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Can Catholics do Yoga?

March 25th, 2011 · 244 Comments · Mary and Martha Moments

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Is it possible to practice yoga as a faithful Catholic?

Every time I mention yoga here at Kitchen Stewardship, like I did in Monday’s “Get Moving” challenge, I receive negative feedback challenging me to look into the issue and find that Catholic Church teaching explicitly forbids yoga. (photo source)

As I have this week, I’ve discovered  a few things.

First, there is certainly controversy on this issue. Part of the reason I took time to research the subject of Catholicism and yoga is simply because I felt obstinate about it, and I remembered a quote from Christopher West that struck my whole moms’ Bible study with truth: that whatever Church teaching people feel strongly about arguing against is probably simply because they want to disobey and sin.

Was that me? I thought. Is yoga just a stumbling block to my faith? I’m not about to let Satan get a foothold by tricking me into complacency, the greatest trick in his toolbox, if there really is something spiritually dangerous here.

I struck out to find the Catholic Church’s official teaching on yoga, and found some information from the Vatican, some views from Christianity, and a lot of folks’ opinions along the way. Bear with me to the end of this one; it’ll be worth it.

Is Yoga a Pagan Hindu Religious Practice or Just Exercise?

If one is to discuss this subject with any degree of intelligence, one must first determine if the physical motions of yoga can be separated from the spirituality that often comes with it, and which may be the foundation of the practice in Eastern religions.

It is clear beyond a shadow of a doubt that any dabbling in New Age or Hindu religious practice, any opening up of oneself to “Gaia” or Mother Nature or centering one’s soul with the collective consciousness or connecting with the earth, is counter to the Christian faith. Any practice that worships a pagan god, a god of “nature” or a god within oneself is intrinsically evil and against Christianity, where there is one God and one God only.

The fundamental question when a person of Christian faith asks, “Can I do yoga?” is whether this tree pose necessarily worships a foreign god in the sun, sky or otherwise, regardless of the heart of the person, or whether it is just an exercise in balance and control, one that my 5-year-old son just identified as, “Is that ice skating, or what?”

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(photo source)

Arguments Against Yoga from a Catholic Perspective

Here are some of the resources and thoughts I was sent to and found myself:

  • You simply cannot separate the movements from the meditation; any pagan practice opens yourself to demonic influence.
  • An analogy from this site: if an atheist took Eucharist, the true Body of Christ, and simply said “I don’t believe it,” it’s still real and he still blasphemes the Body. We can’t just say “I don’t believe it” or “I’m thinking of God” and practice yoga “safely.” “Yoga is by its very nature a Hindu religious practice. Yoga is not primarily about limbering up the body; it is about using physical means to achieve a spiritual end. So the question of separating the physical from the spiritual in Yoga is really a contradiction in terms.
  • This short article is by Fr. John Hardon, of whom I’ve known for years and do greatly respect, but he really only addresses the spiritual form of yoga. “Although the psychic element is far more important in yoga than the body, the latter is more characteristic of this method of Hindu liberation. Its purpose is to secure the best disposition of body for the purpose of meditation. The practice begins with a simple device for deep and slow breathing.” Fr. Hardon goes on to describe yoga practices of meditation, but I don’t see a clear argument against doing a posture without entering into the mindset.
  • Finally this Catholic TV show with a priest as a guest puts forth many points, including:
    • Yoga cannot fit with Christianity – we live in a world of relativism where people think they can make true whatever they believe. If you say “I can do the exercises of yoga and not believe that it’s leading to me “god” and then it’s not true or not harmful,” then the world tell you it’s all good. However, that would be like an atheist taking Eucharist and saying “I don’t believe it’s the body of Christ so it’s not,” and that’s not true. (Katie here: I can’t get behind this analogy. The Eucharist is an entity, a physical thing changed miraculously into the Body of Christ. If an atheist eats a bowl of unconsecrated hosts for breakfast, it may be weird, but not sacrilegious. It is the transubstantiation, which cannot be done on accident, that makes the Eucharist holy. If a consecrated host falls on the ground by accident, we make reparation for the disrespect to Christ. Our bodies, however, are created for many purposes, both good and ill. More on that below…
    • Practitioners and teachers of yoga especially are often afflicted with demonic spirits, etc. Not everyone, but it’s like playing Russian roulette, and we’re not called to do that with our faith.
    • Sometimes demons come in b/c we’ve opened the door, even if we don’t think we’ve invited them in. Fr. Gabriel, the exorcist in Rome, speaks unabashedly that Catholics cannot do yoga, that it’s dangerous stuff.
    • Stretching exercises are a dime a dozen and they all work; you don’t need something that opens yourself to potential temptation.
Arguments for Yoga

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(photo source)

The yoga I have done personally has been in two places: one at a studio that was certainly New Age and often made me think, “Well, this is frou frou junk, mother earth and all that. Better pray to the real God instead.” I imagined myself teaching Christian yoga instead of the transcendental nonsense my ears were filled with. Would I go back there? No.

The yoga I’ve done most recently was via P90X videos with Tony Horton, the buff guy making men in the armed forces kill their abs in the photo above. He says yoga is essential for flexibility and overall fitness and highly recommends it, but he’s much more likely to talk about not eating butter in your mashed potatoes or “standing on your tippy toes” than he is a heart center or a collective consciousness. He’s no Hindu shaman, believe me.

That’s my background, and here are my thoughts on Catholicism and yoga:

  • Many practices have been shifted from or shared with pagan religions and made holy: the Rosary (using strings of beads to count prayers was Hindu and Buddhist long before the 13th century when Mary taught us to use it), fasting, meditation, ritual sacrifice (for Old Testament Jews), holidays and traditions like a Christmas tree and countless others that we’ve commandeered and made holy. Just because a pagan does it does not automatically make a practice or movement intrinsically evil; why can’t a Christian simply focus on God while doing yoga?
  • Any motion can be done without intent – my kids can genuflect and it means nothing, if I haven’t taught them correctly. How many people enter a church and just go through the motions? Are they more holy because they did the motions or less holy b/c they were at church and not focused on God?
  • I used to think that if I prayed with my hands folded instead of palms flat together, that I was praying to Satan because my fingers were pointing down, and only to God if the fingers were pointing to Heaven. This is me at about 6 or 7 years old. Someone had told me that was how it worked, and I believed. However, how one holds one’s hands in prayers has absolutely no effect on the intent of their prayer unless followed up with an act of the will and a turning of the spirit. Although our bodily posture certainly can affect our prayer, can deepen its impact within ourselves, can demonstrate honor and respect, posture is not necessary for prayer. I pray in my car. I pray while walking. I pray while kneeling. I pray while lying in bed. No form of prayer is necessarily deeper, more powerful, or more effective than another based solely on posture, but it is the focus of my mind, my soul’s communion with God, how intensely I am praying, and how open I am to God’s work in me that makes the difference.
  • In Catholicism, other people’s opinions don’t really mean diddly-squat. But since I can’t nail down truly official Church teaching, I do like to talk to other people, then take what they say with a grain of salt. Here’s what friends said:
    • from @Donielle via Twitter: “Ok. So I’m not catholic, but the issue with it’s background is what stopped me from doing it for years!Now I’ve come to realize (personally and for myself) that having a Godly teacher is the most important thing. The physical aspect of yoga (exercise) is not reliant on any Eastern religion. It’s abt becoming in tune w/ your body….”
    • from @ekwetzel: “I agree; God can redeem yoga! ;o) A God-centered teacher can use yoga to help & heal bodies. “New age” meditation needs to have nothing to do with it. It’s a form of exercise and balancing through movement and for me in many ways has strengthened my belief on the amazing intricacies that the Lord created within bodies.
    • from @milehimama: “The Church doesn’t have an “official” teaching on it yet, but many prominent Catholics speak against it. Seek the advice of a holy priest who knows you.  The whole philosophy of yoga/new age is a form of theosophy/pantheism and is of course forbidden by the first commandment. I don’t think the posture is evil, assuming that you mean only the exercise, like watching a DVD and stretching. But if done with the intent of “opening the mind” or chakra or whatever, if done to find peace, happiness, etc. instead of just to stretch your back… Many many holy priests have warned against it so it’s worth taking their counsel into consideration.”
    • I did ask my priest if he knew anything about the Catholic Church’s stance on yoga, and he said no, not really. He sort of scoffed and said if we brush off yoga as pagan, we might as well get rid of all exercise for the same reason.
    • From @heathersolos: “Non-technical opinion here, what if you meditated on appropriate topics while doing the same movements?”
    • Me: “That’s 1 perspective, other is that the movements are the religious practice themselves and opening yourself to paganism.”

