Catholics and Yoga

An Inspirational Story          

As a Catholic contributor, I never write for human respect. If that were my purpose, I would have already curtailed writing. Because my intent is to speak the truth, I never expect a pat on the back. But I maintain it pleases me to learn that my work does not always fall on deaf ears. Like most Christian writers I have encountered admirers and detractors. The positive feedback has been rewarding, but one specific incident is prominent amid the others.           

One morning while checking my message machine, I heard a female voice announce, “I’m searching for the Catherine Marie Rhodes that writes for Catholic websites.” From her amiable tone, I sensed she was not a detractor and I returned her call.           

When I phoned her, she introduced herself and will be referred to herein as “Mary.”  She indicated she had read some of my articles and wanted to ask a question about the “New Age” dilemmas prevalent in her hometown. Though Mary and I had just met, it was soon apparent our passions were considerably alike!           

Next, Mary shared a very inspirational story with me. She had discovered that a nearby Catholic parish in Fort Myers, Florida, was offering Yoga classes in the Adoration Chapel. Mary and a few friends including a relations manager from Relevant Radio arrived at Pope John XXIII parish on the morning of February 5, 2007. After arriving Mary proceeded into the church and lightly sprinkled holy water and blessed salt in the church before the Yoga classes commenced. Then she entered the parking lot to distribute leaflets about Yoga, to approximately 25 women as they arrived for the classes. Mary reasoned the women probably did not understand the dangers inherent in Yoga and she wanted to offer guidance. While distributing the literature Mary was confronted by the Yoga teacher (the Deacon’s wife). The Yoga teacher told Mary, “I wish that you would leave Church property.” Mary in turn professed the same wish to the instructor.           

A few minutes after the guru reentered the church, Mary recited the Blessed St. Michael’s prayer and reentered the church as well. She slowly opened the door to the Adoration Chapel and was horrified by what she witnessed. The Chapel was dark with the exception of a few dimly lit recessed lights. Mary thought, “I’ve never seen an aerobics class like this before near a consecrated altar.”Mary noticed the women were dressed in leotards and slouched on their Yoga mats in a half circle, or crescent moon position. The teacher/guru was advising the participants to visualize “love and light.” Writers Note: The meditative phase of Yoga begins with fixing the mind on one object which may be anything whatsoever. Mary viewed signs that advertised Yoga products and Yoga classes and noticed a table adorned with a basket for donations. As Mary began taking photos, the women seemed to snap out of their trances and became irate. After a few minutes of insults hurled at Mary, she closed the Chapel door and left.           

As Mary headed to the church parking lot to depart, she learned that the guru and her followers had summoned the police. After Mary and her friends spoke to the substitute priest (the Pastor was not available), he communicated to the police that there was not a problem, and the police retreated.           

When the regular Pastor/Parish Administrator returned, he continued to support the Yoga classes and had blinds installed for those who found the classes offensive. Hopefully, most of us understand that window blinds would not have prevented our Lord from seeing the sinfulness that transpired near His altar.           

Though horribly distressing that these women had desecrated our Lord’s altar with their occult practices, the story does have a wonderful conclusion.           

Shortly after the incident, Mary gave Bishop Frank Dewane various articles regarding the offensive Yoga classes. Though he has not explained his decision, he ordered the classes discontinued. The bishop and Mary deserve credit and praise for their courageous actions.           

Mary’s account might remind you of a similar one.  I think most of us can recall how our Lord angrily threw the moneychangers out of His Father’s house. When necessary, our Lord acted with righteousness and did not hesitate to call unrepentant sinners –“hypocrites,” “sons of hell” and “broods of vipers.”           

New Age practices and beliefs have become rife and deeply embedded in Catholicism. The New Age Movement is really not new at all. Its evil is recorded in Genesis. The challenge for Catholics is to discern authentic spirituality and be willing to confront the New Age serpent-speak when we witness it. After all, speaking out really can make a difference!

Why Yoga is Incompatible with Christianity           

What is Yoga? The word Yoga means union. The goal of Yoga is to unite one’s temporary self with the infinite Brahman. Brahman is not a personal God but a spiritual substance which is one with the cosmos and nature.           

Fr. James Manjackal, a Catholic priest who was raised in a traditional Catholic family in India, states: “Yoga is not an elaborate system of physical exercises, it is a spiritual discipline purporting to lead the soul to Samadhi, the state in which the natural and divine become one. It is interesting to note that postures and breathing exercises often considered to be the whole of Yoga in the West are steps three and four towards union with Brahman.           

The late Fr. John Hardon also affirmed that Yoga is not compatible with Catholicism. “Inner Hinduism or Yoga professes pantheism which denies that there is only one Infinite Being who created the world out of nothing. This pantheistic Hinduism says that followers will have brief tastes of heaven between successive rebirths on Earth.”           

Dr. John Ankerberg states in his article Innocent Yoga? “Regardless of the school or spiritual tradition, Yoga practice tends to alter a person’s consciousness in an occult direction. Even when Yoga is practiced innocently, it can eventually produce occult transformation.”           

There are those who claim there is nothing wrong with practicing Yoga for exercise purposes only, but even the teachers of Hindu have stated that the philosophy and the practice of Yoga are inseparable. From Johanna Michaelsen’s book Like Lambs to the Slaughter (pp 93-95) she states, “You cannot separate the exercises from the philosophy… The movements themselves become a form of meditation.”           

Denial about the New Age is a common obstacle. (2 Tim. 4:3) “For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine, but will follow their own desires and insatiable curiosity.”           

As Christians, we cannot straddle the fence. Sadly, many ask themselves, “How close can I get to the fire without getting burned?” The answer: There is no such thing as Christian Yoga. 

Catherine Marie Rhodes

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