Funny How That Works

A reader writes:

This post on a recent case isn’t exactly about Christianity, but perhaps you’d be interested. I doubt a class based on a Catholic spiritual exercise would be allowed in public schools.

  • introvert_prof

    I’m of two minds about this. On the one hand, the practices are in principle no different than a round of stretching, and Thomas Merton wasn’t the only monk to notice that e.g. Buddhist contemplative practice is similar to Christian contemplative practice; on the other hand, you’re opening yourself up to spiritual influences. That’s OK if you are, for example, using the Jesus Prayer as a focus (Christian yoga); but I’m reminded of Jesus’ parable about the man from whom a demon had been cast out, but who had no spiritual focus to replace it.

    • Rosemarie

      +J.M.J+

      If it were being taught in a religious context I would be dead set against it. But it’s apparently been stripped of religious elements, so that’s a bit different. As I’ve said before, my Mom taught me some yoga when I was a child, purely as a form of exercise with no Hindu content (my family was always Catholic) and I never felt drawn to Hinduism as a result. If Kristen, the lady mentioned in the article, ‘now prefers Ashtanga’s “eight limbs” to the “Ten Commandments,”’ it’s probably because she imbibed the spiritual beliefs of Ashtanga while learning yoga, even though she only started it for the exercise.

      Besides, most modern yoga postures were adapted from British and Indian gymnastics within the past two hundred years or so. So it’s not like they have some innate mystical power to turn people to Hinduism even if they are taught apart from a religious context.

      If there is a spiritual danger, it would be that many Christian kids today are not getting a good religious education at home or from religious instruction, which leaves them with a spiritual hunger. If they really get into yoga as a result of this secular public school program, when they are older they might continue to learn yoga from an ashram, where they will also be exposed to New Age beliefs that may seem to fill their spiritual hunger. So there may be a remote danger down the line, but I don’t think secular yoga exercises in a public school is necessarily an immediate threat to their faith. I could be wrong, but that’s what I think. If Christian parents are concerned then they could steer the children toward Christian yoga techniques outside of school.

      • Jared B.

        The non-Hindu, non-Indian origins of Yoga I think is most pertinent. The claim that Yoga is inherently Hindu, New Age-y, “eastern” or even religious at all is repeated (both by concerned Christians and New Agers) so often that it really ought to be tackled by snopes.com

        Some believe that there is something deeply Hindu about the postures themselves.

        Then again, some believe that there is something deeply Christian about the idea that all children deserve an education in the first place.

        You can’t run different practices through a sieve to weed out all possible religious beliefs that, outside the school building, might happen to be associated with that practice, or there’d be nothing left.

        • Rosemarie

          +J.M.J+

          Yeah, the idea that certain positions of the body are innately “pagan,” and that assuming them could be spiritually dangerous even apart from any spiritual activity, borders on superstition. Like any superstition, it puts unnecessary fear in people and may lead them to avoid things that are essentially harmless, not unlike when someone studiously avoids stepping on cracks in the sidewalk or turns around when a black cat darts across the path in front of them.

          The spiritual danger isn’t in striking a particular physical pose, it’s more in what you believe and to whom you pray while doing it. Even some Christian prayer postures and gestures had antecedents in pre-Christian religions, yet they were adapted to the worship of the one true God and now have a new significance for believers in Jesus.

          Like I said, there may be a remote spiritual danger if poorly-catechetized children really get into the secular yoga and then later learn more yoga from a New Age source. Yet the antidote to that is giving children a firm foundation their Faith and, if they show an interest in pursuing yoga further, present them with Christian options. Merely keeping them from yoga won’t necessarily assure that they will keep their Faith, since they can learn New Ageism from other sources as well, like watching Oprah. A thorough Christian formation is the best possible safeguard.

  • LSUStatman

    Setting aside whether this is appropriate for schools, I have often wondered if there is any information on physical fitness practices that are based on Christianity, specifically the Catholic tradition of Knighthood.

    The knights of the medieval age had to be impressive physical specimens, just to be able to move in the heavy armor they wore. Additionally, they trained for years for such service, which adhered to a strict code of chivalrous conduct and devotion. But what of the teaching? While I have seen many books and videos on the spiritual aspects of yoga, I have seen little that could lead a young man through Christian spiritual/physical exercises that have the same type of linkage.

    Does anyone know of any resources I might have missed?

  • ElizaCoop

    Are there Catholic poses that can be scrubbed of all religious/spiritual reference?

    I took yoga for years – Iyengar. Not a shred of “spiritual” discussion. Mr. Iyengar himself, a traditional Hindu, scoffs at the idea that there is spiritual yoga. Amazing health benefits, though.

  • Sus_1

    One of my kids is taking Yoga for a gym credit. Until this article and comments I didn’t consider it an issue. I called the teacher to check. At our school, it’s completely secular and all about the exercise. She sent me the list of tapes they use and I’m satisfied they aren’t going to be converting anyone to Hinduism. The closest they come to religion is having silent moments.

    All the kids’ class assignments have to be signed off by a parent so they should know that their kids are taking the class so the parents should be able to head off any trouble. I don’t know how other schools work.


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