The controversy over whether or not yoga is “just exercise” came back into the limelight in the UK last week when the diocese of Portsmouth issued a statement calling it a “non-Christian activity” that should not be allowed on Catholic premises.
According to the UK’s Catholic Herald, the latest dust-up occurred when Father John Chandler of St. Edmund’s Church in Southampton, England, ruffled the feathers of yoga-advocates when he cancelled both pilates and yoga classes that had been scheduled for his church hall. At first, the hall was only to be used for pilates, but advertisements later proclaimed that “spiritual yoga” would also be taught there.
According to a spokesman for the Portsmouth Catholic diocese, “It’s not possible for Catholic premises to be used for non-Christian activities and there is a dilemma with yoga as it can be seen as Hindu meditation or as relaxation.”
Mrs Cori Withell, who was to lead the classes, insisted that “Yoga is not religious: spiritual but not religious.”
Although she tries to make a distinction between what is “spiritual” and what is “religious”, yoga is undeniably a Hindu practice that seeks to unite a person with the Divine. But the Divine that yoga enthusiasts are talking about has nothing to do with the Christian concept of God.
Fr Jeremy Davies, the official exorcist for the Westminster archdiocese, warned against the practice of yoga: “Beware of any claims to mediate beneficial energies (e.g. Reiki)…any alternative therapy with its roots in Eastern religion… They are not harmless”, he insists.
The author of the article, Francis Phillips, agrees and goes on to tell the story of how he recently won a free Reiki session in a raffle. “I went along out of mere curiosity, ignorantly thinking I might get a foot massage which might be quite pleasant. All the practitioner did was stroke my toes, at the same time solemnly telling me she could sense a build-up of ‘toxins’ in my body which she hoped to ‘expel’. I seem to recall scented candles and low ‘meditative’ music in the background. What she said was ridiculous and I felt ridiculous. Are people actually gullible enough to pay for this mumbo-jumbo?”
Reiki, which originated in Japan in the 1800’s, is a popular New Age massage technique that relies on spirit guides to channel an alleged life force energy. It has been officially condemned by the U.S. bishops and forbidden for use in Catholic facilities.
Phillips compared Reiki with yoga, pointing out that neither practice is designed to lead a person to union with the Christian God. “It is trying to achieve spiritual wholeness on the cheap, by following a technique, and through a sentimental feeling of ‘spirituality’; there is no Way of the Cross here.”
He concludes: “I think Fr Chandler would be well advised to avoid booking any of these practices in his parish hall. Satan is real and he is devilishly clever.”