According to this column that appeared in the diocesan newspaper last year, Bishop Naumann addressed the most common arguments in favor of yoga, including the question of what could be wrong with classes that involve only stretching and strengthening exercises without any religious content. Is there really an issue with that?
“There could be!” the bishop writes. “Most yoga practitioners do not know about the intent or motivation of their instructor or guru. The positions in yoga originally had a spiritual meaning. Several yoga positions were developed as a means of physically inviting a god/demon to be in union with you. Some yoga centers actually have images of Hindu gods, which should make you more wary of the intent of the instructor or guru.”
Christians need to be aware that yoga was never intended to be an exercise or relaxation program.
“It was developed as part of Hindu spirituality,” the bishop explains. “Yoga is considered one school of authentic Hinduism. The word yoga means: ‘to yoke together’ or ‘to bind.’ With what does yoga seek to bring us into union? For some practitioners of yoga, it is a vehicle or tool to bind them to one or more of the Hindu gods. For a Christian, this is highly problematic, since there is only one God.”
For other devotees, the goal of yoga is to unite oneself with a “higher reality” or what might be termed “infinite consciousness.”
“This presents another set of problems for the orthodox Christian because it is a form of pantheism, where everything is considered divine and there is no distinction between spiritual and material realities,” he continues.
But even if none of these beliefs are espoused in a typical yoga class, “I question the prudence of participating in yoga classes when you can receive the same benefits from other exercise or fitness programs,” Bishop Naumann says.
He went on to refer to the controversy surrounding a decision by the administration of the local Benedictine College not to offer recreational yoga classes. Some accused the college of insulting Hindus by its decision, but he believes the opposite is true.
“To call something yoga that has been stripped of the spirituality that is its inspiration and foundation, I consider a much more serious affront to the devout Hindu.”
At best, the spirituality of yoga attempts to bring its practitioners into some sort of communion with an impersonal universe, he continued. “To give up the joy and peace resulting from a personal friendship with Jesus for some impersonal union with a cold and unloving cosmos is a trade you do not want to make.”
He referred to a recent Pew study of religious practice which found an ever-increasing number of Americans who claim to be “nones” – meaning they are spiritual but have no religious affiliation.
He concluded: “If you want to decrease the chances of your son or daughter from becoming a ‘none,’ then do not sign them up for yoga class.”
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