At a pain clinic it was advised that we do Yoga. Since Yoga is rooted in Eastern religions and includes meditation as well as exercise, are we, as Catholics, permitted to do it?
This particular question about yoga contains a deeper, more general issue that is worthy of reflecting upon: whether or not practices rooted in non-Catholic religious belief are acceptable for believing Catholics to practice/approve of/etc. It is this more general question that I will treat first before giving particular information about yoga.
When it comes to our Catholic faith, our belief is that God has “fully” revealed Himself in the person of Jesus Christ. That is, when God willed to take on our human nature, the fullness of His divinity came to be within the limitations of His human nature – yes, this truth (the fullness of God in the human nature) is a great mystery, but it is an article of the faith that is accepted in our full assent to the Catholic faith. Consequently, in the divine person of Jesus Christ, nothing in His divinity is lacking – He is fully God.
Why do I begin with this fundamental truth of our faith regarding the person of Jesus? If for no other reason, this article of our faith both contains the truth that we need not seek any other source of salvation but Jesus, and, on the flip side, the seeking of what is of God outside of who He reveals Himself to be is a seeking of “false gods” and a breach of the first commandment. While many examples of such seeking of what is not compatible with faith in Jesus can be found (and which unfortunately cause many to fall away from Christ), let’s apply this basic principle to our question on yoga.
The simple statement that, “Yoga is just a form of stretching,” is false. The poses used in yoga originate in the Hindu religion. Citing Hindu sources, it is said that for yoga to be rightly practiced requires it be done in keeping of the Hindu philosophies regarding the attainment of what one Hindu website calls “perfection of human
efficiency” in union with the divine. In so many words, the physical “stretching” is meant to be integrated with the “interior meaning” of each posture/action. In this way, any Christian who practices yoga with a so-called “Hindu yoga master” or any other who is coaching them by way of seeking any type of “spiritual” or “philosophical”
connection does so in direct conflict with their Christian faith.
That said, there are some who do “physical yoga,” employing the poses only for the physical benefit. One always needs to be honest in assessing such acts as yoga to discern whether it is only used as physical exercise, or if it contains any elements of a philosophy or an opening to what we might call “physical energy generated from
another power.” There are real concerns with yoga practiced with any openness to or insinuation of other powers beyond physical exercise; and yet, an adapted form of the physical fitness strictly for physical fitness’ sake, without any intent or even opening to the hidden Hindu philosophies (whereby the participants themselves, or by the leader of the actions), can be acceptable for the purpose of the physical benefit alone.
As a final word, I simply say that one ought to always be cautious and discerning of any and all acts that have any connection to other religions, or to any kinds of
superstition, forms of idolatry, and magic even if such things are not your intention.
Fr. Joel Hastings