KOCHI: Yoga may disappear from a large number of Christian institutions in Kerala when Yoga professionals from across the world come to the state in June this year to gain a fist hand experience of its birth place with a prominent Catholic Church declaring the ancient Indian science of exercise and healing as a religious practice incompatible with Catholic faith.
The 10-day education tour titled ‘Yoga Ambassadors Tour’ is being organized by the ministry of AYUSH with the support of Kerala Tourism and the Association of Tourism Trade Organisations India (ATTOI) on the occasion of the International Day of Yoga on June 21 to create awareness about the benefits of Yoga.
However, the Syro Malabar Church, the largest of the three Catholic rites in the state, has viewed the current propagation of yoga by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government at the Centre and the Sangh Parivar as part of the implementation of their Hindutva agenda. The stand has been taken by the doctrinal commission of the Church.
The commission’s report approved by the synod of the Church recently has objected to the practice of yoga in churches and Church institutions under its jurisdiction in India and abroad citing its religious tag. The report has been posted in the latest bulletin of Mananthavady diocese of the Church.
The report was prepared on the basis of the stand adopted by various Church forums such as pontifical councils, the guideline issued by the Viswasa Thirusangam in 1989 as well as a 2003 Vatican document titled ‘Jesus Christ, the bearer of water of life: A Christian reflection on the new age.’
The guideline issued by the Viswasa Thirusangamam under the title ‘Orationis Formas’ asks the faithful not to misinterpret the physical reliefs received through yoga as the soothing effect of the ‘Holy spirit.’
“God cannot be reached through yoga. It is not right to believe that it will be helpful to experience God or to have a personal encounter with the almighty. Yoga doesn’t bring about any improvement in the spirituality of a person,” said the report.
On the contrary, the document said that it was against the tenets of Christianity. It noted that yoga has been teaching contradictory lessons in the basic realms, including that of God, sin, prayer, morality and meditation. Therefore, yoga will not get along with the Christian faith, the document said.
The commission report noted that the Sangh Parivar was trying to propagate yoga in all spheres of life as part of their agenda to convert India into a Hindu nation. So, the laity should be more vigilant about the practice, the report said.
However, the document does not deny the role of yoga as a physical exercise. “We do not ban or oppose yoga for healthcare. Many Christians, including priests and bishops of the church, have been practicing yoga for health reasons. But they should not equate physical experiences stemming from yoga with the workings of the Holy Spirit,” the document warned.
Yoga practitioners in the Christian community, however, do not agree with the doctrinal commission arguments. Father Saiju Thuruthiyil and Sister Infant Treesa, who have been practicing yoga for the past several years, claimed that they could communicate with God better through yoga.
The priest, who has developed a Christian version of the yoga called ‘'Christuanubhava yoga' by integrating yoga with Christian spirituality, said that he will continue with his activities. He has evolved a retreat based on this on the lines of retreats being conducted by various church organisations and has been conducting the same in parishes across the state for the last one decade.
The priest told the South Indian Post that those opposing yoga in church institutions were unaware of the origin of the yoga and its immense benefits. He pointed out that Yoga was in vogue in India even before religions came into existence.
“The fear being expressed by certain sections in the Church that yoga will alienate the faithful from faith is baseless. I have been practicing yoga for the last 15 years and there has been no dilution in my faith. On the contrary it has only strengthened my faith,” Fr Saiju said.
The priest, who has conducted more than 1,000 such retreats in various parts of Kerala so far, said that hundreds of priests, nuns and members of the laity who had participated in the retreat had also similar feelings.
“When I started practicing yoga 15 years ago, many questioned me. But they were convinced when I told them about its benefits. Yoga cannot be viewed as a religious or a physical exercise. It is good for the purification of life, and should be looked at positively,” the priest said.
Saiju said practicing yoga could leave a remarkable impact on individuals. He claimed that it had changed the lives of many youngsters who were leading a frustrated life. After practicing yoga, many students stopped the excessive use of mobile phones, while some turned into vegetarians, he added.
Sr. Treesa had taken to yoga after it helped in curing the acute back pain and wheezing she developed while studying nursing in 1976. However, the 67-year-old nun claimed that she found herself getting close to God as she continued practicing yoga. The nun is now running two yoga centres at Muvattupuzha in Ernakulam district and Thodupuzha in Idukki district to promote yoga among her fellow believers.
The priest and the nun are of strong belief that yoga could elevate the spiritual experience and hoped that the Church will review its stand and accept yoga as part of the Christian spiritual life.