      Heather: “But with that line of thought, we never would have adopted rosaries. I’m pretty sure they were first used by Hindu and not adopted until the 1500s.”

    • And another dissenting view from @rhiamom “The physical part of yoga can’t be separated from the spiritual. The exercises are designed to induce meditative state/trance. Yoga is a pagan practice. Would you need to think twice about taking part in a Druidic tree worshipping ceremony?” (My thoughts: I wouldn’t participate, but would it be sinful to watch one on TV with the intent of understanding so as to better evangelize? There are rarely black and whites when it comes to living in the world.)
Catholic Church Teaching and Documents that Mention Yoga

Here is the important part of the post, where I find the only stuff that counts for beans when asking what God wants us to do. Clearly one cannot find yoga in the Scriptures, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church also came up empty on the subject itself. The closest I could find is this:

  • Mention of the first commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me,” which of course disallows the religious practice of yoga, but I still can’t tell if we can do the exercise without the turning of the heart.
  • Superstition, idolatry, divination and magic are all forbidden (2111-2117). The Ouija board is clearly included in divination, because its sole purpose is to ask about the future and nothing else. I was trying to find a direct link between the occult practice of Ouija and yoga, and I just can’t make any analogies quite work.
  • “Many martyrs died for not adoring “the Beast” refusing even to simulate such worship.” If we do a sun salutation or a downward dog, are we adoring Satan in our posture?

The document most related to the practice of yoga and its effect on the Catholic faith is called “Jesus Christ, the Bearer of the Water of Life,” a Christian Reflection on the “New Age” from the Pontifical Council for Culture and Interreligious Dialogue, found here. Many use the fact that it mentions yoga in a footnote as one of the Eastern religions in question to prove that yoga is intrinsically evil and should not be dabbled in.

However, a thorough reading of the entire document demonstrates that the Church is concerned about Catholics being swayed by the New Age theory that “recognizes no spiritual authority higher than personal inner experience.” Again, I simply cannot pinpoint a section that prohibits the exercise of yoga as exercise. Some key points include:

  • “Some stages on the way to self-redemption are preparatory (meditation, body harmony, releasing self-healing energies). Psychology is used to explain mind expansion as “mystical” experiences. Yoga, zen, transcendental meditation and tantric exercises lead to an experience of self-fulfilment or enlightenment. Peak-experiences (reliving one’s birth, travelling to the gates of death, biofeedback, dance and even drugs – anything which can provoke an altered state of consciousness) are believed to lead to unity and enlightenment.” (I definitely didn’t participate in any of THAT nonsense when I did yoga!)
  • “It is difficult to separate the individual elements of New Age religiosity – innocent though they may appear – from the overarching framework which permeates the whole thought-world on the New Age movement. The gnostic nature of this movement calls us to judge it in its entirety. From the point of view of Christian faith, it is not possible to isolate some elements of New Age religiosity as acceptable to Christians, while rejecting others. Since the New Age movement makes much of a communication with nature, of cosmic knowledge of a universal good – thereby negating the revealed contents of Christian faith – it cannot be viewed as positive or innocuous.” (This is the closest I come to being convinced that we cannot separate the movements of yoga from its religiosity. But. Read on.)
  • Some practices are incorrectly labeled as New Age simply as a marketing strategy to make them sell better, but are not truly associated with its worldview. This only adds to the confusion. It is therefore necessary to accurately identify those elements which belong to the New Age movement, and which cannot be accepted by those who are faithful to Christ and his Church.” (Here we go. Is most secular yoga simply a New Age marketing gig and not at all related to the paganism found in true New Age practices?)
  • The following questions may be the easiest key to evaluating some of the central elements of New Age thought and practice from a Christian standpoint. “New Age” refers to the ideas which circulate about God, the human being and the world, the people with whom Christians may have conversations on religious matters, the publicity material for meditation groups, therapies and the like, explicit statements on religion and so on. Some of these questions applied to people and ideas not explicitly labeled New Age would reveal further unnamed or unacknowledged links with the whole New Age atmosphere.” (The key to asking the question: is the practice of yoga for exercise, without the Hindu or pantheistic viewpoints, really related to any of the points listed above? I certainly don’t think so. Yoga fits better into the following category:
  • There is no problem with learning how to meditate, but the object or content of the exercise clearly determines whether it relates to the God revealed by Jesus Christ, to some other revelation, or simply to the hidden depths of the self.” (It’s all about intent of heart!)
My Wonderings and Wanderings

Are you still with me? Hopefully you’ve been able to read the Church documents without my commentary getting in the way of your own decision-making process. Here are some of my evaluations:

  • When mentioning yoga, it would seem important to counsel folks away from the very spiritual yoga teachers and at least mention its pagan foundations with a caution not to participate in the soul-opening sense of the practice, just the exercise.
  • Is it possible that, especially for those more shaky in their faith, that the practice of yoga could be a slippery slope into loss of faith? Could just doing it for exercise, particularly if the teacher is spouting all the “one with nature” and “soul-centering” and whatnot garbage, give Satan a foothold into one’s mind, even if they don’t think it will?
  • There is Christian mysticism and Eastern mysticism. How to tell the difference? Is it in a name? The Vatican’s reflection on the “New Age” even admits/warns that some practices are labeled “New Age” as a marketing technique and remain harmless.
  • Both Christians and other (Eastern) religion practice meditation, our monks chant, our prayers repeat. Again, is it the form of the prayer that matters or the heart’s intent, to find union with God vs. finding union with nature or emptying oneself to join the collective consciousness of the world?
Yoga: Sinful or Just Fearful?

A sin is an act of the will, and to sin requires full knowledge of sin as well as full intent. If one’s intent is to exercise, and nothing more, and one guards one’s heart against the sort of yoga that would draw a soul away from God and open it to paganism, can there be sin? Can there really be an opportunity to give the devil a foothold?

To be so against yoga embodies a spirit of fear. Must we be fearful of anything in the world that is not explicitly of God? Must we remove ourselves from the culture to guard our faith and practice it properly (and safely)? Pope John Paul II would say no. He often talked of the importance of being “in but not of the world” in his encouragement to the “new evangelization” of faith.

We cannot share our faith with people we never encounter, and we cannot connect with people outside the world of the Church if we cannot understand the culture in which we live. We are called to live in the culture, while at the same time remaining above the culture in our faith and morals.

We can’t be afraid of falling into sin on accident, especially if it causes us to remove ourselves from a world which so desperately needs our faith. A world which desperately needs to receive our faith shared, in love, from people who can see eye to eye with them.

In The Bearer of the Water of Life, the pontifical councils say, “The beginning of the Third Millennium offers a real kairos for evangelisation. People’s minds and hearts are already unusually open to reliable information on the Christian understanding of time and salvation history. Emphasising what is lacking in other approaches should not be the main priority. It is more a question of constantly revisiting the sources of our own faith, so that we can offer a good, sound presentation of the Christian message. We can be proud of what we have been given on trust, so we need to resist the pressures of the dominant culture to bury these gifts (cf. Mt 25.24-30).”

I am not afraid of yoga. It has no power over me. I choose to believe in the power of God’s grace, to root myself in prayer, to trust that God is so much bigger than an exercise and never allows Satan control over His people, unless they choose evil.

