Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Where the Amen meets the Om

Today, over at, I tackle the subject of yoga -- something I love -- and how it benefits my Catholic prayer life -- something some people find impossible or frightening. I'll start the post here and take you to the full post at that site. Please leave a comment (and, if you have the time, come back and post the same comment here for NSS readers).

When I took my first yoga class more than twenty years ago, I was in a bit of a crisis in terms of the Catholic faith of my birth. My mother had recently died and I had moved out of my family home and across the country. I was searching in so many ways and came upon yoga through a friend who knew a teacher who held classes in her home. There, on a mat in an empty living room, I learned how to stretch and settle my body in new ways, ways that allowed me to more easily enter a spiritual realm that has always beckoned to me.

So began my odyssey into an Eastern world that some would have us believe is not only incompatible with Roman Catholic faith but dangerous to it. Of all the posts I put on Facebook, anything having to do with yoga is sure to stir up ominous warnings. I have been told, on more than one occasion, that it is the work of the devil. And yes, I have read what the Vatican has warned about "New Age" religions (FYI: Yoga isn't even remotely new). Quite frankly, someone who is inclined to make an idol of yoga, turning it into an obstacle rather than a pathway to God, is probably just as likely to turn certain devotions within the church into idols or superstitions—from obsessing over the trappings of the faith, to burying a statue to sell a house, to leaving slips of papers in pews as a guarantee that a prayer will be answered. Idolatry comes in all forms; it doesn't take yoga to make that happen.

Permit me, then, to take you into my world of yoga, a world where Amen and Om happily coexist...Continue reading HERE.


Fran said...

I thought that I would put my Patheos comment over here as well...

Mary, thank you so much for this piece, it is outstanding and elucidates one of the most important elements of our Catholic Christian faith... we take it all out into the world with us, not away from the world.

As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse with no shortage of body issues and in the midst of a huge relapse in PTSD after 9/11 , I took my first yoga class in 2002. It was life changing in that yoga, in an answer to my prayers crying out for healing and peace. I remember taking a class on the first 9/11 anniversary, in the peaceful studio that looked out over the Hudson, the same river the hijackers used as a navigation tool as they flew on their dark mission. As I moved and as I sat, as I prayed to Jesus Christ, I felt a wave of peace that was part of our incarnational faith.

I like you have always had Scripture and my Catholicism at the heart of my yoga practice. It was always more than just exercise but it never was idol worship or evil.

It has been awhile since I have hit the mat after having moved and more. You remind me that it just might be time to try again.

Anonymous said...

Mary...I also thank you for this piece. Yoga is not a religion or idol worship..Yoga inits most essential form means to connect. I took this from yoga journal...Yoga is; having a routine for nuturing your spirit that you do each day lets you feed energy to your soul and can serve you well if your life suddenly takes an unexpedted turn into a difficult period. This kind of routine grounds your spirit in your body so that you stay anchored in yourself as you move through each day. Nuturing yourself spiritually allosw you to not only stay on track in your life, but allows for your life to stay on track with what your spirit wants. This allows me to be a dedicated, volunteering, devoted Catholic!

Mary DeTurris Poust said...

Thank you both for sharing your stories. I am so grateful for friends like you who were willing to step into the fray and tell others how yoga has benefited your spiritual lives. This has been an amazing day, a day of blessings.

Mary DeTurris Poust said...

I am copying a comment here that I posted to patheos in response to a reader. I want to be sure no one else misunderstands. So here's what I said in my reply:

@Benjamin (and at least one other commenter) -- I want to be clear on something. That quote -- "Be still, and know that I am God" -- is from Psalm 46:10. I should not have assumed people would know that, so thank you for allowing me to clarify. The full quote continues..."I am exalted among the nations, exalted on earth."
It is meant... to call us back to a place of resting in God, at least that's what it does for me. Reminds me to still my thoughts, my endless worrying and trust in what God has in store for me. This Psalm speaks to me in much the same way the passage from Exodus does, when God speaks to Moses and says, "I Am Who Am." Or later in Matthew 28:20, when Jesus says, " I will be with you always, until the end of the age."
For me all these passages challenge me to stop trying to be in control and let God be in charge of my life, something I struggle with daily. They fit with my yoga because I see them as a call to relax in the Lord and let God be God instead of trying to do the job myself. :-)
I hope this clears this up. I don't want anyone to misunderstand that Scripture quote and twist it into something about self, which it is absolutely not!
Thank you for being openminded about this subject. And thank you for your comment because I think I needed to say more on this.

Anonymous said...

