Class begins and ends with brief Christian prayer. Near the end of the workout, there is a period of extended stretching, during which the instructor will read a simple meditation. The majority of the class is spent doing various postures and exercises that promote flexibility, balance, and core strength.
Pietra Fitness is a wellness program for those who seek full integration of mind, body, and soul. The workouts combine stretching and strengthening exercises and postures with Christian prayer and meditation based on Catholic spirituality. People of all beliefs are welcome to attend. Men’s and women’s classes are separate.
No. There are other programs and teachers that call their workouts “Christian yoga” or “Catholic yoga,” but Pietra Fitness is not one of them. An exercise program cannot be both because Christianity (coming from Christ) and yoga (based in Hinduism) have fundamental differences in theology and philosophy. Most Hindu and Christian philosophers would agree that “Christian yoga” is an oxymoron because the practice is not truly yoga unless it incorporates Hindu spirituality, worldviews, or both. Likewise, Christian activities are firmly centered on Christ. Yoga cannot offer the fullness of a program designed to minister to the human person as he or she is understood within the Christian faith. Christ tells us:
“No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other . . . ”
–Mt 6: 24
Our position is based on that of the Catholic Church. Our goal is to draw from the good and true, wherever it is found, and bring it to fullness in Christ. The Church does not forbid the practice of yoga, but it does strongly caution people that there are very real spiritual dangers to be aware of. We should not take this warning lightly. We must get informed and make very intentional decisions based on solid spiritual and intellectual formation. The Church asks Christians to know and apply their faith. Two documents from the Vatican are great resources for the faithful on this subject:
The Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Some Aspects of Christian Meditation by the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith
Jesus Christ The Bearer of the Water of Life by the Pontifical Council for Culture & Pontifical Council for Interreligious
We believe yoga cannot be separated from its Hindu roots; therefore, yoga cannot be part of a specifically Christian exercise program. We also believe that stretching and strengthening exercises can be separated from yoga. Our bodies can only move in certain ways, and yoga has catalogued most of them. Exercises that are healthful to the normal function of the human body can be separated from yoga—in some cases slightly modified, and in all cases renamed. These movements cannot belong exclusively to yoga because God is the architect of the human body and the author of human movement.
Many movements found in yoga are naturally found in other activities, such as soldiers doing pushups, runners stretching their hamstrings, a gymnast balancing on one leg, and a dancer easing into a split position,. There are yoga poses, however, that should never be used by a Christian because they are explicitly religious in content (e.g. the lotus pose with om fingers). Pietra Fitness also does not incorporate poses that are unnatural for most people and could be potentially dangerous (e.g., odd twisting pretzels).
Yoga is a mind and body practice developed under Hinduism. The goal of yoga is spiritual enlightenment and immersion with the divine. If you are doing exercise only, then you are not truly doing yoga at all—you are simply exercising. Many yogis are actually offended when westerners strip yoga of its spiritual elements and still call it yoga. Again, doing movements that are found in yoga is not the same as practicing yoga, which does involve the body, mind, and soul.
At Pietra Fitness, we emphasize that one cannot regularly practice yoga without some spiritual effect. It would be disrespectful to yogis and naïve of us as Christians to conveniently side-step the inherently spiritual aspects of the practice. Yoga was designed for both physical and spiritual impact, and yoga poses are often chosen and sequenced to open up energy channels or to create an altered state of consciousness. The Church cautions us about this, but she is not alone. Yogis themselves have long recognized the potential dangers of yoga. As stated on yogadvdguru.com:
“The negative side effects of yoga are not always physical. Mental instability can also be a side effect of practicing too much yoga or practicing it incorrectly. Some negative—and severe—side effects can include pseudo death, pseudo psychosis, confusion, increased anxiety, panic attacks, suicidal patterns, depression, homicidal urges, and feelings to self-mutilate. Headaches, temporary blindness, sexual pains, and social issues may also arise. A combination of these symptoms when caused by yoga is typically what is known as Kundalini Syndrome, which stems from performing Kundalini yoga poses incorrectly or too often.”
(Source: http://yogadvdguru.com/yoga-side-effects.shtml, Feb 7, 2014)
Many of these symptoms are spiritual in nature. As Christians, we believe spiritual forces are either good or evil. Nothing is spiritually neutral. These side effects are certainly not good and do not come from God who loves us and grants us a peaceful spirit. Therefore, at Pietra Fitness, we firmly believe it is imperative to avoid energy work and chakra manipulation.
Can you accurately explain the spirituality and philosophy of true yoga? If you do not understand it in-depth and cannot thoroughly explain what it is, then you should not rely on your ability to “filter out” what you are receiving.
Your doctor has training in and offers expertise in medicine, not in spirituality. Doctors know that deep breathing, stretching, strengthening, and relaxing are all excellent ways to improve health. When giving advice, your physician does not necessarily consider the religious beliefs of patients or the spiritual implications of a wellness program. Ask your physicians what exercise goals they are advising (flexibility training, strengthening, relaxation, core work, balance, etc.). Then find a program, in line with your beliefs, that specifically works toward that end.
