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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.

  • Nat_ons

    Absolutely! A system of movement and relaxation can be useful - even if only a modified Eileen Folwer bend and stretch routine. Prayer to the goddess Kali is not necessary to this sort of breath control, posture and exercise .. any more than crystals, astrology and inner-light-rebirthing are for Christian healing (whether in good health or miracle or sacrament)

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

    Meditational yoga (as opposed to the kind of yoga down your local gym which resembles the warm-up you do before playing in a rugby match) is EXTREMELY dangerous, and all exorcists – which, thanks be to God, are once again working in the Church after the years after Vatican II when probably most Bishops and priests denied hell and the devil – are unanimous in their condemnation of it. 

    Why would they condemn this meditational yoga, as the Church has always condemned using ouija boards, card readings, clairvoyants, astrology and so on? 

    Because the process of emptying one’s mind IS AN OPEN INVITATION for a demon to enter. 

    The montrous practice of Satanism, full possession (rarely) and demonic obsession (common – where one is harassed continually by one or more evil spirits) has increased enormously in recent decades. This is all in line with what Our Lady, stigmatics and other mystic Saints have been saying for several centuries. 

    Scripture too warns us off these activities using most solemn and serious words.  

    We Catholics particularly must have no recourse to these things. If people are correctly taught the Faith, and one’s prayer life is good and one regularly takes the Sacraments of Confession and Holy communion, then one has to ask WHY anyone would want to empty their mind and soul when one has the Grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ?

    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, as the prime cause of the total destruction of those religious orders. He now bitterly regrets having done this.

    I urge ALL Catholics to read the three or four books written by Father Gabriele Amorth on the subject of the devil and his demons. The book “The Rite” (the film is entirely different to the book on which it is based) is also well-worth reading. 

    Educate yourselves, please, about the reality and the dangers of the Enemy, Satan, and avoid ALL practices that may open you and your family to attack. 

    St. Michael Archangel, defend us in the day of battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him we humbly pray and do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the power of God, thrust down into hell Satan and all wicked spirits who wander through the world for the ruin of souls. 

    Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, pray for us.
    Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, pray for us.
    Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, pray for us.

  • Fr. Thomas Poovathinkal

    “Satan is real and he is devilishly clever”.
     
    TO SAY THE ABOVE IN THE CONTEXT OF ANY RELIGION IS NOT DESIRABLE. IT IS SIMPLY MORAL VIOLENCE.

    LIGHT THE LIGHT OF THE LORD WHO SAID, “I AM THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD. HE WHO FOLLOWS ME WILL NOT WALK IN DARKNESS BUT WILL HAVE THE LIGHT OF LIFE”,  HIS LIGHT IS ETERNAL LIFE FOR ALL PEOPLE OF GOOD-WILL.

    INSTEAD WE SHOULD LIVE BY JESUS LORD AND HIS TEACHINGS. THE RESULT WILL BE THAT WE ALL WILL FUNCTION AS APOSTLES. AND THEN THE LORD WILL DRAW TO HIS CHURCH PEOPLE FROM ALL FOUR DIRECTIONS IRRESPECTIVE OF ANY RELIGION.

    WE SHOULD RATHER PRAY FOR ALL PEOPLE… SO THAT THE LORD MAY LEAD THEM ALL TO HIS CHURCH. JESUS SAID, “NO ONE COME TO ME UNLESS THE FATHER WHO SENT ME DRAWS HIM”.

    DID HE NOT ASK TO PRAY FOR EVEN OUR ENEMIES? DID HE NOT GIVE US EXAMPLE ALSO IN THIS? WHY CREATING ENEMIES EXERCISING MORAL VIOLENCE?

    AS FOR PRACTICING YOGA AS A PHYSICAL EXERCISE CAN BE ALLOWED FOR MATURE AND INFORMED PEOPLE, NOT MORE THAT. EVEN THIS IN A CHURCH RELATED PLACE IS AWKWARD.

    EVERY  ORGANISED RELIGIOUS SYSTEM IS INTOLERANT OF OTHERS AND IS TOTALITARIAN.
    ALL THE MORE WHEN ONE DOES NOT KNOW ONE’S RELIGION,  CHRISTIAN RELIGION THROUGH CHRIST THE LORD, IT IS VERY VERY DANGEROUS.

  • Fr. Thomas Poovathinkal

    “Yoga is more than just exercise”

    VERY TRUE IN MOST CASES.
     

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

    The more you write, Father, the more I believe that either your avatar is a fraud or you are in desperate need of a complete re-training in the basics of the Catholic Faith.

  • Mikethelionheart

    Please press ‘Caps Lock’.

  • orapronobis

    Catholics should never engage in any aspect of pagan meditation.

