical form of exercise. Such a simplification is unwarranted and dangerous. As we will see, reducing yoga to a mere beautifying technique frequently creates ugly effects.

Editors Note: We work hard to keep the posts and the comboxes of this site charitable, constructive, and faithful to the Church. If you disagree or struggle with the conclusions of this series and would like to engage to learn more, we wholeheartedly welcome your constructive comments and questions. However, comments that lack charity, attempt to advance teachings that contradict those proposed by the Church, or provide similar links to other sites, will either be edited or deleted. Please review our FAQ page to ensure you understand our comment policies.


[2] The majority of today’s yoga practitioners (62.8 percent) fall within the age range of 18-44. Women compose 82.2 % of the cohort. 68% of all yoga practitioners make more than $75,000 a year.

[4] Penman, Cohen, Stivens, and Jackson, “Yoga in Australia: Results of a National Survey.” Int J Yoga. 2012 Jul-Dec; 5(2): 92–101. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3410203/ The typical Australian yoga practitioner of yoga is comparable to the American parallel: typically a 41 years old, tertiary educated, employed, health-conscious female (85% female).

[5] J.-M. Déchanet, Christian Yoga (New York: Harper, 1960), 31.

Art:  Yogin with Six Chakras, India, Punjab Hills, Kangra, late 1700s, National Museau, PD-US, PD-India, PD-Art; Bhyragai [Vairagya] and”1. Pooruck Pranaiyam [Puraka pranayama]. 2. Kumbuck [Kumbhaka]. 3. Raichuck [Recaka]” (Mirror Image), both Day & Son Lithographer, 1851, PD-US; all Wikimedia Commons.

 

What is Yoga?  A Catholic Perspective (Part II): The gods of Yoga

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About Fr. Ezra Sullivan

Fr. Ezra is a Dominican friar of the Province of St. Joseph.

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  • http://www.rcspiritualdirection.com/ Dan Burke

    PCP2 – it is not judgmental for a physician to tell a patient that he has cancer – it is just a matter of what is. This assessment doesn’t bring me joy and it is not a condemnation of others in any sense. It merely is a reflection of my experience and it is either true or not. Just because someone consumes Jesus in his body and blood does not mean they have had a “real or substantive encounter with Christ” in the sense that I mean it. Many take the body and blood to their eternal damnation because they do so in mortal sin. Based on recent data about the beliefs of most Catholics, this is far more likely the case than not. If we don’t recognize, name and deal with this reality, we will politely help people to hell – what we are about here is the exact opposite.

    To answer your question – when the folks you describe stand before God at the last judgement, they will not be able to point a finger of blame at anyone else. Yes, those who lead in the Church often fail – but this is no excuse.

    • LCP2

      Dan – I write a small pro-life section in my Parish’s weekly bulletin, and understand and agree with what you are saying about the beliefs and practices of many Catholics. I would agree that we can judge the objective meaning of behaviors and the orthodoxy of beliefs, and I think that you and I are fighting the same fight for the same motives (love of God and neighbor, in that order). Nevertheless, I can’t imagine anything more real or substantive than receiving the Eucharist, perhaps especially if in eating one is “eating condemnation to himself”.

      A real and substantive encounter with Christ happens in the soul, and we ourselves are often not the best judges of what is happening in even our own souls, let alone in the souls of others. In what sense do you mean “real and substantive” if not in the sense of the inevitably and invariably real and substantive encounter that someone who receives the Eucharist has with Christ in the soul?

      More to the point, how do you, a layman, discern if someone (other than yourself) has had real and substantive encounter with Christ to the point that you, a layman, can say with so much conviction that this person has and that person hasn’t?

      Please don’t get me wrong. I am not trying to bait you or impugn your character or motives. I love what you are doing with Avila Institute. And yet, something about your words or tone seems to me to be missing the mark. On the other hand, it is all too possible that I am missing the mark, and I appreciate the time you are taking to correspond.

      • Camille Kunde

        Thanks for your input LCP2. I’m afraid Dan sometimes it does come across as judgemental. I would have to say that in my life I had real experiences of Jesus in my life – however maybe my soul was like the soil that bore fruit but then withered once hard times came. Also I feel that faith in Jesus is totally gift. Nothing we have said or done warrants Gods love or the amazing mercy he has shown us. I would be cautious Don in claiming to know what goes on in people’s hearts as only God sees into the heart – and your faith as it stands now is total gift from God.

  • http://www.rcspiritualdirection.com/ Dan Burke

    Dear Camille – love your spirit. No offense taken. It is good to be opposed and even better to be misunderstood or even insulted. God is good. Let’s keep striving together to turn our hearts to Him.

  • http://www.rcspiritualdirection.com/ Dan Burke

    Sharon – I do hope you stick around. Things are usually not quite so heated. As well, if you are looking for spiritual truth from the heart of the Church, this is a good site for you or anyone else with that same desire.

  • jack g.