If you call your class yoga, there is a problem. First, it should not be called yoga if it is simply a stretching class. Westerners must be respectful enough to recognize that yoga is rooted in specific beliefs and philosophies, and it offers an entire way-of-life. When the simple stretching and strengthening postures are isolated from the other important elements of yoga (such as purification and cleansing rituals, controlled breathing exercises, dietary guidelines, spiritual philosophy, etc.), can it accurately be called yoga at all?
Second, by calling your class yoga, you are potentially encouraging students who love your class to go deeper into the practice. You have no control over what your former students may someday learn at the yoga studio of their choice, but you are partially responsible for sending them there.
One example would be the very common advice to “empty your mind” while meditating in class. God gave us a mind to use—to fill with insights, questions, thoughts, prayers, and aspirations. He should be the supreme center of our minds and hearts. Through science, we know that a space is never truly empty: when a void is created, another substance will fill it (even if it is just air). So, when you empty your mind in a yoga class, you are making yourself quite vulnerable spiritually. There are forces that are eager to fill the space you so willingly create.
Another example is chanting. Do you have a translation of what you are saying? For instance, there is a Sanskrit chant often used to begin Ashtanga yoga classes: http://ashtanga4life.com/chants/ (Feb. 7, 2014). The translation explains that in this chant, one is prostrating himself to the “divine serpent…” This clearly is not compatible with Christianity.
Non-Christian eastern mysticism does not recognize a single, supreme, omnipotent, omnipresent God who created all things and all people. Karma, nirvana, reincarnation, total enlightenment—these are all concepts that conflict with the Christian belief system because they establish divinity as attainable for all creatures. Christians recognize there is only One who is divine. Our spiritual union with Him exists in our relationship with Him. It will never put us on par with Him or blur the lines between the Creator and the created. We grow closer to Him through faith, hope, charity, and the sacraments. Christians also believe in absolute truth, rather than personal truths, moral relativism, and paths apart from Christ to reach enlightenment.
Yes! People can certainly separate exercise and prayer, and there are many legitimate forms of both. Nonetheless, activities that integrate the body and the soul seem innately to attract many people. We are both body and soul. In fact, God teaches that our bodies and souls, once separated by physical death, “will be reunited in the final Resurrection” (CCC 366). It is quite natural, then, for people to desire activities that unify body and soul. Walkers and runners often pray the rosary, for example. St. Benedict believed all labor can be a prayer if we are mindful of God: “Ora et Labora” (prayer and work). Combining prayer and exercise is timeless. It helps us to “redeem the time” as St. Paul exhorts us to do in Ephesians 5:16. Praying while we exercise feels good, and it helps us to pray without ceasing.
Pietra Fitness is not a complete solution to the quest for a balanced life. Physically, you may need a variety of activities to promote wellness, like walking, running, playing sports, or dancing. Spiritually, you need the sacraments and a well-developed interior life. Pietra Fitness is a tool to use as you work toward balanced living. It complements other forms of prayer and exercise.
Though some of the physical exercises are similar, the practices of Pietra Fitness and other holistic (mind–body–soul) wellness programs are fundamentally different. There are specific practices that our workouts will never incorporate:
- Seeking immersion into the divine and becoming identified with the divine
- Emptying the mind or seeking altered states of consciousness
- Manipulating energy or doing chakra work
- Using Sanskrit or chanting
- Practicing postures that are explicitly religious in content (e.g. the lotus pose with om fingers)
- Practicing postures that are unnatural and potentially dangerous (e.g. odd twisting pretzels/contortions)
- Practicing unnatural breathing techniques
Our format includes important elements of Christian prayer, such as praise, thanksgiving, petition, and seeking God’s mercy. Further, our physical exercises are drawn from many sources and can be seen in a variety of other fitness activities like track, Pilates, dance, and more.
In the yoga studio I go to, there is a table at the front of the room with statues of Buddha and Hindu deities beside a picture of Christ. As a Christian, I like being able to think about Jesus during my workout, while other students can think about their own religious beliefs. Isn’t this a good thing?
“Then God spoke all these words: I am the LORD your God…. You shall not have other gods beside me. You shall not make for yourself an idol or a likeness of anything in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth; you shall not bow down before them or serve them.” Exodus 20:1-5a
Though you may seek to serve God alone, in the circumstance you describe there are clearly other gods placed beside Our Lord, and you are physically bowing before them in various yoga postures. This action indicates acceptance of relativism (a rejection of absolute truth), polytheism (belief in many gods), or syncretism (the blending of contradictory beliefs or philosophies). Relativism, polytheism, and syncretism are contrary to the truth revealed in Jesus Christ. Here are two more passages from Scripture to consider:
“What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God… therefore, come forth from them and be separate.” 2 Cor. 6:16a, 17a
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is Lord alone; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.” Deut 6:4-5
No. The rededication of a Christian temple indicates the intent of total fidelity to Christ. Willful participation in yoga is participation in an activity based in Hinduism (with connections to Buddhism and the New Age). Just as it would not be right to have a statue of Shiva or Buddha in a Christian sanctuary, so it would not be right to practice yoga as a Christian. Christian participation in yoga becomes syncretism (the blending of contradictory beliefs), which, by its very nature, is no longer explicitly Christian.
Have additonal questions? We would love to hear from you.