I believe that our bodies are created for good, to image God, to demonstrate His love. I also know that any creation can be used for good or for evil. A body can be used to embrace a loved one or strike someone in anger. A body can be used to toil to support a family or plunder time away at a casino. A body can be used to image the trinitarian love of God in the marriage embrace or in the exact same action, to stain two souls in an act of extramarital lust and spit in the face of God’s beautiful plan. (See the reflections on the Theology of the Body, here for Lent.)

A body can be used to worship God, and a body can be used to worship Satan, but the difference is in the intent, in the act of will. It is not the action that defines the intent, but the intent that defines the soul and guides the action.

Catholicism is a faith that requires total allegiance to the magisterium (the pope) on matters of faith and morals. If and when the Vatican says that yoga goes against our faith, I would stop doing it, renounce any of this post, and write a rousing argument against yoga being practiced anywhere outside a Hindu temple. But I’m just not seeing it right now.

There is not an official, faith and morals based, Catholic Church teaching on practicing yoga. Many holy priests and holy people can all weigh in, but the fact remains that yoga is a matter for an individual to discern how it affects them.

Yes, practicing yoga could be a sin. Yes, practicing yoga could be a pathway down which one could fall into pagan worship and away from God. However, doing a yoga pose is not an automatic pathway to Hell.

One must use Catholic teaching about the spirit to make certain that they’re using their body and mind for the purpose of seeking holiness and not seeking spiritual enlightenment, oneness with nature, or opening their heart to anything other than the Lord, who is God.

Be a person of prayer, remain in a state of grace, and let us focus our prayers on the salvation of souls and the good of the world. May we turn our minds to Eastern religions only to pray for the Light of Christ to shine in the East, particularly in Japan, where there are so many more dire physical and spiritual needs than in an American yoga studio.

Time to weigh in: do I even need to ask what you think of all this information? Can a Christian person practice yoga for exercise without putting their immortal soul at risk?

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244 Comments so far ↓

  • Anonymous

    As a Buddhist, I have to say I am appalled at this thread. I wonder how many of you would gladly stuff myself and my children in an oven if your churches told you it would keep you from being under the power of Satan. I guess loving your neighbor as you love yourself includes being constantly suspicious of that neighbor as well?

    liz Reply:

    Dear Precious child of God. You misunderstand and I think for all of us here, no matter what side of the debate, apologize for giving you that impression. As Christians we are called to set ourselves apart from this world, so that others, seeing our faith might be drawn to it. The intention is NEVER to condemn each other or those in other religions, but to lead all to Christ. I am so sorry that this debate may have hardened your heart or formed a negative opinion about Christians. The acts you describe would never be committed by me or anyone on this board.

    Katie Reply:

    I’m so glad Liz replied so charitably and accurately to you, as I hate to think anyone felt thrown under a bus or personally attacked by this post. For any religion to have something to stand on, we need to make sure that we don’t mix other religions in, whether they’re Buddhist, Islamic, or Jewish. But the religion, not the people. I’d have you over to my house any day, no matter your religion!

    As a Catholic, I understand that there are many beautiful souls practicing other religions, and I have no judgment for any people, but I don’t choose to be a Buddhist and want to guard my heart from straying from my own faith.

    I would realize I’m in the wrong religion if God asked me to hurt others in the process of my faith. I don’t want to exclude other people from my life, only to choose not to practice other religions as I believe mine is exclusive.

    I’m glad you commented, although I’m still so sorry you were hurt by this post. Please accept my humble apologies and offer of the olive branch! :) Katie

  • Logan

    I do believe in God, but not in a organized religion sort of way…just me, my bible, and God. I agree with a couple of your points and disagree completely with others. This world was made by God himself, and we must treat this world with respect and love…we are after all its stewards. I love Earth and I do see it as a mother figure, because think of all the life teeming on it and how we are all provided for by its fruits. I don’t worship the earth, like I worship God, but I do love it and am happy that God made such an amazing, self healing environment for us to live in. I also agree with the chakra part, because of the opening of oneself up to demons, but I do disagree about meditation and our inner energy which God has given us is supposedly evil. I have seen sicknesses healed by the worship of God through energy work such a Reiki. Remember folks, God put a bit of himself in every one of us. We may be inherently sinful, but we can always try to walk in the light with our Creator. I have used meditation on many occasions to help deal with bone pain, as I have Osteogenesis Imperfecta. I pray before and after and just clear my mind and feel my surroundings and focus my mind upon God. Yoga is not necessarily evil and either are a multitude of other Pagan religious practices, remember Christmas is not Jesus’s birthday and also remember that Easter was a fertility festival of the Pagans before we commandeered it as you dually noted.

    Kelli Reply:

    My family finds our life to be similar. Well put in Yahweh’s honor.

  • Georgette

    Hi Katie,
    I love your blog & all the great things you share. I am not Catholic but a devout follower of Christ. I do not believe you can do Yoga as it is originally intended as it does open you up to Satan & new age junk. However, the actual exercises are wonderful & if you worship Christ in place of all those idols isn’t that a good solution? Please check out this DVD called praise moves. I have it & find it acceptable. Let me know what you think! Thanks so much!!
    Georgette

    http://www.christianbook.com/praisemoves-the-christian-alternative-to-yoga/9780736915847/pd/915847?item_code=WW&netp_id=420290&event=ESRCN&view=details

    Katie Reply:

    Looks cool to me!

  • Erika

    I have been reading for a long time but never commented. Just wanted to say THANKS for this- what an exhaustive post! I am a new Catholic and did yoga for the first time (prenatal) last year. I did not realize that it might not be “allowed” until after I did it. And in all honesty, it didn’t really do much for me, so I am happy to avoid it. Although, if I have any friends who really enjoy the exercise, I might send them to your post. If I had enjoyed it more, I might consider doing it again but taking some of the precautions you and others have mentioned.

  • Meg

    Thank you, Katie! I love coming to your blog because I always find such interesting topics, and your thoughts on them are very carefully considered.

    As a practicing Catholic, I am embarrassed to say that I never once even thought that yoga might be sinful! It just never even occurred to me. After reading your post and the comments, I really agree with your stance. I just recently started doing some exercise at home (Netflix streaming “Your Best Butt Fast”) and some “yoga inspired moves” are included in the workouts. Check it out if you want a great example of removing the philosophy from the physical movements. I’m pretty sure a new age practitioner won’t be telling you to “squeeze your butt” or “lengthen your neck” :P She’s all business.

    Thanks again for talking about this!

  • Tina Richerson

    I’ve been to many different types of yoga classes at a variety of places–the gym, new age studios, etc. In only one class, did I feel like there was a spiritual aspect to it. All of the other classes focused on exercise and breathing, even in the new age studios. It comes down to your intent. I embrace all religious traditions because from my point of view God is present in all of them, each religion is akin to a different language. I don’t bring any religious intent to yoga, and I’ve never felt swayed or influenced to believe or worship any god while practicing yoga. I would say that if someone’s faith is so shaky that they could be influenced by yoga to worship a pagan god, then they were probably not in good shape to begin with. Several times, I noticed the mention Christmas and Easter–as mentioned these were pagan holidays that Christianity capitalized on in order to bring pagans into the fold. The Catholic Church (and I was raised Catholic) does not believe that hunting for eggs, waiting for a bunny to bring loads of eggs and egg shaped confections, and decorating a Christmas tree would influence us to dance naked in our backyards under the full moon light, so I don’t understand why they would care that people would exercise in a certain way. I think this is a case of the Church not being up-to-date on modern practices of yoga which are typically agnostic like aerobics or weightlifting. Taking care of one’s body and mind seems to be an excellent way to praise our Creator (no matter what form you believe Him (or Her) to take). Yoga offers us the opportunity to take care of our bodies and the meditation that many yoga classes encourage can be spent attuning ourselves to God and Jesus if we so choose. Maybe this is difficult for me to understand because I could go to the pagan festival and still find God and Jesus though they’d be hanging out with Krishna and Buddha drinking some instantly home brewed wine made from water.