    Exactly Dan,
    I am a revert to Catholicism since 5 years ago, and I
    was riding the wave of pagan lifestyle. Really no religion. Didn’t
    bother with any. EGO-religion. Then Jesus in His Mercy found me and
    since I am growing in real relationship with God.
    That’s the key.
    Many
    Catholics go to church every Sunday, sometimes even more, sing and
    enjoy the Communal Penance Service without confession, receive Communion
    casually, but what they miss is constant prayer life, One on ONE, where
    you get to meet your God.
    I know of Two instances where parishes
    give Penance Service and general absolution. These absolutions are not
    valid and when you practice something like this for years, you kill
    peoples consciences.
    How can you have a real relationship with a Living God?
    I
    believe this is a common practice in American Church. This way parishes
    become Protestant, Heretical and offend Jesus in The Eucharist on daily
    basis. The real faith in The Eucharistic Jesus fades and dies.
    That
    is how Catholics loose their faith and go around like chicken without
    head looking for something to fill the VOID in their hearts.
    Sorry to
    be so blunt but I have experienced this in a couple of parishes. All go
    to Communion, but mostly none sins and goes to confession. I am writing
    a letter to our Bishop to report this, but for decades the damage was
    done and now in the parish there is this fake joy and communal feelings
    instead of Sacrum in the church.
    I believe the devil is most joyful here.
    It is so sad and demoralizing.
    With love of Jesus I keep on praying “always”
    jack g.

    • LizEst

      jack g–thank you for your witness and make the Lord be with you as you write your letter to the bishop. You are very correct. General absolution can only be given in very dire circumstances (as prescribed by Canon Law), such as on the battlefield or when an airplane is going down, and, even then, it carries with it the obligation to confess all mortal sins as soon as the opportunity presents itself. So, good for you in writing that letter!

      As an administrative point, please type your response directly into the “combox” (communication box) in the future. Otherwise, your response shows up a little disjointed. If that happens, you can always go back and use the “edit” button to fix it (just remember to save your edit). Thanks…and God bless you, jack. Keep the faith!

  • MarcAlcan

    Jesus always forces a choice. Either we are for Him or against Him. There is no middle ground. There is no “I love Jesus” but will do my idolatrous poses as well. We need to make a choice.

    • LizEst

      Actually MarcAlcan, Jesus invites but never forces. He has that much respect for our free will because it is one of the ways in which we most image God. So, he will never violate that. However, our choices–and in this you are very correct–our choices effectively put us on one side or the other. Either we are for Jesus or we are against him. And, we do need to make the choice. Many have been confused by the cacaphony of voices which claim they possess the path to true happiness. Once we know, once we truly know, it would be great folly to follow any other except Jesus. He alone is the Way, the Truth and the Life. He alone is the way to the Father. He alone has opened the way to eternal life for us through His passion, death and resurrection. God bless you, MarcAlcan.

      • Camila

        Liz, You bring a good point that Jesus’ persuasive power if you will is His goodness and meekness and humility – but He IS God. When He invites, He’s not doing so just as and added plus, or as an equally good alternative in comparison to all other ‘options’ out there. His invitation is the only real invitation and our acceptance is the only exercise of our freedom. All other choice is some form of slavery. An exercise of our free will for Christ is the freest act we can possible do with our free will. So, the ‘forcing’ I believe MarcAlcan is referring to is the fact that we must choose. There is not sitting on the wall nor epicuriously collecting interesting philosophies.

      • Camila

        Jesus Himself said “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” (Luke 11:23)

      • MarcAlcan

        I did not mean that Jesus FORCES us to make a choice. Free will is a gift that He has given us.
        What I mean here is that when we are confronted with the reality that Jesus is God, then we are compelled to make a choice. We either believe He is indeed God and thus owe all allegiance to Him or He isn’t in which case He becomes one more god in the many gods in our life.
        In this sense Jesus – the Person of Jesus – forces a choice. There is no fence sitting or swimming in different rivers. Either He is it or He is not. But He will not force you choose Him, but the force of the choice itself is there. When we look at salvation history and how time and again Israel succumbed to the idolatrous practices of the surrounding countries and how they are exiled to reflect their spiritual state, then I think we come to realize how we cannot equivocate.

  • MarcAlcan

    the Church has to get better at listening to the world it resides in

    The problem with our Church is not that it is not listening, but rather that some quarters have been listening far too much and that has resulted in the abandonment of her teachings.

    The root of the word obedience is obedere – to listen.

    The question is who do you listen to? Who has the right to your ears? If we listen to paedophile and we become sympathetic at the way he spins his sin, we could end up being one.

    Adam and Eve listened to the devil who happened to be part of the world they resided in. True listening leads to obedience. That is why the Shema is phrased the way it is – Hear Oh Israel. it is a call to obedience.

    Indiscriminate listening is not a virtue. It is foolishness. What we need is a well grounded faith, that listens to the Magisterium that listens to Christ.

    • Camila

      A M E N !!!!!

    • Camila

      Jesus said “blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.” (Luke 11:28)

  • Pan Hu

    That’s not the kind of listening I was referring to. I meant more along the lines of Sun Tzu in The Art of War: “Know yourself, and know your opponent, and in one thousand battles you will never be shaken.” There is no sympathy here for an opponent – only a determination to defeat him.

    Especially in the postmodern 21st century, we will defeat the Devil not by outfighting but by outsmarting him. To do so, we would do well to acquaint ourselves with his methods.

  • jack g.

