The asanas, the third limb of Ashtanga, is the most familiar to our Western culture. An asana is a yoga posture. Many people focus on the exercise portion of yoga because everyone wants to try the newest fitness fad. This also constitutes one of the defenses for Catholics practicing yoga. If a Catholic practices yoga just for the poses, then that is ok. But the asanas are only one portion of the eight limb yoga practice. Naturally a yogi cannot just stop here.
Movements and gestures are essential in yoga and Catholicism as well. Using yoga as a prayer to God can help the physicality and spirituality of a Catholic practitioner. This would fall under the fifth type of prayer defined in the Catechism, “Prayer of Praise.” The Catechism goes further to explain prayer: “Whether prayer is expressed in words or gestures, it is the whole man who prays. But in naming the source of prayer, Scripture speaks sometimes of the soul or the spirit, but most often of the heart (more than a thousand times)” (CCC 2562).
Think of the so-called Catholic aerobics. In mass, the congregation has to stand, sit, and kneel. This is not because we want to make sure that Catholics stay in shape, even though that’s a plus. The purpose is that we realize the body-soul connection. The Church has a huge focus on this body-soul connection as we can see in the Catechism quote mentioned above. Also, there are multiple documents on the Theology of the Body explaining the true beauty and dignity of the human purpose. When we are performing the Catholic aerobics, we are engaging our entire beings into prayer.
While the asanas are a very important part of a yoga practice, they are not the only aspect of yoga. To practice yoga, one must practice self-love, patience, kindness, peace, non-judgement, and more. One of my favorite quotes about yoga stems from my own insecurities: “No one cares if you can do a handstand if you are still an asshole.” I can’t do a handstand y’all. I might never be able to. Before teacher training I thought I had to be able to pretzel my body to be a good yogi. That is NOT the case. The more I gave up judgement on my abilities, the easier these “more difficult” poses came to me. But I am on a spiritual journey that will probably be just as good if I have a handstand or not. That’s the truth. Life is more than our outer actions, it’s about our internal beings.
The entire Catholic life can be a prayer of praising God. In every action, a Catholic should seek to honor God. A yoga practice can be used as a way to fully connect the body to prayer.
Peace and Namaste,