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Yoga and Catholicism

My wife, Melanie, is getting ready to open up a yoga studio in Fairhope, Alabama, a cute little town near where we live.  I have been asked by several people how yoga is compatible or incompatible with my Catholic faith, and so I will try to answer many related questions here.  In sum, I believe yoga to be an excellent and healthy practice and that its benefits can be severed from its polytheistic roots and Gnostic branches.

“But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good;” (1 Thessalonians 5:21).

Christianity has flowered from its beginnings as a small and obscure Jewish sect of the Middle East.  As Christians encountered people of other cultures and systems of thought, Christianity found that one truth cannot be at odds with another truth.  Something that is philosophically true must be in agreement somehow with true divine revelation and that they both must be in accordance with whatever other true things that exist.  For example, the philosophical concept of “Transubstantiation” is used to describe the beautiful mystery of the Eucharist, the changing of “substance” from bread to flesh while the appearance, or “accident” of bread remains in-tact.  “Substance” and “Accidents” are two Greek concepts, written down by Aristotle, that categorize the parts of being and of matter.  Christians found the Greek philosophy to be true and so applied it to the mysteries of the Church in order to describe them.   As long as they put God first and made union with the Christian Triune God the reason for using Greek philosophy, then the tool of philosophy was kept in its proper place.

In the same way that philosophy can be used to sharpen the mind and the inter-communion of souls via rational dialogue, the physical practice yoga can be used as a tool to increase a person’s health and provide him or her with added sustenance when serving God and serving other people unselfishly.

If you Google “yoga and Catholicism” you will find that a lot of people have written that the practice of yoga is incompatible with the Catholic faith.  I tried following some of the sources and hit several dead ends.  All I could find were sentences taken out of context and customized to the author’s own ends.  Most of the articles referred to

LETTER TO THE BISHOPS OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH ON SOME ASPECTS OF CHRISTIAN MEDITATION
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

,and more than not, this source was badly analyzed. My reading of it is consistent with what I have written above. As long as you are not attempting to achieve equality with God or attempting to become something apart from the creature whom God knows you to be, as long as the physical part of the yoga poses is done to glorify God through the gift of life that God has given you and not to glorify yourself, then yoga is compatible with Christianity in general and Catholicism specifically.

It should also be mentioned that a lot of the philosophy of yoga does come from a religious system in which matter and spirit are separate. As a Catholic I believe that I am an embodied spirit, that my body and spirit are mysteriously connected. Catholics have a deep understanding of the Incarnation of Jesus as something completely unique in human history, and that Jesus’s suffering on the cross was something real and not something in which He, even as God, could become only spirit and not flesh.   The material world is something good – God created it and saw that it was good.

Read it yourself. Please. All of it. I welcome a discussion below.  Please try to use the linked document as much as possible.

1 Comment

  1. Hi Burke,

    Thank you for your comment. I like what you have written, and it will actually be helpful for me in explaining how I feel about being Catholic and also teaching yoga.

    I haven’t spent very much time updating my web site, although I hope to be motivated to do more in the future.

    I’m also new with the wordpress software, and need to learn more about what I can do with it, and mainly, how to use it.

    Thank you,

    Joseph

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