    I agree with Liz and Camila.
    I also agree to the point with Marc.
    See, when I was by the gates of hell, I only asked one question. What do
    YOU(God), think about it? He didn’t force me, but I really didn’t make a
    good choice.
    He showed me more hell and the wrong I would do if I chose to follow on my wrong way, being already in hell.
    So He offered hope and I grasped with Grace of God to that hope, unknowingly and with none real awareness.
    Pure Grace, just like St. Paul fell from the horse he didn’t have.
    So
    in a way He forced me into accepting Grace, wasn’t my choice, because I
    was too much in hell in my life to really make a good choice.
    I
    guess what I want to convey is that it is enough to show just a little
    of good will, and open door of our will, and He in His great Mercy, will
    put His foot into the door of our hearts.
    Glory to God Merciful,
    The best Daddy ever
    I
    need to mention Our Lady, because I know that She was the ONE Who,
    asked for that grace, and my mothers lifetime of prayer life.
    God loves us all, with and without yoga

  • Pan Hu

    If Jesus were really forceful, He would have ended the world a long time ago. Every day He doesn’t end the world now – and we’d probably all agree that the Final Judgment is long overdue, considering the level of immorality in the contemporary world – is another evidence that His Divine Mercy trumps His sense of justice, strong and truthful though the latter may be.

    He has chosen to remain in the Eucharist for some two millennia after His Passion, thus continuing to bear the five wounds of His passion even in all His Heavenly glory, only to give sinners countless opportunities to repent.

    But then again, if you ask me, that’s not really Jesus but Mary. That’s how much influence His Mother has over Him: who else could convince Him to be so patient?

    • jack g.

      Jesus IS God,
      He doesn’t need to be persuaded
      He allows it to seem this way because He does not need to prove anything, because He loves us more than we can imagine
      He chose to have a Mother out of motherly love for us so it would be easier for us to love Him and understand His love to us
      And so He chose in His Divine Humility to show us how to be humble in His Eucharistic Presence, but that does not give us right to abuse His Presence, like St. Paul warned
      Just my thoughts
      God Bless all

  • Mark

    Hi Meg,
    It would seem that “Yoga” is a combination of the formation of body postures, breathing patterns, and the chanting of certain words. When one practices the specific tripartite combination of movements, breathing, and chanting, all at once then simply choosing to call it something other than “Yoga”, he is a fool. If it looks like a duck, sounds like a duck, and walks like a duck, it is a duck. That is tantamount to the “reality” that God has Authored for us. As the Evil One influences God’s human person creation mysteriously, by virtue of his masquerade of unsurpassable, but for the Grace of God, deception, and injects ideas into our imaginations with his cunning, we are qunitessential fools if we somehow believe that we can beat him at his game. He still enjoys the “direct intelligence” of Almighty God, even since the fall from Grace. We are not called to play with the devil in any way, especially using his rules. When someone “just pracitces” the posturing and breathing, he remains ever so close to that dark art of Yoga. Why would anyone, yet alone a faithful Catholic, wish to toy with Satan?
    We are commanded to love God with all our heart, all our soul, and all our mind, using all our strength. Then, to love our neighbor as ourself. All the rest of God’s commands come after these. This precious life is ever so short. How we exercise, apart from invoking the Evil One in that action, matters not a thing in the scope of this life. Can you imagine Jesus the Christ, Son of the Living God, at your final judgement, allowing you to know how pleased He is with you for the matter of exercise or no exercise that you spent time on during your short life here?
    Know His Truth in Peace, Caritas, and Mercy,
    Mark

  • MarcAlcan

    But Pilates moves were not created as idolatrous movements. As I explained before, if a move was SPECIFICALLY created not just to worship a demon but to allow this demon entry into your being, would you still use this pose. How do you know that the demon did not particularly instruct the one who originated these moves? How do you know that the mere fact of doing does not in fact open you in a very subtle way to the demonic.
    There are many who were deeply into Yoga who counsel against it even just as a recreational activity.
    Fr Joseph Marie Verlinde was told by a guru that regardless of whether you intend the spiritual aspect of yoga, you get the effects because yoga is yoga. Mark explained this very well.
    I would suggest googling Fr Verlinde and also Claire Myrkle McGrath. She was in an interview at EWTN and she counselled against yoga even just as an exercise. I think we need to trust the wisdom of those who have really been there and done that.

    • Meg Koss

      if a pilates move, a dance move or a runners stretch…, is IDENTICAL to a yoga move, Because many are, Is it Idolatry? That statement indicated that when I go to mass and hold my hands in front of my heart in prayer I am committing Idolatry because that is also a yoga pose. Don’t you think our beautiful loving Lord can tell the difference?

      • MarcAlcan

        Holding your hands in prayer was something only co-opted by Yoga. It is not a specifically Yoga move.
        And it is not about whether our loving Lord can tell the difference but whether your movements open you up to the diabolical. I find this defence of Yoga perplexing when there are other exercises out there that are probably better.
        I wonder if this is not a case of the spiritual intent already taking hold even though one does not intend it. It becomes like an addiction and in fact enslaving. Some have mentioned withdrawal-like symptoms when they stopped. So how can that be a good thing?
        The devil is very subtle. He will make you pray rosaries if he can get you in the end.
        Trust the wisdom of those who have abandoned this practice. As I said before google Fr Verlinde. He has a youtube video called A Guru or Jesus. Google Claire Myrkle McGrath. You can buy her conversion story from Lighthouse Catholic Media.

