Catholics and Yoga

The topic of yoga is always an inflammatory one in Catholic circles.  People tend to get very defensive about their choice of exercise.  An interesting article came to my attention over at Catholic Lane that I found very interesting.  It backs up what I've always believed about yoga, and the proof comes not from Catholic academia (easily set aside by a Catholic who wants to rationalize his or her choices) but rather from the American Hindu Foundation.  Take a look, and read more at the link.
The appeal of the gentle movements and stretching of yoga really drew me in as I searched for the perfect exercise routine that would tend to my body but wouldn’t break me, and so I began researching it. I am a fairly grounded Christian but it was easy for me to see—rather quickly—that as a Catholic, yoga was a practice that I couldn’t or wouldn’t engage in. But a lot of Catholics do practice yoga. Each side—those Catholics who practice yoga and those who don’t—can make its case rather successfully. However, I found some points against yoga for Catholics to be noteworthy and determining.

For instance:

This is from the Hindu American Foundation: “Yoga is a combination of both physical and spiritual exercises, entails mastery over the body, mind and emotional self, and transcendence of desire. The ultimate goal is moksha, the attainment of liberation from worldly suffering and the cycle of birth and rebirth.”

As a Catholic the term “rebirth” in this excerpt should be very disconcerting. Catholics simply do not believe in rebirth. As Catholics we believe you are given one lifetime. You are baptized and will live your life as a believer in Christ as your Savior. You aren’t given multiple lives to work out your final destiny.

Additionally, Catholics “get” suffering. Maybe sometimes too much; but nonetheless, we don’t—as a group—run from suffering. We understand its redemptive value. While we may wish to be liberated from it and can certainly pursue that through Christ, we don’t see it as our “ultimate goal.” Our ultimate goal is to unite our lives with Christ, the Suffering Servant.

Or there is this from the Hindu American Foundation: “There is the concerning trend of disassociating Yoga from its Hindu roots. Yet, even when Yoga is practiced solely in the form of an exercise, it cannot be completely delinked from its Hindu roots.”

Many yoga-practicing Catholics say, “Yes, yoga may be of a different religion but I believe in Christ so I will be fine.” However, the above statement should quickly negate that false sense of security. In essence it indicates that even if the person practicing yoga sees it only as exercise, he or she is mistaken—and sadly misguided—since yoga cannot be completely separated from its Hindu roots. We—as Catholics—don’t even have to understand the implication of what that statement means (that it can’t be completely delinked from its Hindu roots) for it to have relevance in our lives as Catholics. The statement in and of itself ought to give us pause.

To reiterate the importance of the link between practicing yoga and its Hindu roots, here is another statement from the Hindu American Foundation: “One does not have to profess faith in Hinduism in order to practice Yoga…Yoga is an essential part of Hindu philosophy and the two cannot be delinked, despite efforts to do so.”

These are things that should matter to Catholics. This isn’t an indictment against those who practice the Hindu faith; rather it is a reminder that those who practice the Catholic faith ought to be aware that even their exercise program is a facet of their faith journey.