Q: Last May, Christopher Heffron’s article “Holistic Care: Treating Mind, Body and Spirit,” cited the benefits of yoga. Speakers whom I greatly respect have said that Catholics should not do yoga or Pilates™. Does the Catholic Church allow this?
A: Although some Catholics consider yoga as “New Age” because of its pre-Christian origins in Hinduism, the Catholic Church has not forbidden it because it does not require a single religious meaning. Pilates™ is an exercise program, not a religious statement. Indeed, there are agnostics and atheists who use yoga and/or Pilates™ to improve their breathing, posture, coordination and concentration.
Yoga began among people who believed in many gods and had no contact with God’s revelation contained in the Bible. When Catholics meditate and pray, they do so as members of a faith community that recognizes Scripture as the word of God and that celebrates the sacraments given to us by Jesus.
Possible misuses of yoga and other non-Christian forms of meditation and prayer are addressed in the October 15, 1989, “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Some Aspects of Christian Meditation.” The letter was issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and is available through its section of vatican.va.
That document cites Vatican II’s Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions that the Catholic Church “rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions” (#2). I think most Americans who use yoga or Pilates™ do so for exercise. There is nothing wrong with that.