        • Meg Koss

          Marc, Thank you for sharing all of your thoughts. I am not defending yoga what I was trying to point out is that saying all yoga moves open you up to evil is a very strong statement. Statements like this can lead to scrupulosity. Father Sullivan suggested in this article that those interested in yoga should try pilates so I am assuming that pilates moves are ok. Many pilates moves are also yoga moves but they are not performed with any Hindu spirituality.

          Thank you Father Sullivan for this article as it has opened my eye’s to the danger of yoga. I am legally blind and have never been to a yoga class because I do not drive. We recently moved and there is a yoga studio down the street that I could walk to. I was considering joining but have since changed my mind. I have put together an exercise program for myself based on moves i have learned through out my life in dance, cheerleader, pilates, as a runner streching… When I do this particular exercise I do it to the Chaplet of Divine Mercy Sung. Since the only exercise that I knew of that was similar to this is yoga I have been calling what I do yoga. I will no longer refer to my practice as yoga. Thank you Dan for the link to Pietra fitness. I have already been in contact with them to learn more.

    • Connie

      Good point on the comment made by a teacher / Guru of Yoga “whether you intend the spiritual aspects of yoga, you get the effects because yoga is yoga.” right from one who knows what he is teaching, what is not common knowledge of many who are practicing yoga. Pilates, and many other excersizes are created based on other forms, its interesting to look at who created them, their background and the sources they drew from to develop what they teach. Yoga has been in existance 5000 yrs.

  • LCP2

    Let’s do a little thought experiment. Let’s say that there is a priest who has had an unfortunate accident that has left him with severe amnesia, to the point that his understanding of Christianity and his own identity as a priest is almost completely obliterated.

    All that the priest remembers is the physical movements of the ritual of the consecration of the Tridentine Mass. He also knows that the consecration is somehow sacred to Catholics, but he is not sure how, and quite frankly, he is not at all interested.

    In his accident, he has also sustained upper body injuries, and it turns out that one of the best physical therapies happens to be the enacting of the postures, hand movements, and arm movements of the consecration, in other words, the physical “ritual” of the consecration.

    Once a day, then, he stands before a table, takes a chocolate chip cookie or whatever else is handy, and he goes through the physical motions of the consecration. Since he remembers practically nothing about Catholicism or his identity as a priest, he does not intend to consecrate anything. He performs the whole physical ritual flawlessly, but again, he has neither spoken a single word nor mentally prayed a single prayer. All that he thinks about is his breathing and the physical movements.

    Has this priest successfully performed the consecration? The answer is obviously, “no, he has not”. The exercise is devoid of spiritual value or meaning.

    If the physical movements of the consecration can be performed with no spiritual benefit, how then can it be argued that the mere physical movements of a pagan religion carry spiritual peril? Are false and natural religions really so powerful?

    Granted my will, knowledge, and intent are focused exclusively on physical fitness–and I am not performing or witnessing any sort of mental or verbal chanting or “prayer”–why then should I fear the physical movements and breathing of “yoga”?

    • Mark

      Good Sunday morning, LCP2,

      As you may know, what is NECESSARY for the valid Consecration of bread and wine into the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Blessed Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ, Son of the Living God, is proper matter, proper form, and proper intent. Satan as mere creature, as unimaginably intelligent as he is compared to the sum of all human personhood from the beginning until the end of time, remains mere creature before our Blessed Dominus, and as such infinitely less than Almighty God, with no capacity to create anything. As thus, in his inability to create anything, he can only ape the creation of God, Who is the uncreated Creator of all else that is. The Creator of all “being as being”.

      Know then, the same requirements remain for the Satanic rites and rituals masquerading within the false religions, as Satan has no capacity to create any “being as being”. As the “priest” in your example has no capacity to know, consequent to the brain injury that you proffer he has suffered, he cannot have proper intent, as he remains mentally incapable of having proper intent, and as thus he has no capacity for peforming the Consecraton in persona Christi. This character that you have established as “priest” therefore, is different than you, in your mental capacity, as it relates to your performance of the dark ritual of Yoga. Otherwise stated, and metaphysically understood, you have “potency” to “act” in performing the dark ritual of Yoga, whereas your fictitious priest has “no potency” to “act” in the capacity of performing the Consecration.

      With that understanding as our foundation, know how unutterably foolish that it is to play Lucifer’s game with him. In other words, do you for one iota of one instant believe that the Evil One does not have the capacity to “lull you to sleep” in his art of deception, as you or any other human person “toys” with him and his dark ritual of Yoga? Do you believe for an instant that he does not take SPECIAL INTEREST in those who are enticed into his deception in whatever form it may take; for the purposes of this discussion, in the form of Yoga? Know the truth of how previously innocent youth, for instance, have been loored into overt satanic obsession and even possession, by playing what they initially believed to be “just a game” in “Ouwigi Board”, for instance.
      For someone, who truly in their mind and heart, unknowingly stretches in a similar fashion as Yoga, they are paying no allegiance to Lucifer. To someone who stretches as Yoga, breathes as Yoga, and chants as Yoga, but claims they are not performing Yoga, they are a quintessential fool, playing a game with an opponent whose intellect they have no capacity to even imagine the comprehension of. Lastly, the closer one comes to “matching” the rites and rituals of Yoga, at once identifying what they are doing as “some form of Yoga”, or even as they believe they “reject Yoga” yet follow in lock step what it is that Yoga is, they are paying allegiance to Lucifer and he indeed pays full attention to them.
      Know the Truth, in Caritas, Mercy, and Peace, of our Blessed Dominus and Savior, Jesus the Christ, Son of the Living God. Amen.
      Mark

