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The Southampton priest was right to ban yoga classes

Yoga is more than just exercise

By on Monday, 1 October 2012

No yoga here Chris Ison/PA Wire

No yoga here Chris Ison/PA Wire

“Catholic priest bans yoga classes” was a small item in the Telegraph last week. It seems that Fr John Chandler of St Edmund’s Church, Southampton, is in trouble for cancelling yoga and Pilates classes which had been booked for his church hall. He says that at first the hall had been booked only for Pilates, but classes were later advertised for “spiritual yoga” as well. According to a spokesman for the Portsmouth Catholic diocese, “It’s not possible for Catholic premises to be used for non-Christian activities and there is a dilemma with yoga as it can be seen as Hindu meditation or as relaxation.” Mrs Cori Withell, who was to lead the classes, insisted that “Yoga is not religious: spiritual but not religious.”

Who is in the right here? Decisions are left to the local priest’s discretion; he has to discern whether parish premises are being used merely for exercises such as Pilates, a physical fitness system developed by a German called Joseph Pilates in the early 20th century, or for offshoots of Eastern religions, with all their non-Christian assumptions and beliefs. But even Pilates is not entirely innocent, it seems; a later hybrid development is “yogilates”, combining aspects of yoga as well as Pilates, so perhaps Fr Chandler is being sensible here, rather than over-cautious.

Also, although Mrs Withell makes a distinction between what is “spiritual” and what is “religious”, there is too much overlap to separate them where yoga is concerned. According to Wiki, “yoga” means “union” and true yoga is union with the Divine i.e. it is not just a set of physical exercises. It is a comprehensive system lasting a lifetime if practised properly, all about achieving spiritual enlightenment. But such “enlightenment” and “the Divine” are far from the Christian concept of the Trinitarian God, repentance or sacramental grace. Fr Jeremy Davies, the official exorcist for the Westminster archdiocese, warns against the practice of yoga: “Beware of any claims to mediate beneficial energies (e.g. Reiki)…any alternative therapy with its roots in Eastern religion… They are not harmless”, he insists.

When I was at my convent boarding school I was briefly interested in yoga. I found a book called “Christian Yoga” written by a French Benedictine who believed yogic exercises and breathing techniques could be harnessed for Christian meditation; instead of intoning Sanskrit words you invoked the name of Jesus and so on. Perhaps something similar is taught at certain Catholic retreat centres where yoga is advertised? My own youthful involvement was curtailed by a friend who insisted on barging into my room whenever a “session” was in progress. I also got bored; yoga, like youth, is wasted on the young.

But Fr Davies’s reference to Reiki did bring me up short: not long ago I won a raffle prize – which turned out to be a free Reiki session with a local practitioner. I went along out of mere curiosity, ignorantly thinking I might get a foot massage which might be quite pleasant. All the practitioner did was stroke my toes, at the same time solemnly telling me she could sense a build-up of “toxins” in my body which she hoped to “expel”. I seem to recall scented candles and low “meditative” music in the background. What she said was ridiculous and I felt ridiculous. Are people actually gullible enough to pay for this mumbo-jumbo?

Later, I checked out Reiki on wiki: a Japanese technique for stress reduction that also promotes “healing”. It is administered by “Laying on hands” and is based on the idea that an unseen “life force energy” flows through us; if one’s “life force energy” is low, then we are more likely to get sick. Its adherents believe it is “effective in helping virtually every known illness and malady and always creates a beneficial effect.” Further, “Because Reiki comes from God many people find that using it puts them more in touch with the experience of their religion.”

As with yoga, one has to point out that this is not the Christian God. It is trying to achieve spiritual wholeness on the cheap, by following a technique, and through a sentimental feeling of “spirituality”; there is no Way of the Cross here. I subsequently noticed two advertisements in our current local directory: one offers “Healing, with energy, light and love”, offered by an “intuitive life coach, Energy Healer and Reiki Master”; the other offers a range of “wellbeing therapies” which include aromatherapy, holistic massage, Indian head massage, reflexology, Reiki, Pilates, acupuncture and hypnotherapy. Whew.
I think Fr Chandler would be well advised to avoid booking any of these practices in his parish hall. Satan is real and he is devilishly clever.

