Does Downward-Facing Dog lead you straight to the devil? It can, according to a Catholic priest in Northern Ireland who has sparked a social media firestorm for reportedly saying that yoga practitioners may unknowingly set themselves on a path toward "Satan and the Fallen Angels."
Priest: Yoga Poses a "Spiritual Health Risk"
“Yoga is certainly a risk,"Fr. Roland Colhoun told the Derry Journal. "There’s the spiritual health risk. When you take up those practices from other cultures, which are outside our Christian domain, you don’t know what you are opening yourself up to. The bad spirit can be communicated in a variety of ways. I’m not saying everyone gets it, or that it happens every time, and people may well be doing yoga harmlessly, but there‘s always a risk." He also noted that the Pope has also warned his flock not to "seek spiritual answers in yoga classes."
Did you just roll up your yoga mat after doing a quick sweep for the Bad Spirit? We didn't think so.
Yoga Teacher: Yoga Has Many Spiritual Health Benefits
Yoga teacher and OMGAL.com blogger Rebecca Pacheco, author of DO YOUR OM THING: Bending Yoga Tradition to Fit Your Modern Life (HarperWave; on sale March 3, 2015), calls Colhoun's comments "unfortunate," but good for a laugh. "Yoga’s popularity and evolution have resulted in millions of people being more awake and aware in their bodies, minds, and spirits, and this is an incredibly healthy thing," Pacheco says. "I have to giggle at myself a bit, too. I just wrote a yoga book that’s dedicated in loving memory to my very devout Catholic grandmother. She was my greatest 'guru.' I would be happy to send Father Colhoun a copy."
4 Spiritual Health Benefits of Yoga
Far from being a "risk," yoga is actually massively beneficial to the spiritual health of many practitioners, adds Pacheco, a former master teacher at the Baptiste Power Yoga Institute who now teaches her signature Om Athlete and creative Vinyasa yoga classes in the Boston area. Here are her top four reasons why yoga is good for your spirit:
Yoga makes people more awake and aware, often from the first moment of their first class standing tall on their mats, breathing more deeply than ever before, quieting down the outside noise and listening inward. From there, that awareness can grow and expand into all areas of life, including spiritual life. I agree that we need to take good care of our spiritual health, but yoga is not the danger here. Being asleep at the wheel is.
The first teaching of the first limb of the 8-limbed yoga path is ahimsa, known as non-violence or non-harming. It’s yoga’s top priority, and a teaching that echoes through many spiritual traditions, including Catholicism. My hope is that Father Colhoun comes to realize the similarities that yoga has with his faith.
3. Mind/Body Health.
The mind and body do the work of the spirit here on Earth in daily life. When they’re strong and healthy, so is the spirit. They’re all inextricably linked, and the world needs strong, healthy spirits of all faiths right now.
The final chapter of my book is called "Love." To me, God is “Love with a capital L.” That’s how writer Anne Lamott describes it. If your yoga makes you better able to love (your life, your family, the world, your neighbors, your faith), then that is the highest religion and best thing you can do for your spiritual health.