My Own View From Om to Amen – Yoga, the Catholic Church, Mary DeTurris Poust and Me

Albany area resident and Catholic writer par excellence, Mary DeTurris Poust has written about her Catholicism and her yoga practice.  (The first link is to Patheos, but you can also read it at Mary’s own blog or at OSV Daily Take.) This is always a controversial pairing with many saying that yoga is antithetical to Catholic teachings; some even call it outright dangerous. In both response and support, I am writing my own yoga story, from my very Catholic perspective.

I will be completely honest by saying that I had many physical and mental issues that stem from childhood sexual abuse. God has blessed me richly with healing and grace. That said, I suffered from many physical issues and stress for many years.

As it happened, extremely overweight and unhappy at the time, 9/11 struck and I was in NYC. While 5 miles north of the imminent danger, I suffered a resurgence of PTSD. God knows I prayed and prayed and cried out for healing. I was in therapy at the time, but somehow yoga kept calling to me, but I was afraid to go. Then one day, I mustered up the courage and went to a local studio.

My life was never the same after that.

It never occurred to me that yoga was antithetical to my Catholic faith. In fact, if anything, it reminded me what is important about organized religion and my own faith practice. Take Mass for example – I attend weekly, daily when I can. People ask me if I go because I am afraid of hell! Hardly! Liturgy is essential because my faith is not enlivened and practiced alone!

Yoga is similar – I can watch all the yoga DVDs in the world, but nothing takes the place of a class in a studio. It is about community, presence and service as I came to understand it.

Yoga helped to heal me deeply and in many ways and I experienced in and through the context of my Catholicism, not separate from it. Idol worship? Evil? Hardly – all is seen and experienced through Christ for me.

Allow me to relay two anecdotes about my old yoga practice, most of which happened at The Birchwood Center in Nyack, NY. One took place on the 1st anniversary of 9/11. As I sat in the studio, looking out over the Hudson, the same Hudson that the WTC apparently used as a navigational tool, I made some transition from fear and rage and pain into some peace. The blue of the sky, the peace of the clouds could not be taken from me. I was transformed. Was it some false God? Or was it the presence of Christ as I was in a place where grace flooded in?

The second took place some years later, probably 2007. My life had experienced numerous changes and transitions and healing. That said, I still had (and have) my moments. One day I just couldn’t sink into my yoga; it was a hard class for me to surrender to. At the end of class, we were in savasana, or corpse pose, that pose of rest and repose.

My favorite yoga instructor was Charlene Bradin.  I’ve taken so many yoga classes, so many from great teachers, but Charlene stands alone in my mind; she is remarkable. In any case, as we were quiet, Charlene would bring bolsters to anyone who wanted to place them under their knees. As she placed mine, she touched my leg to adjust it ever-so-slightly. It was at that moment I began to weep. Her touch was so healing and helped me to release a wave of something that I needed to let go of. Let go, Let God as the saying goes. That small touch was grace unleashed for me that day.

For me the ultimate thing is that our catholicity invites us to be fully in the world with our faith. Most things can be integrated. No I am not talking about relativism, but I am talking about how to be and remain fully rooted in the incarnate world as a Roman Catholic. Which also means I can take a yoga class and not be a party to evil or idol worship! Yoga is about surrender, community, service and love. None of these things go against my faith and in fact support it.

Yoga has healed me and my faith is the most healing balm, the love of Christ. The two are not incompatible for me.

What say you?

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10 thoughts on “My Own View From Om to Amen – Yoga, the Catholic Church, Mary DeTurris Poust and Me

  1. Thanks, Fran. A beautiful post. And I agree about the sense of community experienced in yoga class — even one at a gym or YMCA. As you know, there have been some strong voices out there condemning my view that yoga can benefit Catholic prayer life. But there have been even more voices expressing what we both have experienced. I'm so blessed to know deeply spiritual Catholic friends like you who have found peace and healing and prayer through the movement of yoga.Namaste,Mary

  2. I learned yoga India, where many Catholics practice yoga. My teacher taught me that it takes twelve years of assiduous studies (going way beyond asānās) to become a yogi.If I remember well the root of yoga is yūg, like in yoke, meaning 'union' as in union with Godde.I find yoga is good for me physically, mentally, emotional, and spiritually.Too bad some Catholics are afraid of yoga. I would recommend yoga to be taught in Catholic Churches and in the Vatican, so as to limber bodies, minds and spirits.