  • http://cumlazaro.blogspot.com/ Lazarus

    ‘In our time’ has a permanent archive -so the programme will remain there until Doomsday (or perhaps the privatization of the BBC -I’d put my money on Doomsday coming first!).

    Glad that you’ve been exposed to the seriousness with which modern philosophers take Catholicism. John Haldane (one of the guests) is both a prominent Scottish philosopher and a Catholic of a distinctly orthodox cast. 

    Perhaps you’re beginning to understand how deep the intellectual inheritance of Catholicism is, and why those of us who have found it are so fierce in defending it against cheap gibes…?

  • Adsum

    Church perfect: people in it flawed – oxymoron – theologically:)?

  • Peter

    Jimmy Saville died an old man.  Why were there no complaints while he was alive, especially in the decades leading up to his death?

  • Adsum

    Yes:)! And how they enjoy their exclusive (in every sense of the word) Tea Parties!  

  • C_monsta

     What are you suggesting? Have you not read any recent reports on this?

  • Adsum

    Indeed.  There are so many Parishes where the welcome is warm, of Christ and accepting without judgement. Do not be put off by the hard, sometimes uncharitable, tone of rhetoric and debate here:)!  

  • Peter

    Of course, if he is guilty he is guilty, and I feel sorry for the victims.  

    But it is strange that these crimes are only reported nationally after his death as an old man in his eighties.

  • Curicius

    How does one decide what ‘pagan’ is? (As opposed to ecumenical.) Thes.e days self-styled Christians are often not Christians at all in terms of what they believe and do. I was talking to a (Catholic unfortunately) woman earlier this week, who told me that Jesus Christ was a good man and spiritual leader and there have been manage good men and spiritual leaders down the ages. She seemed amused and surprised when I said that in that case she was no longer a member of the Church

  • Fides_et_Ratio

    No, she didn’t say anything about fear, but why would she? That was the distinct impression I got though.

    Diagnosing a person’s state of mind is hard enough for a trained psychologist who talks to the person face to face. An amateur reading an Internet article and trying to diagnose the author’s emotions is absurd.

    She didn’t like Yoga because it wasn’t
    Christian.

    Straw man. It is not just that Yoga “isn’t Christian”. The way you speak, it’s as if Catholics were forbidden to eat Indian food, watch Indian movies or learn Indian languages. That is completely false.
    The problem is that Yoga is a spiritual practice that molds one’s head towards “spiritual enlightenment” through “union with the Divine” – and this “Divine” is not the real God. If you read the Bible, idolatry is an extremely serious sin.

    What people do in their own geads during such a session is
    entirely up to them

    No one is talking about outlawing Yoga or Reiki. Criticizing is one thing, outlawing is an entirely different thing.

  • scary goat

     I put a sort of quick reply for you on the other thread.  Also this is relevant:
    http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20000626_message-fatima_en.html

  • tbittan

     “Why not examine the evidence?”

    Because there isn’t any?

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/PWZKI7JBARE4DDT3NQ22RWMOJE Benedict Carter

    Nonsense. Your theology is horribly twisted. 

  • Sweetjae

    You are DEAD wrong Benedict, St. Maximillian Kolbe, Popes Pius IX, Leo XIII, Pope St. Pius X, Benedict XV, Pius XI DIDN’T say nor teach that ecumenism to advance the Faith is prohibited. The acts of ecumenism of Florence 600 years ago was an excellent example.

  • Sweetjae

    Who really is, turning his back here?

  • Sweetjae

    Typical Protestant mind with SOLA Scriptura, for Benedict it’s SOLA tradicio!

  • Sweetjae

    Why, truth hurts? The Golf club won’t allow you to play soccer in their field, so what’s wrong with that? The Catholic Church won’t allow reiki-yoga meditations in her ground, so what’s wrong with that? Narrow minded, yes you are!