  • Sarah

    I find that some of my best prayer time actually comes during yoga. It is a time that I am able to focus inward and inside I find Christ. I think all of yoga is a way of becoming in tune with your body as well–the temple–when doing yoga and focusing inward on the “self” I am generally focusing on how the temple is doing and how I can better take care of it to serve God in my life. I also set an intention for my yoga practice–this intention is usually something I need prayer for or am praying for, I am praying to God and I hardly think that I could inadvertently pray to some other God or to Satan, like a letter sent to the wrong address. God is more powerful than that.

  • cirelo

    I’m pretty sure that every sexual position is in the Kama Sutra, so you are going to hell if you have sex. Or at least submitting yourself to a big near occasion of sin.

  • Sarah W

    There are so many comments already, I couldn’t read them all before composing mine. My apologies in advance for any redundancy.

    I think the question about yoga is less whether or not it is sinful, but rather is it potentially harmful? Someone with no knowledge that a Ouija board or Tarot cards are anything other than entertainment or games would not commit any sin in using them b/c there was no intent to commit a sin and not enough knowledge to sin, but that does not protect them from the possible influence of evil spirits, does it?

    Do your arguments in favor of yoga rely more on an absence of evidence that it is harmful versus proof that it is safe? Are we to discern our courses of action based on technicalities or actualities?

    What about the mere fact that it is a controversial issue? Should we as Catholics choose to participate in something that is questionable when there are equally good options without any question or controversy?

    We do need to guard our hearts, from many things, but I think we should practice this more so for the unexpected assaults or circumstances which we have less control over that might influence us. But why choose to do something *knowing* that you must guard your heart against it? Is it wise to test ourselves (or test God?) Is *that* a sin or a near occasion of sin?

    Even if a lot of yoga classes and tapes are only giving lip service to the New Age movement for the sake of marketing, is that where we want to give our time and money? Who is capable of properly discerning the intent of the instructor? How do you know you won’t accidentally find yourself amidst a spiritual yoga class vs a “non-spiritual” one (such as one of the first classes you found yourself in.)

    The church is not into micromanaging our lives, and there are many matters of faith and morality which she cannot/will not decree definitively that will boil down to an individual’s prudential judgment based on their own circumstances. I don’t know what’s going on with yoga in other parts of the world, but if this is an issue limited to our culture or just a few localities, we may never see it specifically addressed by the Vatican. However, I think we should give deference and careful consideration to the opinions of trustworthy scholars/theologians/apologists who ARE a part of our culture, such as the ones you cited above. I do believe it is the work of the Holy Spirit in the church to provide these voices to help us on our faith journey. (Take Christopher West, for example!)

    As an additional note, on the flip side of the Christian perspective on yoga, I have met someone who is into the New Age movement, and a serious yoga enthusiast who expressed frustration and dismay at the way the culture tries to separate yoga from its spiritual roots. She is upset when people say it is ‘just exercise!’

    You have taken the time to really look into the issue, and I applaud you for that. You are my sister in Christ, and I know that you love the Church and are faithful to the Magisterium. Those are just some additional thoughts for consideration (not that you haven’t considered some of them already, b/c you have clearly pondered and researched many angles already!) God bless, and I appreciate you opening the topic for discussion on your blog. :) <3

    Katie Reply:

    Sarah,
    It’s so good to have sisters in Christ to challenge us like this! I trust your judgment and see many of your points. I spent a looooong time and many conversations trying to compare yoga to the Ouija board, and it came down to purpose: the Ouija board is created for only one purpose, which is to divine the future, expressly forbidden in the Catechism. The body is created for many purposes, and yoga itself is only using the body, also for multiple purposes (potentially prayer and exercise). I just kept coming back to the fact that we can’t compare yoga to Ouija. Ouija = always evil, but yoga can just be postures…I think. My biggest tweak of conscience comes from the exorcist priests who have stared evil in the face and said “no yoga.” On the other hand, I have a dear friend who has also stared evil in the face, conquered it, and came out on the other side understanding more about the power of God over demons than I ever will, and it was she I was paraphrasing in the section on fear. I don’t think yoga should scare us…but I’m still thinking about a lot of this! :) Katie

  • Megan

    Why is it that Christians think that all other religions lead to the devil? I just think it creates deep divides among the people of this world which turns into wars and other horrible acts upon each other all in the name of God/Allah/etc. It wont be until we can accept each other as we are that we will be able to cross those divides and have peace in this world. By condemning yoga and or any other religion’s practice you are condemning those people and saying they are influenced by demons and that is simply being hurtful. These type of “debates” never seem to get us anywhere. When it comes to religion most people seem very rigid in their thoughts and beliefs and refuse to entertain others’ ideas and only those who believe like they do are right (and in some cases the only ones going to heaven). Though Christians say they want to be open to others to help bring them to Christianity I have yet met a Christian who isnt against actively proselytizing.

    Katie Reply:

    Megan,
    It’s a tough one…if I believe my faith is the one, true faith, how can I profess that others are just as good too? I believe in only one God, who is all good, so anything else can’t be good. Now to judge a person’s heart…that’s not for me to do. God is bigger than ignorance, and He certainly knows intentions of the heart of people worshiping other false gods and practicing other faiths in their quest to do the best they can. He gets to decide who meets Him in Heaven, not me, but here on earth, I can’t condone all religions as equally good. That’s moral relativism and negates my entire faith…but it does make it tricky to discuss issues at times. Thank you for your comment, and I hope you come out on the other side of this with your trust in God unscathed.
    In Him, Katie

  • Christina

    Did you see Dr. Mohler’s (of the Southen Baptist Theological Seminary) comments on the topic? Made quite a stir in the media. He separates exercise from full on meditation right up front. I think he deals quite Biblically with it!

  • Journey11

    I am on much the same page as Ellen is. You know what is funny though, I’ve had a practice of stretching since I was a teenager that I used to do prior to playing sports. This same routine I have kept up throughout my adult life, prior to exercising or just to stretch away body tension or stress. I came across a yoga video once to help with back pain (prior to knowing anything much about yoga) and to my surprise, some of the stretches I was already doing had “names”.

    So yes, I think that there are many activities we may do that may have been used by pagan cultures as part of a religious practice, as Ellen pointed out, but the significance that those people apply to them, however intricately involved, is really only in their heads and I don’t think it defiles our own movements or actions.

    I think you could do the positions for stretching or strength exercises, totally ignoring whatever connotations they may have given them and you wouldn’t actually be doing “yoga”.

    The biblical reference that I would consider on this is 1 Corinthians 8:1-13. Being that we have Christian liberty, the movements themselves are nothing to us. We know there is one and only one true God and that all other pagan practices are in vain. (I don’t think this is so much an issue of are we worshipping Satan–because we aren’t, can’t and won’t! But rather, it comes down to maybe it is a stumbling block for a weaker brother in Christ who doesn’t quite know yet what a firm foundation we do have.)

    You are right in that we can pray to the Lord our God, anytime, any place. But the difference is, we don’t need a series of funky postures to pray at all. If you happen to like to pray while you are doing your stretches, that is fine, but the motions are not the thing that commends you to God in the first place (whereas for the pagans–they rely on this to connect with their “god”.)

    Bottomline, I guess I wouldn’t call it yoga at all–because that could be a stumbling block for others and if you’re a Christian, you can’t really do their yoga anyway. You’re just exercising and thanking God for your healthy body.

  • Frances

    Confident Catholic yoga-doer here! Great study of the topic, Katie. May God bless your exercise. :)

    I wrote a review of several prenatal yoga DVDs during my previous pregnancy, if anyone is interested:

    http://lovingandserving.blogspot.com/2008/12/prenatal-yoga-dvd-reviews.html

    I still highly recommend “Prenatal Yoga with Shiva Rea” (produced by Gaiam)…even though her name is New Agey, the program is not. It’s been a great blessing to me again during this pregnancy.

