Every once in a while during my childhood, I got the sense that my parents were not quite as conservative as some of my friends and their families. Never mind their vehement pro-life stance, their frequent votes for Republican candidates, and even my mother’s serious consideration of anti-vaccination articles. My parents wouldn’t let me read Harry Potter for years, and still think oija boards can summon evil spirits, but they got one thing right during my childhood: they understood that yoga is a form of exercise, not devil worship.
I am aware that yoga comes from Hindu tradition and can involve religious practices if you choose to partake in them, but the form of yoga that Americans do in gyms is not really religious anymore, and Christians should relax about the idea that it’s putting them in “spiritual danger.” I’ve known this since my childhood because an uncle of mine, who is a practicing Catholic to this day, has done yoga for years. He finds it relaxing and considers it a good form of exercise. I remember watching him do stretches one Christmas, and finding nothing weird about that. People exercise, and that’s a good thing. The last thing anyone should do is discourage that unless they’re exercising in a way that’s genuinely unsafe.
Unfortunately, many Christians, including many of the Catholics I met in my childhood, mistakenly think that yoga is evil. As a teenager, I attended a youth group for homeschoolers where the host brought in a guest speaker, a former nonbeliever who said she regretted her abortion and had turned away from the evil sins she used to partake in like dressing in a worldly way, modeling, and doing yoga. I immediately wondered why yoga was being listed on the same plane as abortion. Catholics believe abortion is murder, but since when is exercise related to that? I understood why modeling and worldly clothing might violate a religious person’s beliefs concerning modesty, but people don’t have to wear a sports bra and booty shorts to do yoga. I don’t do yoga myself, but to my knowledge baggy t-shirts and sweatpants are just as acceptable as the aforementioned options. What was so bad about yoga?
That experience wasn’t the only one in which someone I knew freaked out about yoga. While attending the Steubenville Youth Conference in Ohio during high school, a Catholic homeschooling parent who was chaperoning my group brought up the subject. I told her about my uncle, the aforementioned proud, healthy, Catholic yoga practitioner. Her response? “I’ll pray for him.”
“You don’t have to,” I argued. “He’s not doing anything wrong. It’s just exercise.”
She shook her head. “Actually, there’s a spiritual component that makes it an unsafe practice for his soul. I’ll pray for his soul to be safe.”
“Whatever,” I said, “I still disagree, and so do my parents.”
She wouldn’t hear it, and for all I know she may still be wasting her energy by praying for my uncle (who, for the record, weighed a lot less than she did.)
I asked my mother why so many people kept telling me yoga was bad. Was I missing something about it?
My mom is a very well-educated Catholic when it comes to religion. While she doesn’t research other aspects of her life (like medicine) as thoroughly as she should, she takes her faith very seriously and does study up on what Catholic teachings actually say. She told me that according to Catholicism, doing yoga as exercise is fine, and the only way it conflicts with Catholic teachings is if you practice the religious aspects of it. She said sometimes it involves a form of meditation that conflicts with Catholic teachings, but what most people do in gyms really has no spiritual conflict with the religion. I fact-checked her just to be safe, and a Catholic apologist corroborates this in an article titled “The Trouble with Yoga.” The apologist explains,
As a spiritual path, yoga is incompatible with Christian spirituality. But if you can separate the spiritual/meditational aspects of yoga from the body postures and breathing techniques common to yoga, then you might be able to use those postures and techniques beneficially for health.
She even adds,
It is important for Catholics to know that yoga should neither be hallowed nor damned.
In other words, it’s really not a huge deal.
Knowing this, I couldn’t help but wonder why so many people were convinced that doing yoga at all would damn a person to hell. I’m convinced it’s for the same reason that many Christians still to this day think Harry Potter encourages youngsters to seek out Satanism or Wicca, when really it’s just another fantasy containing wizards. The Harry Potter series is no worse for its magic than the conservative’s favorite fantasies like The Lord of the Rings. Maybe it doesn’t contain direct religious allegory like The Chronicles of Narnia, but that doesn’t make it any more dangerous than other fantasy stories that don’t. Unfortunately for young readers, many Christians believe in spiritual warfare. They believe Satan has a lot of influence on the world and secular culture, and expect to see the devil everywhere. When they don’t, they begin to imagine him in the most benign places, and shelter their children and themselves from completely harmless things.
The bottom line is, even if you’re a devout Catholic, you can relax about yoga. Seriously, go to the gym. Find a form of exercise that works for you. Maybe you’ll like kickboxing, or pilates, or rock climbing, or swimming. It doesn’t have to be yoga, but you should only eliminate it after research into what it entails, and maybe trying it once or twice. It’s not for everyone, but it’s no more dangerous for your spiritual well being than running on a treadmill or lifting weights, I promise.
Here’s a video about where yoga comes from and its benefits. In summation, it does come from a religion, but even just the exercise is really, really good for you.
Feel free to leave a comment. All opinions are welcome, but please be respectful and think things through before posting.
Now go exercise. America’s obese for a reason.