    The liberals and the naysayers will not like what I have to
    say because this concerns spiritual warfare (the liberals do not like this
    phrase because if they admit spiritual warfare exists then they have to start
    acknowledging sin, and then they may have to start going to confession).

    1.  PSYCHOLOGICAL ASPECT – The devil will use any
    excuse to move a human being away from Christ. The opening up of the mind
    through meditation to other forms of non-Christian worship i.e. pagan worship
    will allow the devil to work more effectively within the psyche to achieve his
    goal i.e. to remove you from Christ and consequently away from your salvation.

    2. THE NEW AGE/OCCULT ASPECT – Then we have the
    incorporation of these meditative practices into the New Age Movement. Any new
    age practice (i.e. pagan/occult practice) is forbidden by the church for the
    same reasons that are given in point 1. St.
    Paul quite clearly states in the New testament (it is also referenced in the
    Old Testament) that any practice including involvement in astrology
    (horoscopes), magic, witchcraft & superstition is forbidden. The new age
    movement which now includes tarot reading, ‘angelology’, and meditation etc are
    ALL practices that move us away from Christ and our salvation. The New Age
    Movement is the thin end of the wedge of the occult.

  • Peter

    “Satan is real and he is devilishly clever”

    How so very true.

    His actions parade in our parishes as innocent and harmless, even beneficial.

    But yoga and the like are the tip of the iceberg.

    The greatest success that Satan has in our parishes is in creating a status quo – a generally accepted recognition – that raising funds for the material use of the parish, and not for charity, is doing God’s work.

    It most certainly is not!

    If a parish persistently raises funds for itself and excludes the poor, that is not God’s work but Satan’s.

    Jesus warns us that we shall be damned if we ignore the poorest, the least of his brethren.

    The reality is that there are parishes out there doing just that.  

    They deceive the faithful into believing that they will be saved if they continue to meet the material needs of the parish, while at the same time ignoring the needs of the poorest.  

    Expecting to be saved, the faithful will be damned, and the parish entrusted with their salvation will have caused their damnation.

    They will be like the goats in the last judgement surprised that they have been damned:  ”when did we not feed you Lord…?”

  • NewMeena

    Reading (especially) these comments (only 7 at the moment) I think I’ve had a close “shave”.

    We have been doing Yoga at the local church hall for a few years, and still do not glow green in the dark.
    It’s good to know that Satan is getting the local “pillars of the parish” to collect money to stop the roof leaking (at the bar end too) so that we can do and chant our Yoga in the dry, and not kick over buckets etc.
    Generally speaking, I think that people who donate money for the roof (so that we might very soon be able to do our Yoga and keep dry too) are also the ones most likely to donate money to Cathod (?) etc as well.

    I really am shocked to read people talking about goblins or demons in the 21st Century. Is this a joke?
    Are there witches and wizards too that we should watch out for?
    Methinks: too many horror films perhaps. It’s that time of the year of course. I dare say all will quieten down before you hang up your stockings.

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

    The devil and his demons and hell are no joke at all. 

    Why not examine the evidence? Read Fr. Amorth’s books for a start. or are you one of those atheists who are so spiritually blind that you refuse to examine anything that forces you to confront the reality of what you have rejected?

    No, you don’t glow green. But you don’t believe in God either. So the devil has already done his work with you. No need for anything else.

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

    A Parish needs to raise money for itself as well as for the poor. You are wrong to say otherwise.

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

    It’s not just the capital letters of his posts that worry me, but their content, which is frankly heretical.

  • Peter

    All parishes need to raise money for themselves.

    The problem lies in those parishes that devote all their fundraising efforts to raising money for themselves while avoiding any fundraising efforts for the poor.

    Believe me, they exist.

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

    Name some.

  • Tony Bittan

    This article and comments come at a good time for me. I had been seriously considering returning to the Catholic Church, but a useful reminder of how full of crazies it is.

  • awkwardcustomer

    You said:  ‘The devil and his demons and hell are no joke at all.’

    And I completely agree.  For me the following quote from the film ‘The Usual Suspects’ sums up the situation today.

    ‘The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he doesn’t exist.’ 

    (Someone else said something like it before but I can’t find the original.)
     

  • Rpienne

    Devils,goblins,evil spirits, of course they exist. Look at any newspaper on any day and see the pure evil – no human agency could conceive the pointless evil (i.e. vile crimes which carry no fiscal or real reward or advantage, as opposed to a “practical evil or crime” which produces reward, like robbing a bank.) that we see.
    But the greatest success story for the devil, which people have mentioned over and over again, is to convince people that in this great 21st century he no longer exists or only an uneducated peasant could believe in such an idea.