  3. Great post, Fran (I didn't know you had a blog too!). I've done yoga in classes and from DVDs, and am amazed at the sheer physical healing it brings to me. About 3 years ago I was having joint problems to the point where I could hardly walk. I don't know what was wrong with me – was it the Femara (anti-estrogen drug I have to take) or just getting old? Doctor said it was arthritis and suggested physical therapy. Instead, I started doing 15 minutes of yoga every morning. I'm healed!!! I will never stop doing my morning yoga. Never.Once I was going to a yoga class on Sunday mornings. One of the men there used to say that this was his "Church". I really understood what he was saying, even though I'm sure that it's that sort of thing that get certain Catholics bent out of shape (pun intended!) :-)

  4. I've had a few yoga instructors who incorporate elements of eastern spirituality, so I guess I understand the Catholic wariness of yoga, but I also think that God created us in bodily form for a reason, and for that reason (whatever it is), He wants us to care for and use our bodies. I haven't been to yoga in a while (kind of obsessed with swimming) but I know I'll be back. Fabulous post!

  5. God not only created us in bodily form but came into the world in bodily form in Jesus! That says a ton about bodies, about the incarnational nature of our faith.CDP, maybe you should make your kids yogis instead of swimmers?! Thanks to you all, Claire, Claire, Beth and Mary!

  6. I absolutely agree with you Fran. Just look at what yoga has done for you…it is a gift, a blessing and a yet another way for you to connect with God. When we are able to see God in everything than we are surely seeing God. Stretch for me, ok?Andie

  7. I have not heard the strong voices out there condemning the view that yoga can benefit Catholic prayer life- certainly here in the UK I have not noticed any backlash against it( probably because there are so many couch potatoes here anyway) But one thing that strikes me is that one of the greatest contemplatives in the Catholic Church, Thomas Merton deeply understood and appreciated yoga from Asia in its various forms. Year after year of arduous practice in the Catholic monastic tradition transformed him into an awesome yogi indeed, and high Tibetan roshis recognized him as such. These people who condemn yoga are "eejits" in my humble and contorted opinion( that's Irish for idiots in case you don't know).Blessings Fran and thank you for this wonderful post.

  8. Thank you for this post, Fran. Although I'm not Catholic I have also experienced the lack of acceptance of my yoga practice by fellow parishioners in my church (Episcopalian), and commend you for hanging in there with both spiritual practices despite this friction. I, too, have a history of sexual abuse and I think yoga is an ideal spiritual practice for people like us, since the wound is both physical and spiritual. Being able to accept and love our own bodies after such an experience is critical and yoga has helped me tremendously with this. The teachings of the Christian church has, to be honest, not been much help to me with this aspect, which is ironic given the emphasis on the body of Christ. Ah well… Peace be with you on your journey!

  9. This post has really touched me in its beauty and truth today… I practice yoga as well and have sometimes wondered myself if I'm doing something wrong. But I notice the rewards of my practice as I keep Jesus the center of my life.. and I believe that this peaceful practice allows me to live the kind of life Jesus wants for me. Thanks for this reassurance :)

  10. Wonderful post, Fran. I have tried yoga a couple of times – once in college and I took a class when I was pregnant with my daughter to help with headaches. Both classes were great. I am very unlimber (is that a word?). I should try it again. Flexibility (both physical and spiritual) is so important.

    We have something in common, you and I. Healing from childhood sexual abuse is a long, hard road. I will pray for both of us – for peace, healing and strength. Love to you!

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