  • MarytheDefender

    I’m from the Philippines and though we’re a Catholic country, Confucian/Buddhist cultures have their influence. Particularly those coming from a Chinese ancestry, like me. I can’t speak for China, Japan etc. but in the Philippines the greater danger here lies in following our ancestors’ traditions without realizing their dangers to our soul. Like Westerners, they might also conflate their Catholic faith with these practices. Many people read Chinese horoscopes, practice feng shui (superstition that arranging furniture can increase good luck) etc. Others mix-up their Catholic faith with the pagan practices of pre-colonial times. But for most, its cultural not a religion. Still no less dangerous. People here need to be more educated. They need to know where to draw the line between tradition and their Catholic faith.

    Indeed there is good in other faiths and philosophies. My college philosophy prof taught us a little about Zen Buddhism. And interestingly, his lesson helped me gain a deeper understanding of the difference between true humility and false humility. That said, I’m never becoming Buddhist! I am glad you espouse recognizing the good in other faiths and cultures as well.

  • Connie

    Hi Mark,
    People get into religious diolog at various levels all the time, it happens at coffee shops, radio Q&A, religious leaders, and others. I commented bringing up philosophical dialog but really it had to do with the Churches position to honor other faiths. This I have a problem with. I respect the individual person in all charity, but I cannot accept the practices of their spiritual tradition. My concern is what people don’t know about that they are getting involved with, the example here is Yoga. Tied to roots in Hinduism and other Buddhist practices there are parts of these traditions that clearly seperates one from Gods grace, usually because one is so removed from Christianity one no longer has a clear understanding of the faith to judge what they are doing. This is like slipping into a muddy pit. It will take alot to come back out. It can happen but its a choice. The problem is usually the faith is weak and obscurred. It takes people of strong Catholic doctrine and sound faith to have knowledge of both sides, to clearly know what the dangers actually are of the particular tradition. This is the spiritual person with Gods grace to help those pulled in and delusioned to hear the truth of what they are involved with. They have to unemotionally present clearly the truth. That whats so great about his artical series, it will reveal the truth about Yoga. I’d like to see the same done with the various Buddhist traditions, actually yoga is practiced in most of them. I happen to be concerned with peoples involvement in Buddhist traditions. Take care, God Bless!

  • http://www.rcspiritualdirection.com/ Dan Burke

    Dear LCP2: Your interpretation of Nostra Aetate – reflects a common and serious misinterpretation of the purpose and emphasis of the document. I don’t have time to go into it now but plan to write a post about it another time. Here’s a quote from Pope Benedict that reveals the problematic developments in interpretation “a weakness of this otherwise extraordinary text has gradually emerged: it speaks of religion solely in a positive way and it disregards the sick and distorted forms of religion which, from the historical and theological viewpoints, are of far-reaching importance; for this reason the Christian faith, from the outset, adopted a critical stance towards religion, both internally and externally.” Vatican Radio 2012

    • LCP2

      Dear Dan,
      I look forward to your article. I think I understand the limitations of Nostra Aetate, but perhaps I have not represented those limitations well here. Here is what I understand. Some natural religions are far worse than others, and I would consider any that feature human sacrifice or ritual prostitution as demonically influenced. The religion of the Aztecs, for example, was nothing if not demonic. These religions are different from the great Eastern faith traditions. Nevertheless, while the great Eastern faith traditions all contain praiseworthy ideas, such as the Buddhist idea that one should recognize one’s solidarity with all sentient beings, there is no salvation in Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, or Confucianism. The truth that they contain is along the same lines as the truths in Ancient Greek philosophy. It is limited to what can be understood through the exercise of reason. They also fail to recognize Jesus as the savior, and they contain a fundamentally mistaken understanding of metaphysics, and this arguably leads many astray.

      • http://www.rcspiritualdirection.com/ Dan Burke

        Ah – well said. I may be selling you short!

        Sent from my iPad

        • Philip Sieve

          Certain moves in Yoga lead to opening what the Eastern religions call “chakras”. After all are done, some snake spirit goes up the back to the brain somewhere. Those who have allegedly reached that point have become very ill What of the rest who didn’t. Have they “bonded” with the spirit? Even if one never intended to go this far, no one in Hollywood intended to become a heroin junkie and no one with a ouija board actually expected it to open something up in the soul, either. Reiki sounds positive, but isn’t either. Some innocently-performed actions, like good intentions, can be the road to Hell.

          We get our spiritual upgrades from Christ directly, but, more successfully through the influence of prayers of the intercessors he’s gicen us–especially his mother, as at Cana.

          • notarebel

            Would like to hear more about Reiki. Heard that it was not of God, but there is a lot of pressure on me to become a practitioner because other hospices and chaplains are doing it. So far, have gotten away with prayers, oils, and ashes on Ash Wednesday!–and calls into the priest for last rites.

          • http://www.spiritualdirection.com/ Dan Burke

            Dear Friend – Reiki, and it’s disguised name “Healing Touch” have been condemned by the USCCB as incompatible with Catholic teaching and that Catholics should not be involved with them for any reason.

