Looking for Church Teaching on Yoga? Read “Some Aspects of Christian Meditation”

TV writes: “I had heard that Pope Benedict said that Yoga is not a sin in itself but the worshiping of our bodies is sinful.  Is there more you can share about our Catholic Church’s teachings of yoga.”

Guidance on yoga can be found in the 1989 document, “Some Aspects on Christian Meditation”  issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. This is the first Church document that attempts to deal with the rapid influx of Eastern religious practices into Christianity. In particular, it deals with Zen, Transcendental Meditation and yoga, all of which can “degenerate into a cult of the body” that debases Christian prayer. This document is well worth reading in its entirety and will answer many of your questions about yoga.  

It’s interesting to note that yoga is treated correctly in this document as a religious practice, not an exercise program which is how Westerners who are unfamiliar with yoga usually present it.  Yoga has five principles; proper relaxation, exercise, diet, breathing and meditation. Meditation is considered to be the most important principle and is the aim of the other four.

However, it’s very important to remember that meditation in the eastern sense and the Christian concept of meditation are two entirely different things. For Christians meditation means prayer. In the east, it means a mental exercise which is all about focusing the mind and inducing an altered state of consciousness in order to achieve self-realization.

Christian prayer, on the other hand, “is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God . . . ” (Catechism No. 2590) Christian meditation is “above all a quest. The mind seeks to understand the why and how of the Christian life in order to adhere and respond to what the Lord is asking” (ibid, no. 2705)

Many forms of Eastern meditation, such as TM and yoga, also prescribe postures and breathing techniques as part of the practice, which pose additional dangers for Christians.

“Some physical exercises automatically produce a feeling of quiet and relaxation, pleasing sensations, perhaps even phenomena of light and of warmth, which resemble spiritual well-being,” the document states. “To take such feelings for the authentic consolations of the Holy Spirit would be a totally erroneous way of conceiving the spiritual life.  Giving them a symbolic significance typical of the mystical experience, when the moral condition of the person concerned does not correspond to such an experience, would represent a kind of mental schizophrenia which could also lead to psychic disturbance and, at times, to moral deviations.”

In the document Jesus Christ, the Bearer of the Water of Life, the Church identifies yoga as being associated with the New Age: “Some of the traditions that flow into New Age are: ancient Egyptian occult practices,… Yoga and so on. ” [n 2.1]

The good news is that this document, which was issued in 2003, is a preliminary text. This means another more indepth (and much needed) document is forthcoming.

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