For some, yoga and Christianity are incompatible…

It’s just as well that ones of the benefits of yoga is stress relief. Those helping others to discover the discipline are increasingly burdened with searching for new venues for classes – never an easy or inexpensive task – as church councils decide to bar them from their halls.

Yoga as practised by non-Hindus here in the UK is promoted as a form of physical exercise, and only ‘spiritual’ in the sense that it can induce feelings of inner calm, rather as strolling in the woods, fishing or any number of other leisure activities do. Is it right to see it as a spiritual rival to Christianity?

I’ve read an objection on a Catholic website to a yoga mantra which sounds like ‘so-hum’ and means ‘I am He’: this merging of the divine into the human self is a definite no-no in some people’s holy book.

But Christians believe that God is everywhere, and knows everything. And I know this because I’ve looked at the ‘Christian beliefs concerning God’ section of the BBC religions web page. So even if a yoga practitioner does want to start connecting with the divine, can there be any objection to God becoming part of the ‘self’ during a yoga class?

Pantheism – essentially the belief everything is a part of God and that God equals the universe – is a feature of Hinduism, but it’s not unknown to Christianity. No less a theologian than St Augustine, writing in City of God, asked, “In brief, why is God angry at those who do not worship Him, since these offenders are parts of Himself?”

Unless we are going to say that no activities, unless incontrovertibly Anglican, can take place on church property then I reckon the yoga mats should stay put.

After all, who knows in what spiritual directions a watercolour artist’s thoughts bend in the course of a church hall art class?


West meets East: St Paul’s Cathedral, Kolkata