  • Mark

    Good morning, LCP2,
    I attempted no conflation of the demonic ritual and Yoga. There are two kingdoms in this world and two alone. There is no “third rail”. Extra ecclesia nulla salus. One, the Kingdom of God and the other, the kingdom of Satan. The premise of this entire discussion is not directed at the Hindu performing Yoga, rather the Christian. It is not principally about so called “evangelization”. WIth that in mind, there is precious nothing to be gained by the Christian performing Yoga, in any of its manifestations or forms. Yoga is not principally a means of exercise and any Christian who sees it that way is simply spiritually blinded. For a Christian to stretch and breathe in a fashion that is compatible with relaxation is one understanding. For that same Christian to believe he is simply performing Yoga “his way”, is a completely different understanding. For you to suggest that you are performing Yoga your way, LCP2, and in that performance to suggest that you are somehow adding to the Church’s capacity for spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the Hindu, is simply an absurdity. Further, for you to suggest that LCP2′s performance of Yoga is “Yoga” but yet “is not Yoga” because you choose to leave out the chant, defies the law of contradiction. “It”, your performance of Yoga, simply cannot both “be Yoga” and “not be Yoga” at the same time and in the same respect. So which is it, LCP2, are you performing Yoga or aren’t you? You simply cannot have it both ways.
    Know HIs Truth in Caritas with Mercy,
    Mark

    • MarcAlcan

      there is precious nothing to be gained by the Christian performing Yoga, in any of its manifestations or forms.
      And might I add great risk of losing much and even losing All.

  • jack g.

    Many intelligent people of all ages reasoned themselves out of Faith. For a true Christian with real relationship with a Living God, the argument is pointless and useless time wasting, for not yoga or anything else will be able to satisfy thirst for God. Talking about postures and arguing its influence is also pointless for there is no “grey area”. Satan wants the “grey area” to exist. Only two kingdoms, just like Marks said in his posts.
    Satan does his job better then we can comprehend.
    I think we shall concentrate on finding ways to help others in establishing a relationship with the Lord, so they don’t have to turn to yoga or similar practices.

    One can do it by witnessing this connection with a Living God in many ways of everyday life. Leave the reasoning out for if one wanted to justify murder it wouldn’t be hard doing it using the Bible. (an eye for an eye rule).
    Hopefully this post and others coming soon will expose the dangers of “grey area”, and help others to embrace the black and white distinctions in our true faith and Catholic teaching.
    With Love of Jesus, jack g.

  • Mark

    Good evening, LCP2,
    In caritas, as Deus Caritas Est:

    It would seem that my reading into your words has caused you a significant degree of consternation. We are called to read into words and not simply read words, as meaningful discernment can only require. At the same time, you have chosen to read “around my words”, which can only lead you into the ad hominem assault, which you characterized in your prose, in quite a text book understanding. Allow me to quote you as demonstration of same:

    ” I seriously doubt that you understand “Extra ecclesia nulla salus” or the fact that what you say directly contradicts even a strict reading of what the Conciliar Fathers wrote in Nostra Aetate. I also marvel at your ignorance of Yoga.” You also had this to say: “I won’t pretend that I have enjoyed our correspondence or your arrogant and patronizing tone. And then you closed with this: “There is a passage in the Bible with which I am sure you are familiar. (Whether or not you can understand it, who knows?).”

    As I trust you know, LCP2, the ad hominem approach, as a linguistic endeavor, leads the user finally into a true understanding of the arrogant use of patronization, that which you overtly accused me of. In your final appeal, you have submerged yourself into the attack of character, which is the antithesis of perspicacity, as it rests in the passions, not the intellect, where the ad hominem, from its deepest interiority, reveals itself, all at once subordinating intellect, in favor of placing passion in the ordinate position.

    You demonstrate a distorted understanding of the application of Nostra Aetate, an exhortation. Perhaps you would be more in line with the light of reason if you studied carefully, that VCII document which has the more meaningful weight of the Magisterium, in lieu of the musings of the Conciliar Fathers in Nostra Aetate. Lumen gentium and in particular Lumen gentium 16, which has this to say about those who have not yet received the Gospel of Jesus the Christ.

    “….Whatever good or truth is found amongst them is looked upon by the Church as a preparation for the Gospel. She knows that it is given by Him who enlightens all men so that they may finally have life. But often men, deceived by the Evil One, have become vain in their reasonings and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, serving the creature rather than the Creator. [Cf.Rom. 1:21, 25]. Or some there are who, living and dying in this world without God, are exposed to final despair. Wherefore to promote the glory of God and procure the salvation of all of these, and mindful of the command of the Lord, ‘”Preach the Gospel to every creature.”‘ [cf. Mark 16:16], the Church fosters the missions with care and attention.”
    What you accomplish in calling your form of stretching and breathing “yoga”, in the “privacy of your own home”, to quote you, is a “vain reasoning” and in that understanding, you “exchange the truth of God, for a lie, serving the creature rather than the Creator.” Precious nowhere are we told by the Gospel of Jesus Christ to “take on” the spiritually benighted practices, in any form, of the darkened religions, with some hope that we achieve anything other than serving our miserable creatureliness, all at once ever vulnerable to the inexplicalbe deception of the Evil One. It is one understanding to search for the good in the ideological, false religion of our neighbor, in an effort to bring them into the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is a completely different understanding for a Christian to accept the darkened practices unto himself, for the purpose of achieving some creaturely pleasure.
    Know His Truth in Caritas and Mercy,
    Mark

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  • http://www.rcspiritualdirection.com/ Dan Burke

    LCP2 – Ad hominem is never welcome here because it exceeds the bounds of charity. With respect to your point about the demonic – I know you recognize the impossibility of actually proving something is demonic in origin. Just curious – would you accept the testimony of an exorcist with respect to Yoga?

