Catholic university bans yoga 'because of eastern mysticism'

Students warned of 'dangers of the practice of yoga' and college president says it is better to be 'safe than sorry'

Will Worley
Friday 14 April 2017 10:18
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Yoga is practiced by millions of people around the world
Yoga is practiced by millions of people around the world

A Catholic university has banned yoga classes because of fears the practice “has some potential for eastern mysticism”.

Stretching and breathing classes at the Benedictine College, Kansas, will now take place under the name "Lifestyle Fitness".

The institution responded to concerns of staff, students and church leaders over students practising yoga.

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The college’s president, Stephen Minnis, told campus newspaper BC Circuit: “Yoga as created has some potential for eastern mysticism which has caused concern among members of the Catholic Church.

“[Kansas Archbishop Naumann] has expressed his concerns and the issues surrounding that. We asked ourselves if there was a way to bring those yoga benefits to our students and faculty without the possible effects of eastern mysticism and are currently investigating other alternatives.”

Mr Minnis said he was unsure if the “spiritual harm” of yoga would affect the Benedictine College campus but it was “better to be safe than sorry”.

The cancellation apparently occurred without the reasoning being communicated to university yogis.

Yoga has existed for thousands of years and is commonly practised by a wide range of people for its health and mental benefits. Many consider it an essential part of their lives.

But its roots in eastern religions concerned local Catholic leaders.

"It is a mind and body practice developed under Hinduism, the goal of which is spiritual purification that will lead to a higher level of understanding and eventually union with the divine," said Rev John Riley, chancellor for the Archdiocese of Kansas City, to the Wichita Eagle.

"It is for these reasons that Catholics are alerted to the dangers of the practice of yoga and are encouraged to look for other exercise alternatives that do not incorporate a spiritual dimension."

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Yogis responded with disappointment. Josh Olson, a junior business marketing and management major, said he has done yoga since high school to prevent injuries from athletics and reduce stress.

He called it a "step in the right direction" that the school isn't completely eliminating yoga-like practices but said he was frustrated by the lack of communication from school officials.

"It seems like a PR move to me, like we don't want to step on anyone's feet," Mr Olson said. "I don't see the sense behind it."

Rev Riley suggested Catholics seeking a spiritual alternative to yoga should try something like Pietra Fitness, which incorporates Christian prayer and meditation with stretching and strengthening.

The Pietra Fitness website – which advocates yoga-like exercises for the “mind, body and soul” – claims “ one cannot regularly practice yoga without some spiritual effect; therefore we recommend that Christians stop the practice of yoga and seek alternatives consistent with Christian philosophy and spirituality”.

In response, Rajan Zed, president of the Universal Society of Hinduism, issued a statement urging Benedictine College not to "abolish" yoga at the university. He said while yoga is a Hindu-based practice, it is a mental and physical discipline that can provide benefits to everyone.

An online petition started by Benedictine students asking the school to "bring back yoga" had nearly 100 supporters earlier this week.

Additional reporting by agencies.

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