Faith Matters

It's a stretch to say yoga isn't religious

A Catholic bishop who pointed out that yoga was not Christian was right to do so, argues Diarmuid Pepper, who says that when you chant 'om' you are secularising and monetising a religious act

Diarmuid Pepper

Yoga can be a purely physical exercise. But when your yogi has you saying "om" or "namaste", which means "I bow to the God within you", this is no longer a purely physical act; it is an appropriation of Eastern religion

THE Bishop of Waterford and Lismore got himself into bother when he declared that "yoga is not of Christian origin" and therefore ought not to be practised in Catholic schools.

This statement, made in a letter to schools in the diocese in October, managed to enrage and bemuse parents, yogis and yoga attendees throughout the land. But Bishop Alphonsus Cullinan spoke the truth.

First of all, it is important to note that Bishop Cullinan didn't decide to 'attack' yoga out of the blue; he was asked about the issue and duly obliged in delivering his statement.

His answer might not have been well received by many, but that does not lessen the truth of his claim.

Yoga is quite clearly not Christian, as Bishop Cullinan rightly said. What is more, yoga is quite clearly a Hindu practice.

Bishop Cullinan never once questioned the physical benefits of yoga; rather he questioned whether it should be taught in Catholic schools.

Yoga can be incredibly beneficial in a physical sense and many view it purely as a means of exercise. The fact remains that it most definitely originated from within Hinduism.

The practice of yoga comes from the Vedas, which are holy texts which were composed in India between 1500 BC and 1000 BC.

From the Vedas came Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. Indeed, yoga is also one of the six orthodox schools of Hinduism.

Recently, I listened to a yoga teacher on this issue. Whilst she acknowledged its Hindu origins, she said yoga was not a religion by any means.

Rather, she claimed, it is a philosophy of love and kindness, of truth and honesty, of being at one with ourselves and with the universe, and about the cessation of the fluctuation of the mind.

That sounds a lot like a religion to me, yet we are being told that it is anything but.

When you chant "om" at yoga, you may fully think this is something to help control your breathing and focus your mind.

This doesn't negate the fact that the vibrations which occur when you chant "om" are said to reflect the vibrations with which the Hindu deity Brahma, the creative force of the Trimurti, used when creating the world.

Nor does it negate the fact that the "om" sound is said to reflect the metaphysical philosophy of Hinduism contained within the Trimurti - the endless cycle of creation, preservation and destruction.

Someone with a yoga mat paying £15 for a session may not be aware of this but it doesn't in anyway change the reality of the situation.

Indeed, this monetisation and capitalisation of Eastern religious practices is something that has been causing angst within some adherents of these religions.

Yoga, as most of us in the West know it, is simply a series of stretching and controlled breathing.

Thus, ancient religious practice has essentially been stripped of its religiosity or spiritualism, secularised, and then sold on at a high fee.

Yoga can be a purely physical exercise. But when your yogi has you saying "om" or "namaste", which means "I bow to the God within you", this is no longer a purely physical act; it is an appropriation of Eastern religion 

Yoga started off as a faith tradition but is now being put forth as a means to make big banks and Wall Street firms even more profitable.

Bishop Cullinan also spoke out against mindfulness. What is important to note is that he didn't speak out against mindfulness per se.

Instead, he called for us to practice a mindfulness that doesn't appropriate the world's oldest religions and called for us to instead practice a form of mindfulness that has always existed within Christendom.

American magazine the National Review has described mindfulness as "a meditation practice that is in essence Buddhism without Buddha". It is often difficult to disagree with this definition.

Imagine for a moment that Catholic practices were treated in the same manner with which Eastern religious practices have been treated.

Imagine secular people started to monetise and capitalise the recitation of the Rosary.

It's relatively easy to imagine someone trying to sell this to Wall Street or a big bank: "So you recite this mantra, the Hail Mary, and it really helps to relax you and free your mind and put you in the present moment.

"As you recite this, you hold these beads, and it helps you to be at one with yourself and to focus your mind.

"In this manner, your employees become less stressed and more productive.

"Yes, it might have its origins in religion, but this most definitely isn't religion."

Catholics wouldn't accept this, and perhaps neither should Hindus.

Yoga can be a purely physical exercise. But when your yogi has you saying "om" or "namaste", which means "I bow to the God within you", this is no longer a purely physical act; it is an appropriation of Eastern religion.

The yoga teacher mentioned above says her classes never mention any deities or god.

I have never attended one of her classes but if, as most do, she says "namaste", then that claim would be patently false.

Again, imagine a sports instructor said his or her class was nothing to do with religion but they then began and finished their class with "amen"; you would be hard-pressed to find someone who said this class had nothing to do with religion.

So feel free to stretch and strike a pose and calm your breathing. But when you chant "om" and "namaste" you are wrongfully secularising and monetising a religious act.

Yoga can be incredibly beneficial in a physical sense and many view it purely as a means of exercise

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