    • LCP2

      Thanks, Dan, for the kind correction. I hope that you and Mike will accept my apology.

      You ask an interesting question.

      What would convince me is evidence that a natural religion–by its nature–tends to lead to sin and violence.

      We see this in the Aztec religion. Only slightly more subtly, we see this in Islam, which Hellare Belloc called, “The great and enduring heresy of Mohammed”. St. Paul also talks about this in Romans.

      In contrast, a mere correlation would not be sufficient. Many things can cause demonic influence and possession.

      Having said that, I do not doubt that the practice of genuine Yoga can lead a Christian into dark places (to say the least). A Christian who turns to other faith traditions to find Truth and Life is like a dog returning to his vomit. Dynamic stretching, isometrics, and breathing in the style of yoga, however, is not even close to genuine yoga. As Mike could say, it lacks proper form and proper intent. Proper matter alone does not a sacrament make, nor does it make for a demon evoking pagan ritual. At the least, you would need proper form.

      In direct answer to your question, if an exorcist could tell me why dynamic stretching, isometrics, and breathing in the style of yoga in the privacy of my own home is dangerous, I would take him very, very seriously. Similarly, if a Magisterial document were written that condemned even the mere physical exercises that are performed in yoga, I would drop it like a hot potato.

      Here is another question: do Christians need to avoid the Japanese tea ceremony?

      • http://www.rcspiritualdirection.com/ Dan Burke

        Thanks LCP2 – good thoughts as always and more kindly spoken which I appreciate. Regarding the Japanese ceremony – I did smile at the suggestion. There will be at least three more posts in this series so it will be interesting to see how you respond to them. In the end, I believe the strongest argument against engagement with the practice emerges out of Romans 14. Pax

        • LCP2

          Thanks, Dan. I appreciate the blog and discussion. It is really forcing me to take a good, hard look at what had been my unwarranted assumptions. I am admittedly tenacious, and I hope and pray that I am not obstinate.

          You mentioned scandal in an earlier post, and Romans 14 has been foremost in my mind. This is why I have started adding the caveat, “in the privacy of my own home” to description of what I do. Apart from that, I do not have a well-formulated response, and I very much look forward to the additional posts.

          • http://www.rcspiritualdirection.com/ Dan Burke

            Ah – that says a lot about you that is positive and I very much appreciate your honesty about wrestling. We may be alike. Sometimes when I struggle I argue my point as strongly as I can because I really do want to abandon my position if it is not in keeping with truth. If I am not moved off of my mark by a sound counter-argument, then I stand firm and confident.

          • LCP2

            You hit the nail on the head: “We may be alike. Sometimes when I struggle I argue my point as strongly as I can because I really do want to abandon my position if it is not in keeping with truth. If I am not moved off of my mark by a sound counter-argument, then I stand firm and confident.” In the case of dynamic stretching, isometrics, and breathing in the style of yoga, I don’t find the gratuitous claim of some contributors cogent, that merely standing in “tree pose” and breathing deeply through my nose, while thinking about balance and how much dust there is on the fireplace mantle, is going to cause me to be exposed to unwanted demonic influence.

  • http://www.rcspiritualdirection.com/ Dan Burke

    Dear Molly – my compliment was a sincere observation. Please review our guidelines in the FAQ for the kind of environment and approach to dialogue that is acceptable in this forum.

  • LCP2

    Mark,

    Thanks for accepting my apology and I also apologize for getting your name wrong. I have no contest with anything that you wrote in your most recent message. Thanks for your patience and willingness to take the time to refine your argument. With kind regards, LCP2

    • Mark

      Praised be the King of Glory, LCP2, our Blessed Dominus and Savior, Jesus the Christ, Son of the Living God. Amen.

      Mark

  • MarcAlcan

    In other words, these people are seeking a good.
    What was it someone said? Sin is seeking the good in all the wrong places. What you are describing there is seeking salvation by one’s self. Very similar to what Adam and Eve did.

    • LCP2

      Hi Marc,

      I am not sure if you are trying to agree with me or contradict me. I have said several times in my comments that there is no salvation in natural religions. I think we agree about this.

      I would also add that the actions of Adam and Eve are far different from the actions of someone who is raised Hindu and who strives to be a good Hindu. For starters, Adam and Eve arguably had infused knowledge and perfectly free will. Their minds had not been darkened and their will had not been weakened by the fall. This is precisely why their sin was so grievous and abominable.

      Regarding what pagans do by way of worship and other moral actions, we need to turn to Nostra Aetate and Lumen Gentium (quoted elsewhere). The Catechism also has something to say on the matter of conscience:

      IV. ERRONEOUS JUDGMENT
      1790 A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience. If he were deliberately to act against it, he would condemn himself. Yet it can happen that moral conscience remains in ignorance and makes erroneous judgments about acts to be performed or already committed.

