Sophie Heawood: Downward dog is not a hellhound

Our writer defies the Vatican and slips off to a yoga class
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The Independent Online

Cor! You know you're doing something sexy when you've managed to rattle the Vatican's chief exorcist. Well done, yoga – the papists are up in arms (but not downward in dogs) against you.

Father Gabriele Amorth, a grown man who is paid to scare ghosts out of the Pope's house, has told a conference in Italy that "practising yoga brings evil, as does reading Harry Potter. They may both seem innocuous but they both deal with magic – and that leads to evil."

The Harry Potter hate makes sense enough: our poor old ghostbusting priest is clearly worried that if people start thinking spirits and ghouls belong in a work of fiction, then he'll be out of a job. But as for yoga – a spiritual practice that largely translates, in the Western world, to a 90-minute bending and stretching class – well, it's hard to locate the exact bit which he wants us to think summons Satan. But do let's try, so we have an excuse to stop going.

Perhaps the priest speaks of lust. Indeed, it can be hard, when yogists will dress in such tight clothing, not to sneak a peek at people's protuberances. One can certainly entertain a few unclean ideas when publicly stretched over backwards like a rainbow.

But do you really think that "doing the downward dog" is akin to what Cubans call "dancing the horizontal mambo"? Or find yourself overcome by uncontrollable frissons when trying to breathe through one isolated nostril? You do? Lucky you! Perhaps I should go more often.

I mean maybe, when I see an image of Pol Pot's killing fields, or Fred West's victims, or George Osborne's beefy grin, I should think to myself, good heavens, that's nearly as Satanic as that time we were told to stand up with our feet together and then bring one foot to slide up the other leg and stand there for as long as we could (but if we couldn't stay balanced just to sort of quietly stop and have a sit-down for a bit).

Or the way we say "Namaste" to each other at home-time without knowing exactly what it means. It could be Sanskrit for "come, vile witches, and overflow my pustules with sin". It could mean "Who needs the love of the Lord when you've got mauve Lycra?". It possibly translates as "Take me now, big boy, right here, right now, in King's Hall Leisure Centre, Hackney". I don't even know. I really should be more careful.

Perhaps I should have recognised the mark of Beelzebub that week when I had to pay a quid extra because, in my haste to shave my armpits into the right sort of tantric baldness before leaving the house, I had forgotten to bring my own mat.

Once, I took an outdoors yoga session on a Greek island, taught by a scantily clad guru who had recently impregnated a muse some 30 or 40 years his junior. He encouraged us to say "Om" and find stillness among the mosquitoes. It was he, apparently, who had taught Sting and Trudie their tantric ways.

Again, if you have trouble distinguishing between Lucifer's hellfires of destruction and a randy old bloke dodging insects in the olive groves, then I can understand that this is not the weight-loss plan for you.

Another time, I was lucky enough to go to a few yoga classes in a swanky health studio in Hollywood (they were giving out free vouchers). There were women there whose boobs did not move when they stood on their heads. I don't think we can blame Lucifer alone for their implants. But we could always try.

Unfortunately for the priest, the more I think about the evils of yoga, the more I want to go, praying to experience some of this wanton lascivious heat. Rather than just sweaty armpits. Or a dull sense of despair about my calf muscles. Or a stitch.