Fr. Kneemiller on Catholics and New Age (II): A new twist on yoga

The first article of Fr. Kneemiller on Catholics and New Age attracted much interest, thus we decide to reproduced his second article in this series here, also from The Catholic Messenger:

(This column is the second and concluding one of Father Bill Kneemiller’s reflections on his involvement in New Age practices.)

A prime example of “New Age” inroads is the phenomenal growth of the practice of yoga in our culture. Yoga’s claims for relaxation and health benefits appeal to the estimated 15 million to 20 million U.S. citizens taking instructions at more than 20,000 locations. A Catholic priest recently told me that the exercise part is not so bad, it’s the “ooga-booga” that goes with it. I understand his comment to mean foreign terms and ideas which we may not truly understand, but go along with.

The word yoga in Sanskrit means union and implies a religious yearning for union with a higher being. But, can simple exercises of yoga be separated from its philosophy? The American Heritage dictionary’s primary definition for yoga is: “A Hindu discipline aimed at training the consciousness for a state of perfect spiritual insight and tranquility.” Only secondarily does it mention a system of exercises.

Yoga is more than mere body exercise, it’s Hindu prayer using body postures, the following picture is from a Hindu site, where you can also read what prayers these postures are standing for, just click Here.

Yoga is more than mere body exercise, it's Hindu prayer using body postures

In 2003, the Pontifical Document “Jesus Christ, the Bearer of the Water of Life: A Christian Reflection on the New Age” states that yoga, Zen Buddhism and other ancient religions flow into New Age thought.  The key difficulty for Christians is that the origins of yoga were prayer postures to Hindu deities.  I can hear the objections as I write these words: “But yoga helps me to relax”… “It’s just simple stretching exercises”… “Yoga has moved far beyond that.”

I know the exact sentiments as I also taught yoga for years. Now when I see New Age literature, the Eastern, or Hindu terminology jumps off the page.  I no longer think it’s cool to talk about “self-awareness” or “higher consciousness.” However, the desire for good health and being limber is something all of us desire.  I will take a look at how some Evangelical writers are advocating “PraiseMoves” as a substitute for traditional yoga.

Recently in “Christianity Today” author Holly Vicente Robaina wrote about the 180-degree turn of her views on yoga in the article: “Take a pass on yoga.” Her findings mirror my conclusions: “Yoga has a history, a ‘setting’ of postures and language that pays homage to Hindu deities. While American instructors may water down that language, I think it’s safe to say most are still using it. The word ‘namaste’ is still used in many yoga classes … and it’s a term Hindus use when paying respect to their deities. Even when used between friends, the term still really means, ‘I bow to the god within you.’”

As I write these words, I think of the hundreds of times I practiced a yoga posture called the sun salute, meaning “I bow down to the sun.” I never thought of the meaning behind the words. But now I do. I also recall that the first commandment makes this very clear, “Have no other gods before me.”  In all those years did any of this ever occur to me? Not really, as I was so caught up in the lure of physical prowess, mystical experiences, or stories of past yogis of old.

The solution for Holly Robaina is to substitute “PraiseMoves” for her yoga class, for both adults and children. Laurette Willis, founder of PraiseMoves (www.praisemoves.com), offers an in-depth view of yoga and alternatives.  PraiseMoves is an alternative to yoga, and is not “Christian yoga.”

Her foundational Scripture is 1 Corinthians 6:20, “For you were purchased at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.”

People who have been looking for a safe alternative to yoga have told her that PraiseMoves is answered prayer. PraiseMoves integrates a posture with a corresponding Bible Scripture. For example, during a posture called The Altar, participants reflect on Romans 12:1: “I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.”

Doesn’t it make sense to integrate exercise and prayer?  After all, many individuals pray when they walk or jog in the morning. As I reviewed some of the Evangelical authors, I realized that they adapted the stretching exercises of yoga and Christianized them, something Catholics have been doing for centuries with pagan rituals. Our Catholic faith is extraordinarily rich, vibrant and full of inexhaustible treasures of God’s word.

We have the living presence of Christ in the Eucharist, which is a treasure beyond description. We have the tender and immaculate love of Mary leading us to her Son. We are also blessed with the communion of saints, cheering us on to a closer intimacy with Christ our savior.  If we can experience even a small taste of these spiritual treasures, their beauty will fill our hearts’ deepest longing for God’s grace and presence.

(Fr. Kneemiller is pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Hills and St. Mary parishes in Lone Tree and Nichols.)

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9 Responses to Fr. Kneemiller on Catholics and New Age (II): A new twist on yoga

  1. leftfooter says:

    Excellent, and thank you. Tweeted.

    God bless!

  2. Brother Burrito says:

    In my professional life, I have often joked that giving anaesthesia is a form of yoga,

    ‘where you concentrate on the breathing

    of someone else’.

    Forget yoga, just be continuously mindful of God and your neighbour.

    That should get you home.

  3. toadspittle says:

    .
    Yoga.

    “Ooga-booga!” (Toad quotes.)

    So now we know. The Yoga man really is the Bogey Man.

    What a storm in a tiny Indian tea cup. All a wee bit of a stretch, Toad opines.

    “As I write these words, I think of the hundreds of times I practiced a yoga posture called the sun salute, meaning “I bow down to the sun.” I never thought of the meaning behind the words.” admits Father Kneemiller, stiffly.

    Coo, er. And when Toad whistles “The Sun Has Got His Hat On!” as he walks his dogs, he’s committing blasphemy.