      1791 This ignorance can often be imputed to personal responsibility. This is the case when a man “takes little trouble to find out what is true and good, or when conscience is by degrees almost blinded through the habit of committing sin.”59 In such cases, the person is culpable for the evil he commits.

      1792 Ignorance of Christ and his Gospel, bad example given by others, enslavement to one’s passions, assertion of a mistaken notion of autonomy of conscience, rejection of the Church’s authority and her teaching, lack of conversion and of charity: these can be at the source of errors of judgment in moral conduct.

      1793 If – on the contrary – the ignorance is invincible, or the moral subject is not responsible for his erroneous judgment, the evil committed by the person cannot be imputed to him. It remains no less an evil, a privation, a disorder. One must therefore work to correct the errors of moral conscience.

      • MarcAlcan

        The only thing I will reply here is to give you a link to Ratzinger’s explanation of conscience.

        http://www.ewtn.com/library/curia/ratzcons.htm

        On second thoughts, I give this other example.

        If I am seeking the good (personal happiness) by having sexual liaisons with a married man, I suppose that is okay because I am after all “seeking the good”

  • James

    Since when did Catholics become Puritans?

    If Catholics could “baptize” pagan symbols of winter and spring as Christmas trees and Easter bunnies, why can’t Catholics “baptize” Yoga?

    If Catholics are so lacking in spiritual imagination that they can’t figure out how to combine prayer and stretching-and, in fact, run away from it in fear, then no wonder so many Churches are so empty!

    So why not Pilates? Because it’s a completely different exercise system.

    • http://www.rcspiritualdirection.com/ Dan Burke

      James ­ Not responding directly to puritain comment (I am a convert from Calvinism so I understand dead orthodoxy quite well) but regarding your comment as to why some Catholic Churches are empty. In fact, those Catholics and priests/parishes that embrace the world and thereby shift their emphasis away from what it means to truly be in relationship with God and engage in this transcendent reality with faithful liturgy and worship etc. are the reason parishes are closing. You will find the opposite happening with those who embrace their faith and are living the dynamic reality of God among us. Check out Pietra fitness ­ good alternative that is true to the wisdom of the ages. http://www.Pietrafitness.com

      • James

        If Pietra is the exercises of yoga combined with Catholic spirituality, then that’s EXACTLY what I am talking about with “baptizing Yoga” and exactly what would like to see more of!

        I’ve seen my share of both dead orthodoxy and deader heterodoxy in the Catholic Church. As different as they are, both lack this sort of spiritual imagination.

        • http://www.rcspiritualdirection.com/ Dan Burke

          James ­ the good news is that Pietra is not a blending of Yoga and Catholicism. It is better ­ it is an integration of the Catholic faith and a healthy treatment of the body so that we can better serve Him with it. There is nothing lacking in our faith tradition that requires that we seek to integrate the faith of other traditions (however good they may be in some respects) in order to achieve holy or effective ends.

          • James

            I think there is some confusion here: Are the exercises in Pietra comparable to the exercises in yoga or are they not? Do the same muscle groups get worked? Would one get a similar physical workout? If so, then that’s fantastic.

            No, there is nothing lacking in the faith-I did not mean to imply that there was-but Catholics shouldn’t feel like their souls are in peril from having a good stretch.

    • MarcAlcan

      I think you need to read up more on Christmas trees and Easter Bunnies are not Christian symbols. So now bunnies were not baptized as Christian symbols.
      And no, there is no need to combine prayer and stretching although one may do so.
      But can one make idolatrous movements Christian. No. Not if they were specifically created to allow spirits entry into your body.
      The fierce defense of yoga (which is hardly necessary for health) to me sounds like it has already worked its spiritual effects on the practictioner.

    • Clinton Lowell Ufford

      James – Im not 100% sure what your getting at here friend. As Catholic’s, we believe in one good spiritual being, that being the Holy Spirit. All other’s can be said to be demons. That may sound “crazy,” but nonetheless, true. The mantras in yoga are what is “wrong” with them. Anything that alters the mind without God at its center is false.

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  • MarcAlcan

    Very well said!
    It should be stressed that pagan religions are idolatrous and when we look at salvation history, we see how over and over again the Israelites fall into idol worship whenever they become involved with the pagan nations that surrounded them.
    Unfortunately, this is what I see in Christians who dabble in the practices of these religions. I think a misreading of the Lumen Gentium post VatII is the source of this problem.
    I too pray for the conversion of Hindus. I am currently doing a Bible Study with an Indian youth group and they are on fire for Jesus. I think of how they have abandoned Hinduism (some at a cost) to become Christians and yet here we have so many who are dabbling in Eastern religious practices when they have already had the priviledge of knowing the Source of All Goodness.
    BTW, “Will Many Be Saved?” by Ralph Martin is an excellent book on this topic (if you have not already read it).

    • Mark

      Hi MarcAlcan,
      Indeed, Dr Ralph Martin’s book is a provocative view of Lumen gentium 16. The annotations alone are worth the read. His emphasis rests mostly on the last few sentences of LG 16.
      Praised be Jesus the Christ, Son of the Living God.
      Mark

      • MarcAlcan

        Forever and Ever, Amen.

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  • Ralph

    When will you publish Catholic Yoga (Part (IV)

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