“There’s the spiritual health risk. When you take up those practices from other cultures, which are outside our Christian domain, you don’t know what you are opening yourself up to. The bad spirit can be communicated in a variety of ways.”
Father Roland Colhoun, a Catholic priest in Londonderry, Northern Ireland recently sparked a debate online as he joined a long list of Christians and people of other religions to link yoga with the devil. During a sermon at a February 22 Mass, he told the congregation “it’s a slippery slope from yoga to Satan.” With regard to the risks of yoga specifically, he reminded us that Pope Francis said “do not seek spiritual answers in yoga classes.”
His words echo a friend-of-a-friend of mine, a self-proclaimed 54-year-old former yogi who not long ago tried to persuade me that the world is run by Satanists (okay, maybe it is) and, furthermore, that yoga and dharma open up our minds to evil, dark spirits and are therefore to be avoided. I said, “I don’t think I could quit doing yoga at this point even if I tried.” She didn’t hear me. After she called me ignorant because I chose not to enter into her debate, I ended the conversation and went about on my merry, diabolical way, chanting OM and forming complicated mantras with my fingers.
In reply to the Irish priest’s outrageous comments, Rajan Zed, President of the Universal Society of Hinduism, wrote:
“Yoga, although introduced and nourished by Hinduism, was a world heritage and liberation powerhouse to be utilized by all. The Vatican Library itself reportedly carried various yoga related books; like Bhaktiyoga, Yoga-system of Patanjali, Yogic Powers and God Realization.”
Why is yoga so popular? Because it improves our well-being and quality of life.
Even just practicing the physical aspect of yoga (which is what many practitioners do) results in a slew of overt benefits. Much of modern yoga is basically advanced calisthenics with some deep breathing and positive thinking thrown in. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Or is there?
Yoga is denounced by conservatives who view it as “New Age,” which refers to an amorphous cultural movement with no hierarchy, dogma, doctrine or official membership whose influences can include Oprah, astrology, “manifesting,” Goddess worship, occult practices like Tarot card reading, vegetarianism and veganism, “positive psychology,” Taoism and/or self-help. New Age originates from 19th century “New Thought,” whose founders were most influenced by Ralph Waldo Emerson—who was heavily influenced by Vedanta, the spiritual teachings of Hinduism. Ralph Waldo read the Bhagavad Gita and considered himself a yogi. He could be considered the father of “American” yoga.
In stark contrast to the monotheism of Bible-believers, pop yoga culture totally embraces Vedantic concepts, such as: all is one; humans are spiritual beings in physical bodies; we are co-creators of the universe; and life is a journey toward awareness of our true source. Many religious people criticize New Age thinking, because its tenets are in opposition to the belief that there is One True God, namely theirs, rather than, God forbid, a Goddess. Yoga is neither angelic nor Satanic. It is a personal practice that may be physical, intellectual, spiritual, emotional, educational and/or enlightening. Retaliating and attacking is getting us nowhere. It’s not about who is right and who is wrong. It’s not about generalizations (“Christians are judgmental hypocrites” versus “yogis are brainwashed hippies”). Yoga and Christianity actually have a lot of things in common.