  • Jeannine

    As Mr Carter has stated in a posting, yoga is just an exercise routine to strenghten the body & increase flexibility. I use yoga positions to increase my flexibility while using my mind to stay in that position for a period of time. It can be incredibly difficult with or without concentrating, very different from meditating. Adding meditation during a yoga session that does not reflect Christianity is opening a door to potential spiritual problems.  

    Pilates was developed as an exercice routine that incorporates yoga positions & physical therapy-like exercises for injured ballet dancers. There is nothing spiritual about Pilates. Done correctly, it helps to relieve or eliminate back pain.

    Reiki —— stay away from. There are better massaging techniques that do not potentially conjure up the spirits.

    There maybe some practical applications for acupuncture. I know a Vietnamese priest who has Bell’s palsy & is using acupuncture to relieve the facial distortions. It could be working or time is taking care of it.

    Through good science, we generally know what it takes to strenghten &/or heal soft body tissue, i.e. muscles. Exercise, massage, hot & cold compresses, & sometimes a little anti inflammatory medicine.  Don’t need to get the “otherworld” involved.

  • theroadmaster

    People should be aware of what they are buying into, once they hear the word “meditation” or “spiritual” being used to describe ill-defined escoteric exercises .  On the surface, such activities may appear harmless and act as a placebos in ameliorating certain anxieties etc, but they should never be supplementary to or a substitute for a firm belief in the Triune God of Catholic, Christian Revelation.  In the long-term continuous indulgence in these so-called “spiritual” beliefs may lead one astray and open the door to dark forces beyond our realm.  No less  an authority than Gabriel Amorth, the chief exorcist of the Diocese of Rome and implacable enemy of satan and his agents, unambiguously warns of such developments in his writings.

  • JabbaPapa

     ”goblins” ???

  • Kevin

    Really? How seriously, if you balk at the word “Satan”?

  • NewMeena

    I think C S Lewis, in The Screwtape Letters or Letters to Malcolm Chiefly etc …, wrote something along the lines that the Devil prefers two types (of human): one type who is excessively interested in him and the other minor devils, and the other type being one who ignores him completely. 

  • Kevin

    “spiritual but not religious”

    This familiar soundbite appears to imply a dichotomy that needs to be challenged. It seems to suggest that the spirit can be helped without reference to God, which is itself a theological proposition.

  • NewMeena

    There was a very good discussion on last week’s “In Our Time” where Melvyn Bragg and his guests (3 philosophers) discussed the Ontological Argument for God’s existence, first put forward in the eleventh century by St Anselm of Canterbury.
    He was a Norman, and was “planted” in Canterbury a few years after the invasion.

    It’s really interesting. I never knew that Gödel (the 20th C mathematician) had shown an interest – and was led to suspect- even possibly believe – that God must exist because his existence was “essential”.

    At the time of writing this (22.55 hours BST on 1st October) it was still on the BBC website:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01mwx64

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

    I don’t know about “the spirit”.

    A spirit of some sort, yes. But from where?

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

    I know about St. Anselm and who he was. And about his argument for the existence of God. I could never quite get the hang of it; it seems to be the proof a mystic might accept. St. Thomas’s Proofs are much more workable, at least for me. 

    But in the end , I don’t need proof. God has already shown me His existence by answering prayers and by sustaining me. I know He exists. 

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

    e hasn’t been “considering” it at all. Just another militant atheist liar.

  • Oconnord

    And humans had nothing to do with it? 
    And increased sales.. thereby increased profits….

     ”Look at any newspaper on any day and see the pure evil – no human agency could conceive the pointless evil”…which produces reward, like robbing a bank.”…

    … are something you haven’t figured into your very rationale and reasoned comment. 

  • Oconnord

    I was supportive of the article at first. As a supporter of gay civil marriage, I think the the church is fully entitled to judge what is allowed on it’s premises. There should be no pressure on a parish priest to allow something he thinks of as “un-catholic”.

    I read further and … ”According to Wiki, “yoga” means “union” and true yoga is union with the Divine”…. not a problem I thought…. It’s not as though Vishnu will appear to convert people, as of course, he doesn’t exist, (for catholics), the only Divine they will see is “THE TRUE GOD”.

    But the last sentence got the alarm bells ringing…”Satan is real and he is devilishly clever.”

    So much for ecumenical thinking. Yoga might lead to god, it might be the wrong god, so it must be the devil. 

    Every time I think the church has grown up it reverts to being a jealous teenager.

     

  • Ronk

     Satan is obviously way too clever for you.

    One of his favourite tricks is to misuse perfectly good words like “spiritual’, “regiligion” and even “God”, and millions of gullible people conclude that his schemes must be harmless or even good and willingly join in them.

    Ecumenism doesn’t mean “inviting non-Christians into a Catholic parish to teach Catholics to belive and practise things which are contrary to the Catholic faith!”. Or that everybody is supposed to pretend that we all believe the same things and practise the same actions to express those beliefs.

