In the U.S. a Catholic university has banned yoga classes because of fears the practice “has some potential for eastern mysticism”, The Independent reported on Friday.
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 practicing yoga.
“Yoga, as created, has some potential for eastern mysticism which has caused concern among members of the Catholic Church," the college’s president, Stephen Minnis, told campus newspaper BC Circuit.
“[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,” he added.
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 practiced 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. 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," said Rev John Riley, chancellor for the Archdiocese of Kansas City, to the Wichita Eagle.
Yogis responded with disappointment.
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.