The Practice of Yoga Is Not Catholic: A Reminder from the Church in India

April 25, 2018

The practice of yoga is incompatible with Catholic doctrine, according to a report published by the Syro-Malabar Church, one of the three rites represented in the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India.

Published in the latest bulletin of the eparchy of Mananthavady, the report from the Syro-Malabar doctrinal Commission is entitled “Yoga and Catholic Beliefs.” It reveals that yoga and Christianity are incompatible and that the nationalist Hindu groups such as the Sangh Parivar “try to exploit yoga to achieve their political and sectarian goals.”

The Syro-Malabar report calls for a ““re-reading of yoga” since the “government has moved towards making yoga compulsory in schools and present it as an inseparable part of Indian culture.”

This is not the first time that Syro-Malabar Bishops have spoken out on this matter. Last year they stated that "yoga is not a means to reach contact with the divine, although it may contribute to physical and mental health."

Yoga is a set of physical, mental, and spiritual practices that originated in India and spread around the world. It combines physical and breathing exercises. In Hinduism, it is also a spiritual journey to experience contact with the divine. In Indian schools, yoga is compulsory and every year, on June 21, schools focus on activities and events dedicated to yoga.

Hindu activists and intellectuals have long been fighting to make this event obligatory, forcing students to sing sacred Hindu sonnets and mantras, regardless of their religious confession.

“In yoga there is no place for God,” declared the Syro-Malabar doctrinal Commission chaired by Bishop Joseph Kallarangatt, who also warned “of the danger of physical gestures and exercises becoming idolatrous in themselves.”

A Salutary Clarification

The bishops of India are in the field; they know what they are talking about when they denounce yoga and the idolatry it can lead to. May their voice be heard in the West, where it is common for Catholic communities, monasteries, or parishes offer this sort of activity for their faithful! A sort of Christian yoga has developed, in the interest of enculturation, relaxation, and the search for a certain “well-being,” but also in the hopes of learning new ways to pray, with a focus on the body and its sensitivity.

The lotus position tends to replace kneelers and feeling takes the place of the act of Faith. Modern Catholics have clearly given up their traditions in order to adopt those of other beliefs. Yoga is no longer a form of simple gymnastics, but a religious practice that quickly becomes ambiguous…even if the Hindu mantras are replaced by Bible verses.

The Syro-Malabar bishops understand this: it is impossible to reconcile Christian doctrine and the Yoga philosophy. The priest who served as exorcist for the diocese of Rome for thirty years, Don Gabriele Amorth (1925-2016) did not hesitate to declare, “The practice of yoga is diabolical. You believe you are simply practicing a fulfilling activity, but it leads to Hinduism.” It leads souls away from the Faith to apostasy.

Among the reasons for yoga’s success as a technique for meditation and prayer, we cannot but mention the radical change in the attitude towards other religions brought about by the Second Vatican Council in the name of ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue. The declaration Nostra Aetate on October 28, 1965, developed a positive and even complimentary approach to Hinduism and Buddhism in terms that would never have been used by the holy preachers and Catholic missionaries.

A New and Diabolical Approach

The Council thus declared: Hinduism, men contemplate the divine mystery and express it through an inexhaustible abundance of myths and through searching philosophical inquiry. They seek freedom from the anguish of our human condition either through ascetical practices or profound meditation or a flight to God with love and trust. Again, Buddhism, in its various forms, realizes the radical insufficiency of this changeable world; it teaches a way by which men, in a devout and confident spirit, may be able either to acquire the state of perfect liberation, or attain, by their own efforts or through higher help, supreme illumination…..The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men. Indeed, she proclaims, and ever must proclaim Christ ‘the way, the truth, and the life’ (John 14:6), in whom men may find the fullness of religious life, in whom God has reconciled all things to Himself. The Church, therefore, exhorts her sons, that through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions, carried out with prudence and love and in witness to the Christian faith and life, they recognize, preserve and promote the good things, spiritual and moral, as well as the socio-cultural values found among these men.

It is fully in keeping with the Council’s intentions for Christians to follow the example of other religions, even non-Christian religions, even those that go completely against the true Faith and Christ, the only Savior of mankind. This text, unprecedented in two-thousand years of Christianity, expresses a sincere respect for practices, doctrines and rites that ignore the true God as He has made Himself known through Revelation and as He offered Himself in the perfect act of religion, His redeeming Sacrifice.

Even while pretending not to abandon its mission of announcing Christ, the modern Church born of the Council no longer fights against idolatry in all its forms and has eyes only for other religions. It is not just a question of diplomacy towards their leaders and representatives; it is an unbelievable indulgence for their messages, their cults, and their practices, even those that are diabolical. A mockery of God and a sure way of corrupting men.