  • Kristina

    I used to get massages at a place that shared space with a yoga studio. While in the waiting room awaiting my massage and I picked up a book describing each yoga pose. The ones I read about were dedicated poses to various Hindu gods. I can’t say they all were because I didn’t read very far. In my mind, the movements are challenging for a reason, it’s a prayer pose in which you must focus mind, body, and soul. As a Christian, I could not see myself making these poses and knowing they were created out of reverence for false gods. I understand the health benefits of these poses, and don’t deny they could be quite helpful as far as balance and stretching, but I can’t justify a separation. That said, if you are someone with sciatica and a certain movement really relieves the pain like nothing else, I would say, do it.

    I heard a testimony of a Hindu lady who was raised to be a priestess in a Hindu temple until the Lord revealed Himself to her and delivered her from various strongholds and illnesses. Her experience with the demonic through her religious practices is astounding (of course she wasn’t aware of this as she thought she was praying to her Gods). She would go into trances and perform physical movements that were nearly impossible and then come out of the trances without any memory, as though her body had been taken over. I was also involved in a meditation class once where we were supposed to make contact with spirit guides. I never contacted any, didn’t try to, but I did fall into a trance. I was shaken up after that. I was dabbling with things I didn’t understand. I guess the question is, is yoga fence-sitting? I do think it’s potentially dangerous spiritually, even when done without the intent of dabbling.

    I mean, you may be able to just focus on God as you do the movements, I don’t know. Personally I’d feel better doing something like Pilates, but there is no judgment on my part to those who would practice yoga.

  • Kristina

    Gee, sorry to leave such a long post!

  • Beth

    It’s too close to the line, Katie. The other ‘pagan’ practices adopted by the Church that you mention (like Rosary beads, fasting, meditation…) were adopted *by the Church* and recommended *by the Church* – The Church is not recommending the pagan spiritual practice of Yoga and to redeem it; there are instances of warning against it. With even the slightest possibility of it turning even one Child of God astray – why would I allow my children to do it and why would I do it myself? I’ve also experienced spiritual warfare – nothing to take lightly – and am sensitive to those ‘open doors’ so I tend to be on the conservative side of these issues.

    Is Tai Chi spiritually-based also or just in the martial arts category? Could this be another option?

    You may not find any resolution on this issue from the outside. The fact that you researched shows some wariness :). The fact that there is no definitive answer is a sort of answer in and of itself. Prayer and prayer for discernment. I’ll pray for the Holy Spirit to give you discernment and peace – you have quite a sphere of influence here and it makes a difference.

    I’m sorry if these things have already been mentioned. I’m doing this backwards – now I’m off to read the comments!

    Katie Reply:

    Beth,
    You know, the reason I looked into it is because I felt such a reticence to do it after my reader emailed. I thought of a quote from Christopher West that struck all of us moms strongly: (paraphrased) “That which we want to fight against most strongly in the Church is usually what we want to do, even though it’s wrong.”

    Thank you for your prayers; my soul is always in need (yoga or no yoga!)! :) Katie

  • Sarah W

    Yes! Important question… “Is yoga simply positions of the body?”

  • H.T.

    No, you don’t NEED to ask us what we think. That is, in order to justify doing yoga or anything, but I believe God wants us to talk about everything that can have spiritual weight with each other. I think it’s wonderful that you are asking us to think about our own beliefs about yoga, and our foundation for those beliefs.
    I used to write it off completely, until I found out that I had tight hip flexors that were literally pulling my back out of whack. An X-ray showed that one of my lower vertabrae had twisted separately from the others above and below it. When looking into what may have caused this, I found out that our hip flexors (HF) are actually attached to our spine, and that specific vertabrae was being pulled by me left HF. I went online to find a remedy and the best stretches happened to be yoga. I learned a bit of anatomy from reading about yoga and found that the poses are very much based on our anotomy and physiology. Like ekwetzel said, it made me marvel at God’s design.
    I also think that “doing” yoga and “going to” yoga are very different. If you go to a yoga class that is new-agey, you can open yourself to the influence of demons, but that comes from the people and the environment, not necessarily the action. A friend of mine went to one where they didn’t just say “let’s do the sun-worship pose” but “now let’s worship the sun-god” and proceeded to lead everyone in a bowing stretch that involved sounds. That, I believe, is where we even refuse to simulate the worship by going through with the act. It is very different that doing a google search on specific stretches or poses to loosen up our muscles.
    Thanks for starting this! :-)
    ~Heather

  • P. F. Hawkins

    A few points:

    1) I don’t think that attempting to practice yoga exercises without the spiritual elements is a sin right out of the gate. I’m not afraid I would be sinning should I attempt it. I am wary (NOT fearful) that I would be possibly opening myself up to untoward attention from a demon. The intent to sin is irrelevant here; many of those who end up possessed are completely ignorant of both sin and demons. They participate in something they think is a lark that opens them up to demonic activity, e.g. ouija, and then find themselves demonically obsessed or possessed, without ever intending sin. I’ve got enough problems (and enough acceptable stretchy alternatives) that I just can’t justify the risk of yoga.

    2) The way I read the document of the Pontifical Council, at least in the English translation, I am forced to conclude that yoga is not an acceptable practice for a Christian. Here’s why:

    “From the point of view of Christian faith, it is not possible to isolate some elements of New Age religiosity as acceptable to Christians, while rejecting others.”

    In the next part quoted, the council makes a point to distinguish that which is truly New Age from that folderol which is merely marketed as such: “It is therefore necessary to accurately identify those elements which belong to the New Age movement, and which cannot be accepted by those who are faithful to Christ and his Church.”

    Several commenters have quoted Hindus as saying that the exercises themselves simply CANNOT be separated from the religious practice. So, the Hindus, who should know. EXPLICITLY STATE that the exercises are a New Age practice. If it is a New Age practice, it is “not possible to isolate” that element, and *must* be rejected.

    3) I have to disagree somewhat with the statement “No form of prayer is necessarily deeper, more powerful, or more effective than another based solely on posture,”. I would counter with St. Dominic’s nine ways of prayer: http://nashvilledominican.org/Charism/St_Dominic/Nine_Ways_of_Prayer

    While posture is probably not *solely* the differential factor, there are certain effects of St. Dominic’s prayer that were only obtained when a particular prayer posture was employed. See especially the Sixth way of prayer, which St. Dominic used sparingly, and through such prayer several times raised people from the dead.

    4. Your point about how the exact same action can be a sacramental marital embrace or fornication actually jibes very well with the anti-yoga position. By that same token, the exact same stretchy exercise can be dangerous when done in a yoga context yet innocuous when done in, say, a pilates context. Again, this part of the post seems to confuse sin with demonic obsession/possession. While sin certainly invites demons into your life, it is possible to be exposed to their malice without sinning. THIS is the danger that the anti-yoga camp is warning against, not that attempting yoga exercises is inherently sinful.

    Ultimately I think that my points 1) and 2) definitively prove that yoga exercises are an unacceptable and dangerous practice for Christians. I would love to hear arguments specifically against those points.

    I apologize for the length of this comment, but then it was a long post.

    Katie Reply:

    PF,
    I definitely appreciate your deductive reasoning on this one…and I don’t know that I have any arguments for you!

    You are right about demonic possession involving zero intent; even the holiest people can be attacked. I still don’t think we ought to FEAR demons, but wariness is good. Perhaps pilates is the way to go…the one time I tried it, there was too much mind emptying and breathing and I got bored before she did any postures! Terrible, I know…Can yoga be not-yoga if we just change the name, since many postures are similar in other forms of exercise? Trying to perhaps still be able to do that P90X yoga…

    Thank you again for your depth of thought – :) Katie

    P. F. Hawkins Reply:

    If you can’t refute my points, does that mean that you agree with me that yoga is a potentially dangerous practice for Christians and should not be advocated?

