This is the introduction to a new set of posts I’ll be writing. I had begun researching yoga and Catholicism when other aspects of my life took precedence. I didn’t think I was ready to launch back into that study yet, but something has come up over on Twitter and I need to write a reply which is going to be longer than a Tweet (a lot longer). So I’ll write it in Scrivener, post it on the blog, and link to it on Twitter. It belongs with the series on the soul and you’ll see why I’m thinking about that as these posts continue. I’ll give it its own TOC, though, and call this one Series On the Soul, Volume 2.
The question is whether or not yoga is compatible with Catholicism. Spoiler alert: I do not think it is. Now a whole lot of other people far more learned than I am have already answered this question and they don’t all agree. Some say it is compatible, some say no, some say if certain conditions are met, some say under no circumstances whatsoever. Some see, as Michelle Arnold put it, the devil under every yoga mat. (I wish I had thought of that!) But I think the opposite is just as true and just as bad: some don’t see the devil anywhere, even when he is staring them right in the face.
“Be sober and watch: because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, goeth about seeking whom he may devour.”
1 Peter 5:8 Douay-Rheims Bible, public domain.
And lest we forget, angels and demons are realities and our faith teaches us about them. They do exist, they help us or try to harm us. Our ancient enemy roams about, as St. Peter says, seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8). But before I go any further, let me say what I am NOT saying in this reply. I am NOT saying that I see angels and demons everywhere I look. There are no demons under my yoga mat. I don’t even have a yoga mat. I don’t do yoga. I could. Every Saturday about a half mile down the road a bunch of people get together and do yoga by the lake. Years ago I would have been right there with them, thinking that was the coolest thing ever. Now, not so much. Not at all, actually.
Yet I am not one of those old biddies barking out warnings in a shrill voice with my blue hair all on fire. I’m not superstitious. I’m not trying to control anybody else’s actions or thoughts or words. I don’t really care if you go off and do yoga or not. I do consider it my duty to warn you if I see you wandering dangerously close to a cliff. What kind of person would I be if I saw that and said nothing, huh? Then someone would accuse me of not caring enough about my fellow human being to speak up. I’ll be criticized either way so I can’t let that be my guide or my concern.
So let me just get this out of the way now. I have to share what I know. I have to. It’s why I was put here on earth. It’s why I’m here. It’s why I went through what I went through–that, and because I have a really hard head. But God brought me safely out of all of that, and He gave me an ability to speak up, and then He gave me something to say. So I must use the ability He gave me and speak up when I see someone wandering close to that cliff.
Yoga is one of those things that draw one near the edge of that cliff. It’s alluring. I know. It was one of many things that I found very alluring. Now the allure itself is not demonic, I’m not saying it is. I am saying, keep your eyes open and pay attention, that’s all. Just because something draws you to it does not mean it’s okay or not okay, or neutral or safe or unsafe or dangerous. Just keep your eyes open and your mind functioning. Learn about what you’re attracted to, think, and think with the mind of the Church. And realize that the Church doesn’t have to pronounce on everything, and the lack of her pronouncement one way or the other does not necessarily mean approval.
Now one can look at yoga on the surface and see nothing but neutral exercises and positions of the body. By the way, the asanas are not exactly positions or poses. They are meant to be practiced until they can be performed, one after another, in a flowing dance of movement, and certain poses are selected with certain aims in mind. To see them as primarily poses is once again to view things on the surface and stop there. We’re trying to get to the root of the thing here so we won’t be satisfied with stopping at the surface and going no further. I won’t, anyway. And let me say up front, as if it weren’t already painfully obvious, I’m no expert. I’m just somebody who has learned some things, mostly the hard way, is still learning things, and likes to share. It’s why I have this blog in the first place.
This post began as a slightly longish reply, then turned into a long post, and then into a series. I could add it to the Re-Reading the New Age series, but since I’m reading a good bit of this for the first time, and because of a certain way I’m thinking of it, it probably belongs in the On the Soul series. We’ll see. Links to two of the books I’ll be using in the notes below. I want to give a shout out to the people on Twitter who conversed with me (and others) and made me think about this some more. Thanks, y’all!
Notes: Some books I’ll be using.
- Christian Yoga (New York: Harper, 1960), by the late Benedictine priest, Fr. Jean-Marie Déchanet (1906-1992). Paperback, used (Amazon affiliate link). Or free with subscription at Scribd.
- Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice by Mark Singleton. Hardcover, Paperback, Kindle (Amazon affiliate links, see full disclosure below for more info).
Image: Girl performing a yoga asana. Source: Pixabay. Public domain.
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