LG asks: “Our church sponsors Yoga classes for women ages 14 and up. I have pointed out to our priest and DRE that yoga is more than stretching and exercise but also leads into certain meditations and sometimes ‘prayer’ and asked them to reconsider the decision to do this. It has been offered for about a year and they are now recommending the book Prayer of the Heart and Body by Thomas Ryan. Do you know anything about this book? Does it refer to prayer, spirituality or any other type of meditation that would be similar?”
It sounds as though you have a yoga-enthusiast in a position of influence at your parish. This person has obviously had too much success in introducing yoga to the faithful, many of whom do not understand their own faith let alone the Hindu underpinnings of the practice he or she is promoting.
And so it comes as no surprise to me that a book by Fr. Thomas Ryan on yoga is also being offered. For those of you who are not familiar with him, Father Ryan directs the Paulist North American Office for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations in New York City. He is a Christian counselor and a certified yoga instructor who claims to have skills in centering prayer and hatha yoga as a devotional practice.
Although I have not read the book, reviewers say it has two parts; the first part being about meditation as the prayer of the heart and the second about yoga as being the prayer of the body. He applies his ecumenical background to trying to bridge East and West in the practice of yoga and suggests how yoga can help a Christian pray.
“Physical exercises are but the skin of yoga; its sinews and skeleton are mental exercises that prepare the way for a transformation of consciousness which is always a gift of God and a work of grace,” writes Ryan in the book.
He claims the yoga poses center and ground us and keep us in the present moment and suggests ways to “Christianize” yoga such as by praying “Into thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit” while performing the corpse pose. He expounds on this belief much further in this article. This is the same technique used by other so-called Christian yogi’s such as Susan Bordenkircher and Brooke Boone, both of whom have been cited for the many theological flaws in their teachings.
Bottom line is that theologians such as Fr. Ryan may be able to discern the Hindu in yoga and take steps to protect himself from any form of worship to a Hindu deity, but the average (and poorly catechized) “Joe” in the pews today does not, which means the indiscriminate promotion of yoga to the masses could put many people in spiritual danger. Yoga can also be physically dangerous, as this blog clearly outlines.
The whole “yoga is just exercise” argument is one that always works well on paper, but when it is applied to real life – and Catholics who can’t name the three theological virtues let alone discern between a Christian and a Hindu meditation technique – it utterly falls apart – leaving far too many Catholics at risk.
Our blog contains numerous posts on yoga that would be worth reading at this time. In addition, we will be hosting a one-hour webinar on “The Great Yoga Debate: Is it Really Just Exercise” on March 4 at 8:00 p.m. EST that will delve into the “yoga-is-just-exercise” craze more thoroughly. More information will be posted on our website soon.