    God knows where that leaves sunbathing. A Satanic orgy, he supposes. And there’ll be no more, “Doing The Okey Cokey,” at weddings and suchlike.
    Pagan fertility dance, no doubt.

    And anyway, what has all this fantastic silliness got to do with the Pope and pedophilia?

  4. kathleen says:

    There you go again Toad, trotting down your little green lane and avoiding the crux of the matter.

    I don’t sunbathe – my skin is too fair – but I used to try to, suffering the consequences afterwards of course…. ouch! Never did I, or any of my bronzed friends doing the same, feel we were worshipping the sun as we soaked up our vitamin D. Neither this nor the other things you mention (whistling a tune, dancing the “Okey Cokey” etc.,) which are all quite harmless, are the same as the systematic idol worshipping hidden behind yoga exercises.

    As a youngster I once went along to yoga classes – it was the fashion! Right from the start I felt there was something creepy and “not quite right” about it without being able to put my finger on what it was. After a while I gave it up, feeling uneasy about the whole yoga set up.

    Toad asks: “And anyway, what has all this fantastic silliness got to do with the Pope…”
    Read the last two paragraphs of the article again Toad. It has everything to do with Catholicism!

    Thank you Fr Kneemiller for clearing up this doubt for so many of us.

  5. Lori says:

    Thank you for this great confirmation. I was totally hooked on Bikram Yoga for 10 years , 3 x a week, and absolutely LOVED it. Bikram is hot yoga practiced in a room about 115 degrees for 90 minutes. Believe me I never missed a class. Right up front and in the center. Nothing better, so I thought. I also am a practicing devout Catholic who honors her faith wholly. I also am a Extraordinary minister who attends mass regularly. About 6 years ago I had a conversion in my faith. I started a non denominational bible study after praying that Jesus would reveal Himself and help me to learn more about Him and what He wants me do for HIM. As Jesus, the patient loving God that He is, showed me a closer intimate relationship, He began to unfold the beauty of His love by His word. I fell head over heels in love with Him. Little by little, I noticed things that felt uncomfortable while practicing yoga. I put them aside by saying, it’s just exercise. I began praying the Lords prayer while I rested the 15 seconds between asanas. Then Hail Mary’s as well. This seemed to satisfy me for a short while. I started modifying certain postures taking out the particular poses that resembled Hindu gods. I came to class one day only to find a budda sitting with candles around it in the front of my class. There I was in the face of something I really didn’t like… I moved to the very edge of the class and ignored it. My instructor wondered why I had changed my stance and moved to the side. Long story shortened, I finally had the revelation that this was NOT where I needed to be. I had seen a show on EWTN by Johnette Binkavich about just this subject, and on a day when I needed to make a deposit for my bible study I passed my studio, only to hear Johnette interviewing someone about the danger of yoga. At that very moment with no regrets, other that my aches and pains would return if I didn’t stretch regularly, I walked away and didn’t renew my annual fee. Everything came due at once… The Holy Spirit removed me from this state I was in. Now , it’s been over a year and I feel great! Spiritually and emotionally.. Thank you God for looking after me. Only thing I need to know, who can I seek to remove the demons in my heart. I did my class with my sister and she and I can’t be in the same room together whiteout feeling anger toward one another… What should I do? Help. Blessings, Lori

  6. Lori Dahlstrom says:

    This is Lori again… I have come to realize that over the 10 years I studied yoga, my relationship with my sister became one of competition anger and jealousy… I am looking for someone who can help me get over this bad sense of not wanting to be near her. Do you think that I need to see a priest who can remove the bad entity that surrounds my sister and I??? I can’t be near her without wanting to leave. Please help me find some answers.. Thank you! Lori

  7. The Phelt says:

    yes a priest, who in particular sees the danger in such practices… heard that a deliverance prayer can be said over you and your sister. from Fr Kneemiller’s interview in The Journey Home. 🙂 I realize 3 years have passed since you wrote your comment. Hope you’ve already contacted a priest by now 🙂 God bless!

  8. RatherBeAnon says:

    I totally understand the desire to find an alternative, but after reading through the PraiseMoves website, there are definitely red flags that Catholics themselves need to be aware of. The founder, while not explicitly anti-Catholic, has several anti-Catholic stances, including things like contemplative prayer and lectio divina not being Christian or of God. She also specifically singles out the prayer pose of our palms being together, fingers pointed up, as something of pagan origin and for this reason refuses to ever use it in PraiseMoves. This is a prayer pose that is explicitly required in the rubrics of the Mass.

    I think it is safe to say that if we are to avoid yoga because it contradicts the Catholic faith, we should also avoid PraiseMoves for the same reason.

    Interestingly, many of her poses are identical to yoga poses, which goes to show that it is the intention of the heart behind the pose that makes it good or evil.

  9. johnhenrycn says:

    “Interestingly, many of her poses are identical to yoga poses…” sayeth RatherBeAnon.

    Also interestingly, some of the poses in the sketch are identical to the sheet of instructions given to me by a physiotherapist 14 years ago when I was suffering from a serious bout of lumbar pain and strain. My wife putting her foot on my back didn’t help me much (although she enjoyed it) but the physio sure did. Now, I didn’t convert to Catholicism until one year later. If I’d known of the similarity between physiotherapy and hatha yoga back then, I probably would have cancelled physio and offered up my pain to God.

    Alas, after 14 years, I must return to physio next week – this time for cervical pain. I shall mention to my therapist and insist that none of the exercises he recommends bear any resemblance to yoga.

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