  • Sweetjae

    It’s not self-refuting rather the Church is perfect and holy because it’s perfection and holiness comes from the Founder, Jesus Christ yet the members are not flawless. The Church is a hospital for sinners not a hotel for the righteous.

  • Sweetjae

    Yoga, Reiki and other new ager stuffs that are NOT COMPATIBLE with our Catholic Faith. They don’t have place in our Church.

  • Sweetjae

    Good, what our friend Benedict seem to overlooked is the distinction between the willful acts to twist the interpretation to advance a liberal agenda AND what the actual Teaching of VII. Huge difference.

  • Sweetjae

    No clue? Ask the nothingness.

  • Sweetjae

    Jesus Christ commanded His followers to make judgments all the time when it comes to sins and occasions of sin. These yoga and new ager stuffs are definitely one of them!

  • Sweetjae

    Yah, the democrats are just as guilty as child killers, same sex, free sex and violators of conscience and religious freedom that are clearly against the teachings of Holy Scripture and the Church. You don’t find the dems platform highly tragic and horrendous?

  • Sweetjae

    I would rather go with a good cup of tea than a plate of garbage food by the democrats.

  • JabbaPapa

    … then you are as utterly mistaken as it is possible to be, given that it’s practically nil.

  • Fr. Thomas Poovathinkal

     
    WHEN WE GO FOR MAN-MADE TECHNIQUES WE LOSE THE OPPORTUNITY TO  BELONG TO THE SON OF GOD, THE SAVIOUR OF ALL MANKIND. KNOWING HIM AND LOVING HIM AND OBEYING HIM IS ETERNAL LIFE. IT IS MUCH MORE THAN  YOGA-BUSINESS.

  • Fr. Thomas Poovathinkal

    WHY DON’T YOU SIT FOR FEW HOURS DAILY IN FRON”T OF JESUS CRUCIFIED AND LISTEN TO HIM. KEEP A COPY OF THE WORDS OF THE LORD IN BOOK FORM AT HAND.

    A  BOOK-BOUND COUNTER POPE, EVEN IN HIS OLD AGE ARGUING, JUDGING, AND CONDEMNING EVERY BODY COULD VERY WELL BE AN ENEMY WITHIN, MIND YOU.

    WHEN CERTAIN AGE IS CROSSED, SOME PEOPLE START SUFFERING FROM SENILITY; THEY KEEP BELIEVING THEY ARE THE CENTRE OF THE  WORLD AND AT TIMES THEY FEEL THEY ARE  EVEN GOD ALMIGHTY IN A DIFFERENT FORM. GOOD PEOPLE CAN HELP PRAYING FOR SUCH.

  • Fr. Thomas Poovathinkal

    WITNESSING ON AN OPEN FORUM IS THE BEST WAY OF GLORIFYING THE LORD. COME ON PLEASE, WHY DON’T YOU DO IT. IT IS WITNESSING LIKE THE APOSTLES.

    INDIVIDUALISM IS NOT SO CONDUCIVE TO THE BUILDING OF THE BODY OF CHRIST.

  • tbittan

    Anne, of course you are right. The world is full of crazies and I’m sure the Catholic Church just has its fair share!

  • tbittan

    Well, of course that is up to Catholics. But it’s certainly open to question whether any harm is being done – and I think this makes the Church look small-minded and mean-spirited at the same time.

  • Berdie Serafin

    Good for you, Father John!

  • Elizabeth

    I am a reflexologist in practice since 1986 and taught it in Adult Education for many years.  It is a science based on the fact that there are reflexes in the feet that relate to every organ and gland in the body, and by stimulating these you can latch into the body’s healing processes, help to get that area of the body back into balance ahd stimulate circultion and nerve supply to that areaof the body.
    I do not see how any of this can be satanic.
    I was also a nurse in my youth, and often, if a tender reflex showed up I would question a person about their function in this area, and if I thought it necessary I always advised them to go to a doctor.
    I am happy to say I have picked up people in the early stages of bowel cancer

  • daclamat

    Fresh out of the Seminary this lad seems to think he has instant infused wisdom.  I’m astonished his superiors let him get away with this crass authoritarianism.
    In 1989 the Vatican put out a statement”these ways should not be rejected out of hand simply because they are not Christian. On the contrary, one can take from them what is useful so long as the Christian concept of prayer, its logic and requirements are never obscured”

  • Millr

    This is so typical of the attitude of some religions and religious leaders that theirs is the ONLY path up the mountain and that there is NOTHING to be learned from other cultures, religions, ways of life and practices. “ours is the ONLY way and I AM the only arbiter of that”. No you are not. 

