In one of his previous homies, Pope Francis reminded listeners that practices like yoga aren’t capable of opening our hearts up to God. “You can take a million catechetical courses, a million courses in spirituality, a million courses in yoga, Zen and all these things. But all of this will never be able to give you.freedom”, he explained.
While yoga was just one example offered among many, the Holy Father touched on a matter of great debate among faithful Catholics who happen to prefer this kind of exercise. Can Catholics participate in yoga?
The answer is a bit more nuanced than one might think. Catholics should not participate in any of the “spiritual” aspects associated with yoga, but technically can do the actual physical exercises. However, many people who practice yoga caution that it is often difficult, if not impossible, to separate the exercises from the meditations.
For example, a common mantra repeated in yoga is “So’ham” that roughly translates to “I am the universal self”. This focus on the self is contrary to the focus on God to which we are called. In the words of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI: “Christian prayer… flees from impersonal techniques or from concentrating on oneself, which can create a kind of rut, imprisoning the person praying in a spiritual privatism which is incapable of a free openness to the transcendental God” (Some Aspects of Christian Meditation, 3) (Originally quoted here).
The Pope tells us that only the Holy Spirit can “move the heart” and make it “docile to the Lord, docile to the freedom of love”. If we are seeking a zen-like peace from yoga meditation, then we are seeking peace from the wrong source.
But is it possible to combine exercise and prayer? Founders of SoulCore, a core workout that combines isometric exercises with praying the rosary, say that it is. Deanne Miller and Colleen Scariano explained that their new exercise movement is born from the desire to nourish both body and soul through exercise.
Miller referenced the inspiration for the upcoming World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, which is St. Irenaeus’s quote that “the glory of God is man fully alive”. “In other words”, Miller explained, “in our physical movement, when tied to prayer-strengthening from the inside-out-we are FULLY ALIVE.”
I had the opportunity to try out SoulCore and it is intense and rejuvenating at the same time. The exercises can be tailored to your own strength level and various movements correspond with the prayers in the rosary. SoulCore is designed in a way that you are resting during meditations on the mystery of the Rosary and then completing core exercises during the prayers. Not only was I happy to discover the faithfulness with which the prayers were said, I felt SoulCore added a new component to my prayer.
Deanne affirmed my experience with her own, sharing, “We are called to be fit instruments for Christ – mind, body, heart, soul – to do His will. Physical exercise adds depth to our prayer that helps lead us toward being a fit instrument for Christ. Strengthening from our deep interior outward. “
Her words are backed by the words of the Catechism that tells us, “The need to involve the senses in interior prayer corresponds to a requirement of our human nature. We are body and spirit, and we experience the need to translate our feelings externally. We must pray with our whole being to give all power possible to our supplication”.
So, for those people who enjoy core-strengthening exercises, but want to avoid yoga, SoulCore is not only a viable alternative, it also could add to your spiritual life!
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The only spiritual practice which I found that was compatible with the Biblical God was to be anxious for nothing by casting all of my care on the Lord (see 1Peter 5:5-7 and Philippians 4:6-7).
There are a lot of spiritual practices in Catholicism that end up being Christian coated Buddhism or Hinduism. These practices are as ineffective as those that do not use Christian imagery.