Catholic Yoga?

Enlightenment in nature

     In recent years the popularity of yoga has exploded in the United States. Today most gyms offer yoga classes, some Christian communities offer, “Christian based” yoga and yoga apparel and literature fills the shelves of many stores. As the popularity of yoga rises many people have inquired into if a Catholic should participate in yoga.

     To answer this question we must first understand what yoga is. Putting aside the heterogonous foundations of yoga, it can be generally understood as “a reference to the state of body–mind–spirit harmony sought through various disciplines.”[1] Simply put yoga seeks after two common goals, the harmonization of one’s mind and body and entering of a state of unity.

     Many faithful Catholics are suspicious of yoga because of the Catechism’s warning against superstition. The Catechism warns that “to attribute the efficacy of prayers or of sacramental signs to their mere external performance, apart from the interior dispositions that they demand, is to fall into superstition.” [2] In other words any attempt to reduce prayer to simply an outward posture is to fall into superstition.

     Certainly yoga could become a superstition if one practiced yoga as a spiritual pathway, if they practiced yoga as a means of searching after the harmonizing of their body and soul and entering into a state of unity by performing certain postures. If one truly subscribed to yoga as a spirituality one would certainly fall into superstition, yet that does not mean someone who uses yoga as a form of exercise or a means of physical leisure falls into superstition.

     While yoga can be used as a form of exercise or human leisure, it should in no way be used as a spiritual path. When yoga is used as a spiritual path it falls into three different heresies. Firstly it falls into Monism, which hold that the enlightened person becomes one with the divine. yoga, as a spiritual path, aims at uniting the human person to the divine, making the human person God, it attempts to accept the temptation of the devil who said “when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, who know* good and evil.”[3] Secondly yoga, as a spiritual path, falls into the heresy of Gnosticism, the belief that freeing the body from the soul attains salvation. While Christians are called to detach themselves from anything that does not unite them to God,[4] this detachment is different from the detachment of yoga. In the Christian understanding of detachment one removes those things that impede his relationship with God while in yoga anything that detracts from the self must be removed. In other words Christianity profess detachment for a closer relationship with God who dwells within the Christian in virtue of his baptism, while yoga stresses a detachment from anything that is not the self and entrance into a void. Thirdly yoga falls into the heresy superstition. Implicit in yoga is the claim that one can be “productive” in “prayer” if only they do the right forms, “success in prayer.” For those who practice yoga as a spirituality prayer is rooted in what a person does, while the Christian understands prayer to be an unmerited gift. While effort is required in Christian prayer, the technique is not what guarantees a productive result, rather “prayer is both a gift of grace and a determined response on our part.”[5]

     The postures of yoga themselves are neither good nor bad. Simply maneuvering one’s body into certain poses does not force one to engage in a spiritual activity. Think of the many people who attend Mass on Sunday. During the Eucharistic Prayer everyone in the church kneels. While many of those present kneel as a sign of devotion and are actively engaged in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass some simply kneel to follow along with the crowd and their mind is completely somewhere else. While body posture can certainly assist one to pray, the posture by itself does not a have a spiritual effect.

     Anyone who attempts to use yoga as a spirituality is certainly living in violation of their Catholic faith. As a spiritual path Yoga is simply incompatible with Christian spirituality. If one uses Yoga as a means of exercise or for a source of physical leisure there certainly would be no conflict with their Catholic faith provided they are able to separate the postures of yoga from the spiritual end of yoga. Yoga can certainly be a dangerous trap so one should always be sure the separation between the spiritual and the physical body positions exists and stop immediately if they feel that divide can no longer be kept.

[1] Kripalu Center for yoga & health, “What is Yoga” at , http://www.kripalu.org/about_us/479/ (6 August 2014).

[2] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 2111.

[3] Gen 3:5

[4] CCC 2556

[5] CCC 2725

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