I like your willingness to engage other religious worldviews, but I sense your blending of traditions here is a bit too uncritical and naive in its approach to spirituality defined as a vague sense of well being that can be made Christian just by the use of different words. Prayer is fundamentally about God, and traditions of prayer (rosary/liturgy) that may not appeal to our personal taste may allow us, by the very discomfort that involve, to make prayer about God more than about me/us. Christian asceticism is at root about death to self, and liturgy and private prayer is at heart ascetical.
See below for a better articulation of this than I could give.

VATICAN CITY (AP) - The Vatican Thursday cautioned Roman Catholics that
Eastern meditation practices such as Zen and yoga can ``degenerate into a cult
of the body'' that debases Christian prayer.

``The love of God, the sole object of Christian contemplation, is a reality
which cannot be `mastered' by any method or technique,'' said a document
issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The document, approved by Pope John Paul II and addressed to bishops, said
attempts to combine Christian meditation with Eastern techniques were fraught
with danger although they can have positive uses.

The 23-page document, signed by the West German congregation head Cardinal
Joseph Ratzinger, was believed the first time the Vatican sought to respond to
the pull of Eastern religious practices.

Ratzinger told a news conference that the document was not condemning
Eastern meditation practices, but was elaborating on guidelines for proper
Christian prayer.

By Eastern methods, the document said, it was referring to practices
inspired by Hinduism and Buddhism such as Zen, Transcendental Meditation and
yoga, which [may] involve prescribed postures and controlled breathing.

Some Christians, ``caught up in the movement toward openness and exchanges
between various religions and cultures, are of the opinion that their prayer
has much to gain from these methods,'' the document said.

But, it said, such practices ``can degenerate into a cult of the body and
can lead surreptitiously to considering all bodily sensations as spiritual

The document defined Christian prayer as a ``personal, intimate and
profound dialogue between man and God.''

Such prayer ``flees from impersonal techniques or from concentrating on
oneself, which can create a kind of rut, imprisoning the person praying in a
spiritual privatism.''

Attempts to combine Christian and non-Christian mediation are ``not free
from dangers and errors,'' the document said.

It expressed particular concern over misconceptions about body postures in

``Some physical exercises automatically produce a feeling of quiet and
relaxation, pleasing sensations, perhaps even phenomena of light and of
warmth, which resemble spiritual well-being. To take such feelings for the
authentic consolations of the Holy Spirit would be a totally erroneous way of
conceiving the spiritual life.

``Giving them a symbolic significance typical of the mystical experience,
when the moral condition of the person concerned does not correspond to such
an experience, would represent a kind of mental schizophrenia which could also
lead to psychic disturbance and, at times, to moral deviations.''

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is the Vatican's watchdog
body for doctrinal orthodoxy. The document did not name any particular
individuals, groups or religious movements that have strayed in the use of
Eastern meditation practices but the congregation often acts in response to

Mary DeTurris Poust said...

Anonymous (Frank as per your duplicated comments which were deleted),

It can be a little too convenient to label as "uncritical and naive" anything with which you disagree. After 20+ years of practicing yoga, I am living proof that yoga does not necessarily pull people away from their faith or deteriorate into only a "cult of the body."

What you seem to be missing in the Vatican statement are critical words: "CAN" degenerate into a cult of the body. "SOME CHRISTIANS caught up in the movement..."

As I said in my original piece, Christians who are likely to let yoga degenerate into something that harms their Catholic faith are probably just as likely to do the same with the traditions and rituals of the Catholic faith. I have seen far more people turn our beautiful traditions into superstitions or to turn specific Catholic TV personalities into their own personal gurus than I have seen people pulled away by yoga. These people put their faith in something or someone other than God. Some people are easily influenced by outside suggestions, whether they are practicing yoga or sending out "prayer" emails that promise answered prayers if you send it to a set number of people (or threaten harm if you don't) or burying a statue in order to sell their home.

I have written a book on the Catechism of the Catholic Church ("The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Catholic Catechism). I am very much aware of Catholic teaching on pretty much every subject. My fourth book, coming out in March, will be on Catholic Prayer and the Mass. The Vatican has never condemned the practice of yoga.

A yoga teacher I know attended a training with a Catholic priest who teaches Christian prayer through yoga. After the training, she was so moved she went to confession for the first time in 20 years. So, as you can see, the scare tactics by some don't hold up. I have seen living proof that for those who go into this practice as a way to calm the physical body in preparation for prayer (or simply just as physical exercise), yoga can be one more piece of our pilgrim journey.

Fortunately, our Church has devotions for all types of people -- some pray novenas, others the Divine Mercy chaplet, others use Centering Prayer and contemplation. There's room for everyone here. At different points of our lives, we are likely to use different prayer methods. That's the beauty of our tradition; we don't have to pray the same way in private. I would never dream of telling someone else that the way I pray is the way they must pray. I cannot know their hearts or read their souls. And no one else can read my soul or know what's best for me in my relationship with Jesus Christ. That's between me and God.