    Ecumenism means that we all RESPECT each other and ACKNOWLEDGE, like ADULTS,  that we have DIFFERENT and CONTRADICTORY beliefs and practices from each other’s.

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

    Scripture:

    “The gods of the Gentiles are demons”. 

    Which part of that don’t you understand?

  • Sweetjae

    I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and humbly ask you to reconsider your hesitation of returning to the One, Catholic and Apostolic Church of Christ, the only one that you could trace all the way back to the Apostles themselves!

    It’s just makes sense if a golf country club doesn’t allow members to play soccer on their course, right? Then why blame the Catholic Church?

  • Elizabeth070608

    As a lifelong Catholic, and SPIRITUAL yogi – I agree! They are all way too caught up in the ideas about Satan, to understand the realities of gaining Jesus’ kingdom on earth! God Bless you all.

  • Elizabeth070608

    Get out of your little bubble of Scripture and be in reality! Look into your heart.

  • Patrickhowes

    Why don´t you enter the priesthood.We could do with you as a Bishop!

  • The laughing boy

    You people are silly

  • Patrickhowes

    Everything goes in your book(and it s obviously not the NT).What will it be next euthanasia,
    producing kids on a computer and disposing of ugly zygotes?”Father forgive them for they know not what they do!”

  • Patrickhowes

    Are you real?Being a Catholic is about Chrisitain humanism.That is modelling and imitating our behavior based on Christ.It is not indulging our human nature without any time of limits.Who do you think you are to intrude on our beliefs?

  • Patrickhowes

    Yes but pilates yes,Yoga no!

  • Sensible One

    This article & most of the comments below it are absolutely ridiculous! In the future please use common sense rather than jumping on the bandwagon to condemn things you haven’t been open minded enough to begin to understand. Why can’t church people be loving and accepting of the practices of others rather than claiming that what is not in their own belief system is of the devil? Grow up and do your research through credible channels.

  • JabbaPapa

    Satan is real.

  • JabbaPapa

    Ecumenism is in fact the evangelisation of non-Catholic Christians for the purpose of inviting them to come back to the One True Church of Christ.

    What you are suggesting quite simply does NOT belong to Catholicism — it’s NOT Ecumenism, it’s NOT an acceptable statement in interreligious dialogue, in fact it’s just some modernist New Age claptrap posing as a “religious” sentiment.

    The doctrine of religious freedom simply states that people will in fact choose which religion to adhere to — it does NOT promote the relativism that you seem to have espoused.

  • JabbaPapa

    The dichotomy in question is on the one hand each individual soul or spirit, on the other hand the Holy Spirit of God.

    The exaltation of the individual soul or spirit in the manner of yoga will tend either to close out the Holy Spirit, or worse, invite the demonic (a different immaterial individual soul or spirit) to take hold of one’s own spirituality.

  • JabbaPapa

    The basic position is that Yoga is strongly discouraged to Catholics.

    When practised as a purely physical exercise regimen, it is not forbidden ; but every and any philosophical or meditational exercises in any particular regimen make that regimen completely forbidden. Including those posing as “Christian”.

    —-

    FWIW, Buddhists themselves typically condemn the Western yoga regimens for reasons that are uncannily similar to the Catholic Church’s position condemning these same regimens.

    Buddhism and Catholicism agree that this Western practice of yoga, focused squarely on the self, is spiritually destructive, potentially to a very extreme degree. Buddhism teaches as well that yoga can open the soul/spirit to the demonic and the ungodly.

    In a deeper sense, “Western yoga” is an attempt to enshrine a practice of Eastern Mysticism as a Western philosophy — an attempt that is blithely unaware of the inherent destructiveness of doing so. It is destructive of Western philosophy and rationality, without being creative of ANY kind of balanced Mystical spirituality.

    Mystical spirituality is more properly sought after by Westerners in the Western Mysticism, the traditions of which are alive and kicking in the spirituality of the Catholic Church.

    NOT that Mysticism should be sought after by every Tom, Dick, and Harry — most have no need for it whatsoever.

  • JabbaPapa

    There is no truth in these accusations of yours.

  • karlf

     How did he answer your prayers?

  • karlf

     Shocking stuff! Using the notions of satan to explain human behaviour and mental illness is truly primitive, though still very prevalent in Africa, and with the Muslim belief in jinns that is also the source, or excuse, so many murders and atrocities – Take heed!

  • Dcollin

    Tony come on back. The Catholic Church is here to lead us all to salvation. Take courage from the welcome that the Church gives and the fantastic hope it offers.

  • Peter

    What good would that do except further Satan’s cause even more by sowing acrimony?

  • karlf

     Why do you think satan likes being nasty?