In response to a decision by a local Catholic college to discontinue offering yoga classes on campus, the Archbishop of Kansas City says yoga is more than just exercise and Catholics should be alerted to its dangers.
The statement was made by the Archdiocese in response to a decision by Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas to stop offering academic and recreational yoga classes after the spring semester this year. The decision was made at the request of Kansas City’s Archbishop Joseph Naumann and Abbot James Albers after a growing number of students, alumni and faculty expressed concerns over the practice.
“Yoga as created has some potential for eastern mysticism which has caused concern among members of the Catholic Church,” said Stephen Minnis, president of the college. “[Archbishop Naumann] has expressed his concerns and the issues surrounding that. We asked ourselves if there was a way to bring those yoga benefits to our students and faculty without the possible effects of eastern mysticism and are currently investigating other alternatives.”
The student newspaper, The Circuit, is reporting that the college will be offering a “stretching and breathing” class called “Liftestyle Fitness” in replacement of what is traditionally called yoga.
“My personal belief is that yoga has become like Kleenex- a generic term for stretching and breathing,” Minnis added. “I’m not sure the spiritual harm of yoga could come to our campus but I believe it is better to be safe than sorry. I don’t care what it is called, so long as it is only physical.”
The problem with yoga is that it can never be “only physical” due to the fact that many of the poses themselves are designed to be positions of worship to Hindu gods. This makes many people uncomfortable, even those who engage in the practice “just for the exercise” because they could be sharing the same exercise facility with others who are invoking these gods, which could place them at spiritual risk. The risk of causing scandal is also off-putting to many.
When contacted by The Kansas City Star about the college’s decision, the archdiocese sent the following statement from its chancellor, the Rev. John Riley.
“Many people do not realize that yoga … is intended to be more than a series of exercises coupled with deliberative breathing and meditation,” Riley said in an emailed statement. “It is a mind and body practice developed under Hinduism, the goal of which is spiritual purification that will lead to a higher level of understanding and eventually union with the divine.
“Although the Catholic Church teaches that much good can be found in other religions, Catholics believe it is only brought to fullness in Christ. … It is for these reasons that Catholics are alerted to the dangers of the practice of yoga and are encouraged to look for other exercise alternatives that do not incorporate a spiritual dimension.”
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