Dear Father Joe
what does the church teach about yoga?
Q: Is yoga a religion? Can you do yoga and be Catholic?
A friend of
mine recently pointed out to me the dramatic proof that there
were cars in biblical times. It’s true! Enjoy these examples:
In Genesis, we learn that God drove Adam and Eve out of the
Garden of Eden in a Fury.
In Kings and Chronicles, we find that David’s Triumph was heard
throughout the land.
Even the New Testament offers us some proof - look at the book
of Acts; it tells us that the apostles were all in one Accord.
Finally, in 2 Corinthians, verse 48 describes traveling in a
Volkswagen Beetle - “We are pressed in every way, but not
cramped beyond movement.”
I think you all burned off minutes in purgatory just by reading
A: You know, the funny thing is, you are basically asking
for the “Catholic position on yoga.” Ouch that one was bad.
Anyway, your question has some curious timing for me. I’ve been
struggling for a bit with my health - fatigue and muscle
soreness from football injuries. The long and short of it is,
not too long ago I went to my doctor and was given some
stretches. I had been doing them for more than a month and was
amazed at how these stretches helped. One of my buddies came to
visit and he had been struggling with the same kinds of issues
that I was. When I showed him the stretches, he told me they
were “yoga stretches.” I checked it out, and sure enough, five
of the eight stretches I was doing were yoga.
At the same time, I have received more than a few questions like
this and I’ve spent some time hunting this down and hope that my
answer is helpful.
When I looked, I found a flat-out dogfight on the Internet about
all this and, as near as I can figure, the idea is this: Yoga
stretches are OK, but yoga philosophy is a problem.
This Rock, a Catholic apologetics site, put it best:
Two factors are relevant here: First, it depends on whether the
yoga is being presented in a manner that is free of religious
elements - i.e., purely as a system of physical exercise. If it
is coupled with elements of Hindu spirituality (e.g., talk about
moving kundalini, or energy, around your body), it is not
appropriate for Catholics to use it as part of their exercise
In summary, if you are doing stretches to help your body, then
that is good, as your body is sacred and unique in creation, but
with these stretches, a philosophy is often offered that is not
good. Yoga stretches? Good. Yoga philosophy/religion? Not so
So, you may ask, “What is the problem with Hinduism?” Well,
there are more than a few, but we will cover some of the bigger
At this point, you gotta remember, the Catholic Church is a big
believer in something we call “absolute truth.” I got this
definition of absolute truth from, of all places, a website
[Absolute Truth is the belief that] there are absolute
realities, or standards, that define what is real and what is
not. Thus, actions can be deemed right or wrong based upon how
they measure up against absolute standards.
As Catholics, we are big on this. But the key idea is that in
every thought and action there is right and wrong. When we talk
about God and how we relate to him, there are ideas that work
and are right, and there are ideas that don’t work and are
wrong. There are some practices that are “more right” than
others and some that are “more wrong” than others. This is
essential to the Catholic belief and worldview - and Hinduism
teaches this is incorrect. In Hinduism, there are many paths to
God; in Christianity, Jesus is “The way, the truth and the
life.” (Jn 14:6)
Another problem with Hinduism is the belief in reincarnation:
the belief that there is a pool of souls, and that we are reborn
again and again in different forms and persons until we get it
right. This idea is completely incompatible with Christianity.
The book of Hebrews tells us that we “die once” and then the
judgment follows. (Heb 9:27) Also, there is a problem here with
focusing on the human ability to “get it right” without divine
help. We need Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit, not
numerous chances to get to heaven.
This is just a glimpse of some of the problems with Hinduism,
but I feel compelled to remind us that simply because we
disagree with someone, we should never disrespect or mock them.
If God calls us to speak the truth in love, then we do so,
without condemnation or self-righteousness. We can disagree with
someone and love him or her as Jesus did.
In fact, that is precisely what we are supposed to do.
Enjoy another day in God’s presence!