Welsh bishop asks parish to rethink yoga ban

Bishop Joanna Penberthy has asked a parish to rethink its ban on allowing yoga classes in its parish hall

A Welsh bishop has asked a parish to rethink its ban on allowing yoga classes in its parish hall, saying “many people” in the Diocese of St Davids “have found practicing yoga to be of huge benefit.”

The Rt. Rev. Joanna Penberthy urged the parish pastoral council (PCC) of St David’s Church in Blaenporth to “find out more about yoga” before it banned outside groups from offering yoga classes in a repurposed parish hall. While the Church in Wales has yet to offer a statement on the compatibility of Yoga and Christianity, other denominations have investigated the matter and have urged their adherents to be cautious.

The Tivy Side Advertiser reported on 11 May 2017 the Blaenporth PCC decided not to allow “non-Christian” activities to be held in a repurposed parish hall at the church. The decision to ban yoga classes on religious grounds, angered some local residents, the newspaper reported, prompting Bishop Penberthy to issue a statement urging the PCC to rethink their decision.

“While the Bishop of St Davids respects the right of parishes to decide what does or does not take place on their premises, it is clear that many people in the diocese have found practising yoga to be of huge benefit,” a statement from the bishop’s office said.

“To criticise a long standing practice of another religious tradition out of hand without an in depth study and a good theological rationale is unwise. I would encourage the PCC to find out more about yoga before making a final decision.”

Views on the compatibility of yoga and and other faiths are mixed. Most schools of Islamic thought condemn Yoga because of its Hindu origins. While many professed Christians see no difficulties with yoga, others view it with suspicion. One widely publicized clash came in 2010, when R. Albert Mohler Jr., an evangelical leader and the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, declared the practice of yoga blasphemous because of what he said were its pantheistic roots.

The philosophical premise of yoga was at odds with Christian beliefs, the Vatican held. The former chief exorcist of Rome Fr Gabriele Amorth in 2011 denounced yoga as Satanic.

Jesus Christ: The Bearer of the Water of Life. A Christian reflection on the New Age” lays out the Catholic Church’’s teaching on “some of the traditions which flow into New Age … ancient Egyptian occult practices, Cabbalism, early Christian gnosticism, Sufism, the lore of the Druids, Celtic Christianity, mediaeval alchemy, Renaissance hermeticism, Zen Buddhism, Yoga and so on.”

The Vatican document noted: “Yoga, zen, transcendental meditation and tantric exercises lead to an experience of self-fulfilment or enlightenment. Peak-experiences (reliving one’s birth, travelling to the gates of death, biofeedback, dance and even drugs – anything which can provoke an altered state of consciousness) are believed to lead to unity and enlightenment. Since there is only one Mind, some people can be channels for higher beings. Every part of this single universal being has contact with every other part. The classic approach in New Age is transpersonal psychology, whose main concepts are the Universal Mind, the Higher Self, the collective and personal unconscious and the individual ego. The Higher Self is our real identity, a bridge between God as divine Mind and humanity. Spiritual development is contact with the Higher Self, which overcomes all forms of dualism between subject and object, life and death, psyche and soma, the self and the fragmentary aspects of the self. Our limited personality is like a shadow or a dream created by the real self. The Higher Self contains the memories of earlier (re-)incarnations.”

Not only Christians, but some Hindu groups have objected to the appropriate of Yoga by those who do not share their faith. In 2008 the Hindu American Foundation launched the “Take back Yoga” campaign to educate Americans on the Hindu basis of Yoga.

Its website states: “As the multi-billion dollar yoga industry continues to grow with studios becoming as prevalent as Starbucks and $120 yoga pants, the mass commercialization of this ancient practice, rooted in Hindu thought, has become concerning.  With proliferation of new forms of “yoga,” the underlying meaning, philosophy, and purpose of yoga are being lost.  Take Back Yoga aims to bring to light yoga as a life-long practice dedicated to achieving moksha, or liberation/union with God. “


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