    Katie Reply:

    I suppose the end point is that it doesn’t really matter what I think, does it? The Church does say we can’t accept some parts of New Age religions, but…I guess I’m not convinced by the fact that some yoga poses w/o the religion included cannot possibly be non-Hindu. Yes, even when a Hindu says so! So I suppose I do refute that argument a bit, but again, it doesn’t matter what I think, but what the Church says.
    Katie

    P. F. Hawkins Reply:

    What you think *is* important, otherwise the Church would not have produced a document called “Fides et Ratio”, in English “Faith and Reason”, that calls on the faithful to apply reason to the faith. The Church can’t produce documents on everything; she relies on her members to think for themselves, applying the principles they’ve learned from Church teaching, when a topic isn’t explicitly covered. I’ve done so in my comments on this post, as have you in your post and comments.

    It seems our disagreement boils down to this: I take the Hindus at their word, and you disbelieve them. Do you have any reason to believe they are lying or misinformed? I don’t think they are lying, because they have nothing to gain from lying about this. I don’t think they are misinformed, because this is their religious practice we are talking about. They came up with it; they should know.

    For the sake of discussion, let’s suppose the Hindus are lying about their religion, or are mistaken about it, and a yoga pose could possibly be safe outside the context of yoga. Which one? In what circumstances? How are we going to determine which ones are and aren’t? What criteria can we use to evaluate poses? As the comments on this post demonstrate, it gets very thorny, very quickly. I’m not even sure it’s possible. Which brings me back to one of the first points I made here: if yoga is so controversial, why risk it? There are acceptable alternatives; why promote the risky one on your blog instead? How can you justify the possibility of leading other souls to exposing themselves to demonic influences?

    Liz Reply:

    This is perfectly aligned with what I have been so poor at communicating. I may sound all hum drum and just anti yoga. But it truly is a passionate subject for me. The devil is soooo good at fooling us.

    Katie Reply:

    Am I promoting yoga? Hoped to explore both sides and state my opinion, although I suppose my opinion is pretty positive “for” yoga…touche.

    Barbara Reply:

    “Are you ready to make Holy Week radically holy, by the way? I usually challenge you to do something further, extra beyond your Lenten sacrifices already, to really make this week bring you closer to Christ’s walk.”

    Katie, I challenge you to give up yoga and go to confession. The video that you link to in your post says “that the degree to which you resist changing to another form of exercise is the degree to which you are enslaved by the devil”.

    How can we truly walk with Christ if there is even the slightest appearance of another god in our life?

    Katie Reply:

    Barbara,
    I thank you for your prayers for me and my family; they are always needed and welcome! May God bless your Holy Week and Easter – Katie

  • Nicole

    My thoughts exactly Sarah! Well said. I think in considering these questions we should look at scripture, and pray for God to convict us of what He would have us do in the situation. I think it is important not to judge others convictions.

  • Christine

    Here’s the thing. Of course you won’t “go to hell” for practicing yoga. But there is not way around saying that going to yoga classes is harmless because you heart is for Christ and that you’re not trying to involve yourself in anything spiritual while doing yoga. Meditation is an extremely wide open door invitation for demons to come in and that meditation/concentration on prana/chi combined with the stretches is what makes yoga different from stretching. If you’re trying to limber up or your back really hurts or something and your in certain poses that yogis do… it doesn’t mean you’re doing yoga. I think it’s the context and heart condition of what you’re doing. You really have to listen to the Holy Spirit to determine if what you’re doing is “ok” or not. It you feel God telling you what you’re doing is a bad idea and dangerous for your spirit, then heed His voice and stop! If you don’t feel any conviction, then you’re probably alright.

    Christine Reply:

    For your research, you may also want to check out this documentary http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nBrI_7um3tA

  • Christine

    Well-said! This is pretty much everything I would have liked to say but much better written haha

  • Tracy

    Thanks for the interesting post. I am a catholic and I believe God understands our intentions. I don’t believe “unintentional worshiping of another God” is possible. I practice yoga, but have never been taught by an instructor on the faith aspect…just on the health benefits. I truly believe yoga for me is exercise and not worshiping another God. However, I do think if I went to a studio that taught the faith aspect I likely would be uncomfortable and not go back.

  • MegganB

    Hi Katie,
    I re-read my comment and yours and I’m sorry if I sounded flippant to the Holiness and sanctity to marriage. I whole-heartedly believe in abstaining from sex before marriage and remaining pure and faithful to your spouse so I’m sorry if by putting it in my “list” I seemed to condone that behavior. If I can re-state my thoughts – I feel like Christians have some sort of a “black list” that they have for all those things they don’t approve of in others. Some Christians are very strict and others seem to have no “list” at all. My point is – I get concerned with lists because what they seem to do is control behavior of others rather than with matters of the heart. Some how putting others on one side of the line and of “those” people that do “those” things… Christ’s love transforms our hearts from the inside. I’m sure I hang out with MANY people that don’t remain pure before marriage and I’m okay with that. I don’t condone their actions or encourage them to stay unfaithful but I do love them. There is no sin that is greater than God’s love.
    So, how I was intending this to relate to yoga is that to me it’s a practice about the heart – as in, I’m a Christian and my heart belongs to God – no amount of physical stretching (even if others around me have alternate views) is going to change that for me. Just as being around people who have had premarital sex doesn’t change my view or make me love them any less. Sorry if I’m a rambling fool or if I make no sense – I didn’t mean to get in to a debate – especially about purity – of which I’m completely a practicer and a preacher :) thanks Katie!

    Katie Reply:

    You’re making total sense now, thank you for clarifying! I hope I didn’t sound too Puritanistic in my own answer…
    :) Katie

  • Karen

    Okay, here’s a final thought from me: In Romans 14:14b, Paul says “But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean.” He also admonishes not to pass judgement on one another. So…if you’re conscience is bothering you and you’re in any way trying to rationalize yoga so you can continue to do it, then perhaps you should re-think the practice. Why not take up pilates and stop the agonizing? :)

  • RG

    I studied this at length a couple years back, found out many of the poses were created for religious ritual orgies, and others not. Undoubtedly the origins and intents of these practices are evil. In St. Matthew the Pharisees were accused of cleaning up the outside of the cup and platter, but the inside still being filthy, and later in the NT there are definite instructions to “abstain from all appearance of evil.” From these and many other like Scriptures I believe if we are in doubt about the purity of a thing, we should not do it. We should not be among those who try to tip toe on the line between good and evil, but, as Christ bearers should stay as far away from wrong as possible. I didn’t read the above comments, maybe someone already said all of this, but I hope it helps to know you are not the only one who has pondered this, there are many stretching alternatives, and following God’s commands are not going to take away from opportunities, but rather open new ones, better for you.

  • cirelo

    I think something that hasn’t been addressed at all is that perhaps other faiths (in this case Hinduism) might have something of value to offer Christianity. I think that the topic is very thoroughly covered in the Church’s document on “The Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions: NOSTRA AETATE”

    http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_decl_19651028_nostra-aetate_en.ht

    1. In our time, when day by day mankind is being drawn closer together, and the ties between different peoples are becoming stronger, the Church examines more closely her relationship to non-Christian religions. In her task of promoting unity and love among men, indeed among nations, she considers above all in this declaration what men have in common and what draws them to fellowship.”

    “2. From ancient times down to the present, there is found among various peoples a certain perception of that hidden power which hovers over the course of things and over the events of human history; at times some indeed have come to the recognition of a Supreme Being, or even of a Father. This perception and recognition penetrates their lives with a profound religious sense.

    Religions, however, that are bound up with an advanced culture have struggled to answer the same questions by means of more refined concepts and a more developed language. Thus in Hinduism, men contemplate the divine mystery and express it through an inexhaustible abundance of myths and through searching philosophical inquiry. They seek freedom from the anguish of our human condition either through ascetical practices or profound meditation or a flight to God with love and trust. Again, Buddhism, in its various forms, realizes the radical insufficiency of this changeable world; it teaches a way by which men, in a devout and confident spirit, may be able either to acquire the state of perfect liberation, or attain, by their own efforts or through higher help, supreme illumination. Likewise, other religions found everywhere try to counter the restlessness of the human heart, each in its own manner, by proposing “ways,” comprising teachings, rules of life, and sacred rites. The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men. Indeed, she proclaims, and ever must proclaim Christ “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), in whom men may find the fullness of religious life, in whom God has reconciled all things to Himself.(4)

    The Church, therefore, exhorts her sons, that through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions, carried out with prudence and love and in witness to the Christian faith and life, they recognize, preserve and promote the good things, spiritual and moral, as well as the socio-cultural values found among these men.