  • markings

     People see what they want to see. Nobody made the writer feel ridiculous during the Reiki session, she did this all by herself. If she would not approach things with preconceived ideas and attitudes she might have experienced it as relaxing and healing.

  • wellknownfact

     Wow, it’s loony toons all the way here.  Has disney made an offer?

  • Rabjohnsmichael

    why doesnt the catholic church go the whole hog and start burning witches?

  • guest

     http://www.irishexaminer.com/analysis/yoga-a-stretch-too-far-for-catholicism-209521.html

  • http://twitter.com/marksumner Mark Sumner

    Benedict Carter wrote:

    “The use in the US and elsewhere of the enneagram by Catholics has been recently called, by the man who introduced it to the female religious orders in the 1960′s, the prime cause of the total destruction of those religious orders. He now bitterly regrets having done it. This enneagram technique is seen also by the Church’s exorcists as an open door to the entry of demons into a person.”

    Can you please provide references for these highly questionable comments.

    Firstly, there wasn’t any teaching of the Enneagram to “female religious orders in the 1960′s”.  The first such teachings could not have taken place until around 1973 at the earliest and didn’t become more widespead until the early 1980s.  I will presume you believe that the “man who introduced it” is Fr Mitch Pacwa.  He wasn’t.  As Fr Pacwa was never a very prominent teacher of the Enneagram then I very much doubt that he ever personally “introduced” it to any significant number of female religious orders.  I could be wrong on this point but I am correct in saying that Fr Pacwa’s later criticisms of the Enneagram are riddled with factual innacuraces and his very inadequate understanding of Enneagram theory and its historical development.   

    Secondly, I doubt that many exorcists have ever made such an extreme assessment of the Enneagram (which is not a “technique”).  Please support this claim with evidence that most or even many exorcists are of one mind on this.

  • sabryna

    I am a Reiki master, I can tell you that energy work and yoga has nothing to do with Satan. Some say Jesus was a Reiki master, that the three wise men from the east were Tibetan buddhists. Whose to say what anyone else should do? Doesnt the Bible say we should love everyone? Turn your other cheek and do a yoga triangle pose, see how great you feel. The Bible has been ruined by all who speak english and try to translate to fit their needs, omit, imagination. Give into your own light and love and intuition instead of fear implanted by your “religion”. It works wonders. 

  • Goddessofcompassion

    I can’t believe I read all of this! Benedict Carter, you should be ashamed of yourself for spreading such ridiculous non-sense! You come across as a narrow-minded individual who is scared to try anything that hasn’t been approved by the powers you have chosen to allow to rule your life. That is a very sad way to live. I hope one day you will be enlightened to a better way.

  • DevilWorshipFTW

    I am a ‘Militant Atheist’ if you are a ‘Militant Christian’ for discussing your beliefs with others. I have nothing to say more on the Yoga issue as I agree with tbittan that it is plain silly. The whole concept of the argument is so obviously a it’s-not-christian-it’s-got-to-be-evil argument, and your reduction to plain insults shows you cannot debate seriously and civilly. Please reply only if you intent to do so properly. in the mean time I have this to ask of you, what country are you from, what party do you vote for and what are your opinions on homosexuality? (I can guess but I’d rather be pleasantly surprised) Thanks :) 
    PS the name is a reference to your ridiculous accusations, and I do not ban people from taking part in Christian worship in my Devil worship cult building.Oh wait, that’s you…xD 

  • Paul

    Delusional