Christian Perspective on Yoga
By Douglas Todd,
With its elegant, aging cathedrals spread out across the countryside, Roman Catholicism is
But with hundreds of stylish new studios opening up across Canadian cities, sometimes it seems as if Catholicism’s strongest new “competitor” is yoga.
Tension simmers between these traditions of the East and West, with polls suggesting each draws the support or interest of roughly 40 per cent of the Canadian population.
Yoga practitioners often dismiss Catholicism as a doctrinaire, uptight, hierarchical religion. Catholics often write off yoga as self-indulgent exercise — and, at worst, a heretical form of Hindu spirituality that could open practitioners to satanic forces.
Not well-known in Canada, but famous in India, the brave man who has spent much of his life trying to ease suspicion and build bridges between these two traditions is Catholic Father Joe Pereira.
The remarkable 65-year-old priest from India says the most influential figures in his life — the teachers who represent “the yin and yang” of his spiritual education — have been Mother Teresa of Calcutta and India’s P.K.S. Iyengar, arguably the world’s most influential living yoga master.
Father Joe, as he’s called, was in Vancouver in late September to teach a weekend yoga workshop, speak about Christian mediation and seek support for his Indian organization’s work with people who are addicted or diseased.
Admirably comfortable in multiple spiritual and cultural spheres, this veteran celibate priest in black shirt and white clerical collar makes quite a sight leading an audience in chanting “Hari Ommmm.”
Like a yogi,
Despite his long friendship with Mother Teresa,
In the early 1980s, receiving Mother Teresa’s staunch support for the therapeutic powers of yoga,
Kripa has grown to 50 institutes throughout
Kripa boasts a recovery rate for addicts of 65 per cent in the first year, 38 per cent over subsequent years — figures
Since he began to learn yoga almost 40 years ago when he was a young priest undergoing a spiritual crisis and fighting his own addictive tendencies, Pereira describes himself as a “sexual celibate” who’s learned through yoga not to deny his sexual energy.
Disowning the sex drive, he says, leads to priestly pedophilia and other dangerous “explosions.”
Instead, endlessly energetic
Despite his bold beliefs and actions,
The Catholic church has generally blessed
Regardless of his success at convincing most fellow Catholics to keep open minds about the spiritual and health benefits of yoga,
“There are still many barking dogs.”
Not content with challenging traditional Christians to open to yoga, however, Father Joe also has a message for the secular West — which he thinks is dominated by overly rationalistic, technical, left-brain-thinking people.
“I don’t want to judge people, but I think if you do yoga without spiritual language and perspective, it just turns into gymnastics, into body work.”
Louie Ettling, owner of The Yoga Space, where
Since B.C. yoga practitioners come from a variety of spiritual and secular backgrounds, Ettling said, “Father Joe asked them to focus on that which would help them connect with their own understanding of the absolute.”
Calling yoga a “spiritual practice” rather than a religion,
Hindus might call this spirit the Self, or atman,
Near the end of an evening lecture in
He answered by raising up some of what he called the Bible’s “yogic verses,” which focus on the paradoxical need to forget your ego to find your true Self. One of them was from Psalm 46: “Be still and know that I am God.”