    I read in this that there are real truths to be learned from other faiths, that we are to embrace what is good, why couldn’t one these goods be yoga? As Catholic’s we do hold that fullness of Truth and there is a liberation in that as it allows us to seek out the good the beautiful and the true and to lift it up, always in a spirit of humble respect.

    Also, I would contend that since Hinduism does not proselytize and isn’t seeking to convert anybody anyway, that this thread with all its heresies and misinformation is a much greater stumbling block to the faith than any watered down yoga fitness class.

    Katie Reply:

    cirelo,
    Hopefully there weren’t any heresies in the post itself, which is what I have control over. If so, please let me know and I will update. Thanks, Katie

    cirelo Reply:

    I had no contention with your article. :)

  • Carolyn

    There are so many responses to this post, I almost feel guilty adding another! My quick reaction, however, is that it makes me think of a post you wrote when you first started KS about consciousness: how easy it is to go through the motions, but how important it is to make ourselves be truly conscious of each small decision and action. It seems to me that this is the crux of the yoga question, too, especially after all your research and feedback … Very interesting.

  • Tony DiLorenzo | Fit Marriage

    For those of you who think you can’t do Yoga and glorify Christ check out Holy Yoga, http://holyyoga.net/. Here is a women who loves yoga, practices yoga, and is sharing yoga with Christians.

    As someone who has been practicing yoga for years and a Christian I have never felt lead to worship pagan gods while practicing yoga. If anything it is a time for me to pray to Jesus away from the hectic family, business life I lead each and every day.

  • Heather

    The following is from Catholic Answers.

    “Physical exercises that are common to yoga that promote health and physical well-being are fine. What Catholics should not do is participate in non-Christian Eastern spirituality. If yoga contains non-Christian Eastern spirituality, one can do the physical exercises but refrain from the prayers. As a general rule of thumb, Christian spirituality is interpersonal (between persons) while non-Christian Eastern spirituality focuses the practitioner on the self.” (Michelle Arnold, 2004)

    “If people are simply using Yoga relaxation and stretching and breathing techniques, there is no problem. But Catholics must not engage in any Yoga theory or belief system.”

    Fr. Vincent Serpa, O.P., Catholic Answers Apologist
    The exercise benefits of yoga are acceptable – as you can see, the error would come if a person started to practice the spirituality of Hindu.

  • BlessedCP

    This has been a struggle for me too, can a Christian practice yoga or exercise with just the stretches, etc?
    I came across this site that you may find informative.
    http://praisemoves.com/about-us/why-a-christian-alternative-to-yoga/

    Additionally, every pose and stretch in yoga is a prayer stance and each is praying something different. That DOES frighten me and can leave me open to negative influences. Furthermore, as Christians we should never “open our mind”.
    My conviction was to find beneficial stretching exercises that do not incorporate yoga. Now I don’t have to worry whether or not what I am doing might be wrong.

  • Sarah W

    A Heather recently posted an excerpt from Catholic Answers. I can’t find her particular comment to reply to it, but wanted to say that I appreciate that post b/c I think CA is a great resource and I trust the apologists on that site. (And the apologist basically said that you can just do yoga strictly as an excercise and be OK.) But I also trust the opinions of the Catholic priests and personalities that Katie cited in her post on the “arguments against yoga” segment.

    A couple of questions though… I thought that at least a few poses in yoga were specifically meant to make a body more receptive to receving “spirits” or something along those lines? Is that correct?

    I also wanted to comment on the comparisons drawn between other pagan practices that have been incorporated into Christianity or the more generic and ubiquitous actions of “dancing” or “singing” and things like that.

    As far as evergreen trees, eggs, or strings of beads, these are just things. They are amoral and it all depends on how they are used, whether they become instruments for good or for evil.

    Katie (and others) have talked about positions of the body in the same manner and that the body is created for good…any creation can be used for good or evil…. that yoga is “just positions of the body…” However, is there not a big difference between a human body and some other created thing (like a tree, for example)?
    Our bodies are not just bodies, we are body and soul, inextricably linked. Any action that we perform with our bodies necessarily involves our souls and I have heard it said that therefore, none of our actions can be morally neutral. Everything we do either brings us closer to God or farther away. (Maybe some acts are “more neutral” than others, but hopefully this still makes sense.) So I’m just wondering if we can validly compare bodily positions and bodily actions to the use of innanimate created things by people in a good or bad way?

    Katie Reply:

    Sarah,
    Every time I talk with my husband about this, he comes back to: “It’s my body, so no matter what the intent of the creator of that posture was, I choose to do it and they’re not in control of me.” or something like that. It makes perfect sense, that actually objects can hold a definite purpose, but the body, and any position of the body, has only the purpose for which you intend it.

    This is a tough one with few easy answers, as the comments are showing! :) Katie

    Barbara Reply:

    I don’t understand your husband’s point when the Hindus say that in yoga the spiritual can NOT be separated from the poses. One isolated body position (kneeling under the table to hammer something) is not yoga.

  • Colleen B

    I just stumbled across your blog for the first time and decided to check out this post…boy did I get more than I bargained for. I grew up Catholic, now I am a non-demoninational follower of Jesus. I live not with church rules, but the Bible is my only guidebook for life. I occassionally try yoga…find if very difficult and so I don’t stick to it long (also the P90X version…yeah for Tony!). And I didn’t even know the “roots” of this form of exercise. This conversation made me very sad. Here is the thing…God first made all these things….he made our bodies which need nourishment and movement. He made nature for His enjoyment and ours. He even made WINE! Oh yeah, and He made free will. So everything He made is wonderful. And because of us, everything HE made can be turned for evil. But stretching up to the sky and touching your toes were probably done by Adam and Eve! The Bible says not to worship any other God. So if your exercise (any kind) is your idol you need to stop. If you fill your head with false truths during your exercise, stop. If you lead someone else to those same things by your exercise, stop. But if you want to better your body, or stop and stretch at the top of a hill and gaze on the glory of God’s creation…what you are doing is TRUE worship to our amazing God. He sees your heart, and He will reward those who are pure in heart.

    Katie Reply:

    Colleen,
    Welcome! I assure you, this post is an anomaly. I hope you browse around enough to find other good food for thought and recipes for eating! ;) Katie

    Tony DiLorenzo | Fit Marriage Reply:

    Well said Colleen. I’ve been thinking the same thing, but didn’t know how to put into words.

  • Jennifer

    Liz, I agree with you. All of these comments about feeling God through Yoga concern me. I am just so shocked at how many people are looking for God while doing Yoga. It’s one thing to pray the rosary while you’re jogging, but the search to “feel” God through Yoga should be a huge red flag.
    Christianity is not all about “feeling” God.
    The postures in Hatha Yoga were specifically created not for excercise but for spiritual enlightenment. Yoga is the path to enlightenment. If you don’t understand Yoga, you shouldn’t be practicing it (those of you who think it’s exercise) unless you truly understand what it is you are doing. Yoga is not excercise.

  • liz

    There is a way that seems right to a man, but its path leads to death. Proverbs 14:12
    And yes, I think Hello Kitty is positively frightening! LOL!

  • Albert

    And hence, the protestant reformation, where man took his salvation into his own hands and gave up trusting in God, and the 60′s, where man took his own sexual preferences and practices into his own hands, and the whole abortive world, where man takes others’ lives into his hands to do with as he sees fit, and today, where anyone with a keyboard and an internet connection can opine about how evil Yoga is, shedding much heat and little light.

  • Katie @ Making This Home

    Katie, this post is so fabulous in ways I don’t even know how to describe. You dove into so many of the exact issues my family has addressed with one another when I said I was doing yoga.

