british priest bans yoga in his parish

Fr. John Chandler, parish priest of St. Edmund’s in Southampton, England, banned yoga in his parish because it has its origins in non-Christian religions.The parish argues (via a spokesman) that the Catholic Church cannot permit activities which have their origins in non-Christian religions to take place on church premises.

Liz Dodd, a news reporter for The Tablet, has written a wonderful blog post outlining the stupidity of this move. She describes the many physical and mental benefits of yoga. She also points out how our Christian faith has borrowed from other religious traditions for centuries,

The origins of Christian contemplation lie firmly in non-Christian devotion. The Desert Mothers and Fathers of the third century AD – the spiritual parents of Christian contemplation – were inspired by the monasticism of secluded, non-Christian communities like the Essenes. Stylites – ‘pillar saints’ – like St Simeon Stylites – based their ascetic practice of living on small platforms (St Simeon notched up 37 years) on pre-Christian Syrian contemplative practice. Persian Zoroastrian, Mithraic and Greek and neo-Platonic religious movements all shaped early Christian tradition. And, of course, the Catholic Church succeeded so dramatically in Central and South America precisely because it integrated elements of indigenous religion into worship.

Thomas Merton is but one example of a modern day saint (not officially canonized) who looked to eastern contemplative methods to deepen his own Trappist spirituality. Br. Robert Lentz, OFM painted a moving icon depicting Merton dressed as a Buddhist in meditation pose. His description of the icon promotes the wisdom of seeking the good in other religious traditions in order to nurture our own faith.

Stories of pastors who enforce their own narrow-minded philosophies on others are depressing. We need fewer prophets of doom who see evil all around them. And we certainly need fewer paranoid minds who believe that a good Catholic is one who locks the doors of the church to prevent any new ideas to enter in. Locking doors just allows staleness to grow.

I’ll happily give the last word to Ms. Dodd,

I was taught to end my yoga practice by saying ‘Namaste’ to the teacher and my classmates. It translates (from Sanskrit) to: ‘I bow to honour the divine I see in you’. If Fr Chandler has a theological problem with that, I think his chakras need de-clogging.

14 thoughts on “british priest bans yoga in his parish

  1. My thoughts on your wonderful presentation yesterday and a bit of this fits into today’s post. How can one make so many decisons for the many. I can assure you if Father John were more open to the practice of yoga he would be more at peace, he could still his heart to listen to the messages of his Creator God and his physical body would beome more healthy.

    I am a seventy year old Catholic. I read scripture, always saw it as something to study and analyze. It was an intellectual piece for me, and bible studies didn’t take it much further than that.

    Twelve years ago, when I was introduced to the practice of yoga, I began to study the Bhagavad Gita and the Sutras. Well, to my wonderful surprise, I fell more in love with the Christian Scriptures…I began to know “how to live them”, and why particular events in the christian writings were written as they were. Because I went to Catholic school for 12 years I KNEW the Beatitudes, but did I truly strive to live them…not with much understanding and enthusiasm. Studying yogic philosophies changed all of that.

    I have moved away from total Mainline practice and have immersed myself into living what Jesus wants me to live…what God intended for me to know and believe. Too many rules, rigidity, personal condemnation can be a poison.

    I need to be fed on a daily basis. If you had the choice of eating at a restaurant a few times a week and went to the local eating venue because it was geographically near you (but the food was mediocre) OR having a choice to go five miles further to an eating establishment that was reasonable in price and served excellent food, what would I choose? What would you choose?

    For many years I thought I was an outstanding Catholic because I went to church at least every Sunday, did more volunteer work than I could sometime handle, and in one incidence, I even got a paying position in the church…oh my! Being spiritual has made me more committed to who I am and who and what the Divine wants me of me. I have become aware of God’s gratefulness, guidance and protection.. For seven years, I’ve been reading, meditating and sharing scripture five days a week (online) with seven women from all over the world. The greatest spiritual support system I could possibly hope for. The Lectio Divina process has brought me to another plane…one of hope, love and compassion.

    It appears to me Alan Miller believes this cannot work. I know more about what makes my spiritual heart beat and more mindful of the placement of my soul, checking in more frequently than if I were going to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Realizing I have hurt someone I have been given the grace to ask for forgiveness. I feel nourished not agitated. I have confidence to reach out without fear of rejection because I have learned not to take it personally, therefore, instead of holding back I just move on to the next challenge.

