Yoga, a complex set of physical exercises and meditation, is widely practiced around the world. However, some are suspicious of this ancient practice and there have been comments by an Irish priest who considers yoga to be Satanic.
Reporter: Samiksha Pattanaik, Multimedia Reporter: Fabeha Syed, Sub-Editor- Deeksha Sharma
Photo Credit: flickr, Creative Commons
The craze for yoga in the West seems to be skyrocketing. Be it a way for maintaining a good figure, general wellbeing or detoxifying and relaxing through meditation, yoga has transformed itself to adapt to the requirements of the West.
The religious underpinnings of yoga have given way to more of a new-age spirituality and fitness regime, but some suspicion about this Hindu practice still lingers.
The most vocal warning came from Father Roland Colhoun, a Catholic priest in Northern Ireland, who fears that yoga and Indian head massages can expose Christians to the “Satan and The Fallen Angels” leading them to “The Kingdom of Darkness”.
Yoga, an ancient practice originating from the Indian subcontinent, is said to be a complex system of philosophical and spiritual thought and physical practices.
In an interview with The Derry Journal, Father Colhoun expressed that while people might take up yoga with good intentions, they unknowingly land themselves in the path to “bad spiritual domain”.
Some Christian conservatives who have time and again raised doubts over the “spiritual dangers of yoga” share his view.
Hilda Silver, a long time yoga practitioner turned trainer, started taking yoga lessons just as a way to keep fit and active.
“I was always interested in sports and gymnastics and for me yoga was just another form of exercise,” she recalls.
“However, after I came out of my first class, I was feeling fantastic. My late father once said I don’t know what you are doing there, but you are glowing.”
Before deciding to go for a teacher’s training, she was overpowered by her own apprehensions about the spiritual side of yoga.
“I had done yoga for a long time but for many years I wouldn’t do the teacher’s training because being a Jewish, I was worried that the training involved a lot of spiritual side. I felt it would move me away from my religious areas, “ says Hilda.
“However, I realised in terms of the religious side, you get as much or as little as you want from it.”
Heather Carey, a yoga student from Marlow, on the other hand believes that yoga opens one up and helps to explore the inner being.
“I was raised in a Christian family as a good Christian person as a child. I never felt yoga conflicts with my beliefs. It rather helps you focus inwardly and look for a higher being as a means to make you that person,” believes Heather.
Yoga and its benefits have been a subject of research for the scientific community for a long time.
Yoga is widely recognised for improving muscle and bone strength, flexibility and balance. It has been found to be beneficial for people with high blood pressure, heart disease, aches and pains – including lower back pain – depression and stress.
In a recent study researchers at National Centre for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) found significant reduction in chronic back pain and depression in people who practiced yoga.
Carey says that yoga has played a major role in bringing her out from a period of stress and anxiety when she was down with ill health and a major hip surgery.
“The impact yoga had on my mind and body was profound. I don’t know how I would have managed to come out of it without yoga,” she stresses.
However, yoga’s origin and the philosophical ideologies attached to it have been the subject of debate in the Western world. Speaking to The Times in 2011, Father Gabriele Amorth, the Vatican’s chief exorcist, raised objection that yoga derives from Hinduism, which according to him is a heathen religion that believes in reincarnation.
Some orthodox discourses also hold the view that Eastern meditation, particularly yoga, stands in contradiction to the biblical idea of spirituality.
“In the UK most yoga classes unless it is really spiritual, they don’t do much of the spiritual side of yoga. It is more to do with relaxation, stretching and meditation,” stresses Hilda.
“People can meditate on their own god. God is God no matter what is your religion,” Hilda concludes.
To understand what yoga means to different people, Westminster World, met Hilda a Yoga trainer, to find out about her experience of being a yoga practitioner and a Jewish believer at the same time.
We also spoke to Heather Carey, who was raised in a Christian family and has been a yoga student for over a year now.