    Like always, you took that research even further and created a truly AMAZING post. Thank you for this.

  • oh amanda

    Katie! I am so glad you did this post! I am not Catholic but still have had the same questions. I’ve always loved yoga b/c of the body & mind connection…I do feel relaxed and calm and quiet when I’m done. Also sore. (But now that I think about it, people who do any exercise probably feel the same way! I wouldn’t know since I don’t…heh.)

    Anyway, I’ve had this conversation many times b/c I’ve been to several yoga classes. And my conclusion has been—God MADE OUR BODIES. And if the combination of movements that make downward facing dog really does strengthen/heal/help our bodies, don’t you think GOD made it to happen that way? And not some hindu priest?!

    Great post, as usual!

  • Matthew

    ” Interesting ” article – but way off base. i was taught yoga, tai chi, martial arts by a catholic priest. he reminded me that the catholic cathecism states that “other religions are a reflection of the truth”, “genuine spiritual values are within other religions” and salvation is accessible to non Christians. His teachings and my subsequent journeys in these meditative practices have supplemented and strengthened my faith. I am forever in debt to this priest and the Catholic faith for NOT being judgemental and condescending to other faiths and their parctices. God bless all.

    Matthew

    Katie Reply:

    Matthew, Hate for you to think that I’m anti-yoga myself. I poked into the issue, but I keep falling on the side of Catholicism (and God) being way bigger than some postures, yoga or not. Does that make sense? I think we’re much more on the same page than you think. Thanks for visiting! :) Katie

  • Sally

    Wow, this post got a lot of discussion! I read your posts in my email, so I rarely click through. I have thoroughly enjoyed your frank discussion of implementing NT in your home while dealing with differing palates and food sensitivities. You are an inspiration!

    As I did some light exercise, ending with some yoga, this morning, I found myself pondering this question. I’m not Catholic, and I’m not any ordinary sort of Christian, lol, I’m LDS (aka Mormon). I don’t know that there is any LDS take on yoga, so these are my personal beliefs.

    I especially love the work-then-rest aspect of yoga. Laying still and relaxing the mind and body after a workout is so refreshing to me! Just as working all week, then refraining of worldly work on the Sabbath is meant to be.

    I also found myself pondering the idea that although Christ’s Atonement is infinite, of me it is required to do all I can, in other words, “faith without works is dead.” I work, hard, and it would never be enough without the saving grace of Jesus Christ, and I found myself thinking about that as I surrendered to quiet and stillness after working my body and mind. When I lay still at the end of my workout, I try to “let go” of my worries, my schedule, my imperfections, for just a moment. And it reminds me of the peace that our Heavenly Father would give to us when we put all our faith in Him, then *do* all we can, though imperfectly.

    I’m not trying to convince anyone; I always respect the beliefs of others. Just wanted to share my thoughts. :)

  • Charley MS

    This whole yoga discussion makes me very sad. I was raised to believe that God is everywhere and God is in everything. As a Catholic who occasionally does Yoga – I have never felt the need to worship the “Downward Facing Dog” god or the “Plank” god – for me Yoga is all about a good stretch – and has nothing to do with my relationship my loving God, who is with me always.

  • Jennifer

    It may be true that there are some truths in all religions, but you need to understand that there’s more error than truth in them. Christianity is the Truth and you should not dabble in other religions because you can easily begin to stray from the truth by adding their falsities to your personal beliefs. Christianity is not about YOUR personal beliefs but what Jesus Christ teaches. Straying from the Truth is not always so obvious and Satan likes it that way.

  • Christine

    So I commented this the day Katie published it and, for whatever reason, checked the “Notify me” box. Boy am I regretting that now! I’d like to finalize this debate once and for all. Instead of everyone arguing over legalism, why don’t you all just ask the Holy Spirit whether you should practice yoga or not? He wouldn’t lie to you. Be a God-pleaser, not a man-pleaser. Simple right? Now why don’t we all focus our attention on something else like spreading the gospel, praying for persecuted believers, encouraging Christians in our community, feeding the hungry, sending bibles across the world, and praying through the boundaries of countries that are difficult to just walk into and talk about Jesus, like North Korea, Iran, and Somalia!

  • Lenetta

    This is covered at Faith & Family Live today -post is here.

  • Linda

    Thanks for posting this link, Lenetta! The article is a good read, as are the comments! :)

  • Sarina v

    I am not a Catholic and don’t know enough about their teachings to comment. I am a Christian.

    This is what I do know, Yoga is a form of excercise that was adopted by the monks of may eastern religions to give them the strenght to sit and meditate for hours. (there are people who believe it actually originated in Sweden).

    Yoga is a fabulous healthy form of excercise, I have had a home based practice for many years. If you love Yoga but are struggling with whether it is right or wrong, might I suggest a lovely little book called ‘Yoga for Christians’.

    There is also a website dedicated to this. It offers some suggestions for meditating on the Lord while practicing Yoga.

  • Jackie

    Wow so many comments and this was a while ago but I thought I’d throw my 2 cents in.

    I do yoga sorta. Like, in my own living room with a DVD. I have a chronic bladder condition so it helps stretch my pelvic muscles.

    I was kinda anti-yoga for a while, not because I thought it was “sinful” but just too popular of a trend. Plus I studied Hinduism in college and the yoga being done in yoga studios and such today has very little resemblance to what is taught in the Yoga Sutras. The goal wasn’t to “find yourself” or “get in touch with your body.” The goal was to disconnect yourself completely from your body, to become detached so you could enter enlightenment. When was the last time you heard a yoga teacher say, “Detach yourself?” No, they always go on and on about centering yourself, focusing on your body, etc.

    So that’s part of the reason why I think it is okay to do yoga. No one is (likely) really doing true-Hindu yoga anyway.

  • Anzlne

    This whole question reminds me of a pithy little comment I heard from a recovering alcoholic– about not going into bars anymore, even though that is where his friends are, and he could just drink coke— “If you hang around the barbershop, you are going to get a haircut.” Being in a bar is not sinful, but being there increases the danger to the person. Yoga type exercises might not be inherently sinful; reading horoscopes “just out of curiosity” might not be sinful— but– you’re going to get a haircut.

  • M

    I was looking for a definitive answer online to this debate, as a very devout Catholic (convert), health nut and yoga practitioner. Yoga is one of the few ways that I am able to exercise, and it really helps my back and nervous system. Despite all of the wonderful benefits of my yoga practice, if it was something God did not want, then I wanted to know and do His will. Being fully aware of the spiritual warfare going on, I am very careful of things I have or things I do that can open doors for demons. Even though I obviously have no intention of using yoga as a spiritual practice, its pagan roots could still open a door if the poses themselves work in the same way as actions of a ritual or certain objects (such as crystals or images) do. Many people have cool “hippie” things in their households, without any other intent than as decoration, but those objects can nevertheless invite attachments or give power to demons. Yoga means “yoke,” to unite or attach the self to Brahma (the closest idea of Hinduism to God, the spirit that pervades all things, but distinctly different in that the idea of Brahma is pantheistic and not monotheistic). I wanted a clear, concise answer from the Vatican, but it gives none. It only warns of the dangers of yoga leading to New Age practices, which I was already aware of. I am certified to teach yoga, but I do not teach it for this very reason. The Eucharist analogy almost did it for me, but I, too, did not find it quite equal to the practice of yoga. So, I looked to the bible, God’s word, because God has an answer to all of our questions. This passage made it crystal clear for me:

    1 Corinthians 3:16

    Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?

    Of course I knew that the Holy Spirit dwells inside of me, but if you think about that reality in terms of yoga, doing what originated as a pagan spiritual practice to “yoke”, even as exercise, is utterly inappropriate at best.

Welcome!  Meet Katie.

I embrace butter. I make homemade yogurt. I eat traditional real food – plants and animals that God created, not products of plants where food scientists work. Here at Kitchen Stewardship, I share how I strive to be a good steward of my family's nutrition, the environment, and our budget, all without spending every second in the kitchen. Learn more about the mission of KS here.

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