    I am supported by my KULA, Sanskrit for COMMUNITY. NAMASTE to all who sit at OUR LADY OF THE ROUND TABLE. In gratefulness to all the Divine has put on my yogic journey. SHANTI (peace)…Chris

  2. Beautiful, Chris!!! I was so hoping for your wise voice to offer a response…a response from the heart and from experience. Thank you so much. Of course, I had you in mind when I read the story. You are a model of the gift that can be found in intertwining a serious yoga practice with your Christian faith.


  3. Wonderful, Isabella. I couldn’t agree with you more, based on many years of experience in India. Integrating yoga and other inculturated aspects into our Christian life is a deep enrichment. People say that it feels so close to them, in tune with their inner instincts. Of course, the same is often true for people in the West.
    – Dave Fleming, s.m.

  4. Welcome to the dialogue, David…its so good to hear your voice! I have always been moved by your deep love of the many cultures in India, and how you so respectfully weave them into our liturgical celebrations. You are a model and inspiration to so many of us.

  5. “Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions,”
    “. . . In Hinduism men explore the divine mystery and express it both in the limitless riches of myth and the accurately defined insights of philosophy. They seek release from the trials of the present life by ascetical practices, profound meditation and recourse to God in confidence and love. Buddhism in its various forms testifies to the essential inadequacy of this changing world. It proposes a way of life by which man can, with confidence and trust, attain a state of perfect liberation and reach supreme illumination either through their own efforts or by the aid of divine help. . . . The Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions. ”

    (Vatican Council II Documents, No. 56, Nostra Aetate, “Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions,”, 28 Oct. 1965, Vol. I, Para. 2, p. 739.)

  6. If Fr. John Chandler rejects some or all the teachings of Vatican II he is on a slippery slope. Which of the other twenty Church counsels and their teachings does he also feel free to reject? Is he teaching his people that they can accept some teachings of some of the Counsels, but they are free to choose or to reject others? I think he is on a very slippery slope indeed.

  7. I have fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. Yoga is absolutely essential for managing my pain levels. It is also keeping my body flexible and strong. As someone with multiple chemical sensitivities & asthma, I find that I often go long pauses without breathing, and/or I breathe very shallowly because it is uncomforable for me. Doing yoga reminds me to take deep, regular, calming breaths. It teaches me to become attuned to my body, to relax into the pain, and to breathe into the pain. I can see no spiritual harm in doing this. I do not do any of the meditative aspects of yoga because I am not interested.

    1. Yoga has such wonderful physical benefits, as you so described so well. When one cares for the body, one also cares for the soul! 😉

  8. Why can’t you understand that a catholic church hall can only be used for catholic activties to spread the word of the gospel and yoga is a religion when you chant during yoga you are praying to other gods whever you know it or not. Pilates is just the excersise and is no chanting. You wouldn’t expect a mosque to allow this going on but you expect the catholic church to allow it because of all the liberal and wishy washy priests who want to please others and not follow there faith. We need more priests like him who will stand up to his faith and save souls. Liberal is slowly withdrawing fro+ the church and I’m very pleased that it is.

    1. welcome to the dialogue, Rebecca. All comments and views are welcome here. Just a wee suggestion…..phrases like ‘why can’t you understand’ can come across as rude and judgmental. It is possible to disagree and still be respectful of the opinion of others. Peace to you.

      1. I’m sorry if it comes across this way but why should you think fr john chandler should listen and understand your thoughts on yoga but you cannot do the same for him?????

        As i said before to much liberal in the church today

  9. Just claiming orthodoxy as a Catholic does not mean spiritual transformation. Also, Jesus said many things that are Buddhist; for example, “The kingdom of heaven is within you”. He might have been a liberal.

    1. Jesus was not liberal at all and you can see this im scripture of course he was a loving man but very strict in teachings and to live by his teachings and not pick and chose that fit in with your life style. Fr john is not against yoga but just that it shouldn’t be done in a catholic church hall.

  10. O.K., Jesus was a conservative who broke many religious and civil laws to bring change that liberated people.

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