A little over a year ago, I started attending hot yoga classes. I have Lyme disease and I find that sweating helps to decrease my symptoms. In Connecticut, I belonged to a gym that had a sauna, but here in New Jersey, I was unable to find an affordable gym that had one.
Instead, I decided to try hot yoga and I have had very positive results.
However, I remember hearing a Catholic priest warn us against yoga back when I was in high school. I hadn’t ever practiced yoga at that point, so I didn’t look into his reasoning. More recently, I decided to look into the stance of the Catholic Church on yoga.
This article talks about this topic:
“Catholics should not participate in any of the “spiritual” aspects associated with yoga, but technically can do the actual physical exercises. However, many people who practice yoga caution that it is often difficult, if not impossible, to separate the exercises from the meditations.
For example, a common mantra repeated in yoga is ‘So’ham’ that roughly translates to ‘I am the universal self’. This focus on the self is contrary to the focus on God to which we are called. In the words of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI: ‘Christian prayer… flees from impersonal techniques or from concentrating on oneself, which can create a kind of rut, imprisoning the person praying in a spiritual privatism which is incapable of a free openness to the transcendental God.'”
Another article also discusses the possible problems with yoga:
“Should you take up yoga? As a spiritual path, yoga is incompatible with Christian spirituality. But if you can separate the spiritual/meditational aspects of yoga from the body postures and breathing techniques common to yoga, then you might be able to use those postures and techniques beneficially for health. If you’re at all unsure of your ability to do so, you may well be advised to find another form of exercise.
It is important for Catholics to know that yoga should neither be hallowed nor damned. As a spiritual path for Eastern peoples unfamiliar with Christianity, it may serve to assist them as ‘they seek freedom from the anguish of our human condition either through ascetical practices or profound meditation or a flight to God with love and trust’
On the other hand, Christians seek as the goal of their prayer to ‘flow into the way to the Father, which is how Jesus Christ has described himself. In the search for his own way, each person will, therefore, let himself be led not so much by his personal tastes as by the Holy Spirit, who guides him, through Christ, to the Father’.”
So to me, it seems that the practice of yoga could be acceptable if a person practices for the exercise and breathing techniques without the spiritual aspect. That is what I do in my yoga class. I like to work on my strength and stretching but I do not consider it to be a spiritual activity. I also prefer certain instructors over others.
One of the instructors always reads from a yoga book that has lots of spiritual passages. Every time I hear them, I think about how everything that she is saying is good, but it should be centered around Jesus rather than “the universe.” “The universe” is meaningless. It is God who reigns supreme; the universe is simply His creation.
So when she reads these passages, I either ignore them, or I think about the way they relate to God.
I do the same thing when it comes time to set an intention. The instructors tell us to set an intention for our practice, a place to send our energy. I don’t believe in that part of the practice. I don’t think that by exercising, my “energy” is going to go heal my sick loved one. If it did, I would go work out for hours a day to cure the ailing people across the world. That’s just not reality.
So when it comes time to set an intention, I either just wait for us to move on, or I say a prayer in my mind since I believe that saying a prayer to God is more significant than choosing some place to send my energy.
At times, yoga also seems too selfish to me. The instructors tell us to pat ourselves on the back for giving up 75 minutes to ourselves each time. Yes, we must take care of ourselves, but some of the instructors seem too interested in this, which is opposed to the teachings of the Catholic Church. They act as though we are the center of the universe, which I do not believe to be true.
So I will continue to attend my yoga classes, but I will substitute a prayer for an intention and I will focus on my practice as a physical exercise rather than a spiritual exercise.