A Catholic bishop has told schools in his diocese they shouldn’t teach yoga because it’s ‘not of Christian origin’.
Surprisingly, he chose not to target other subjects which could be considered un-Christian, like science and its contradictory lessons about the creation of the Earth, but I suppose you have to pick your battles.
Alphonsus Cullinan, bishop of Waterford and Lismore in the Republic of Ireland, made the comments in a letter sent to schools across Waterford earlier this month.
While yoga might not seem like a common and vital part of the curriculum, Waterford News contacted a number of schools in Waterford who confirmed teachers and pupils practised yoga and mindfulness at times to help students improve their physical and mental health.
However, Bishop Cullinan warned yoga was not suitable for a parish school setting, ‘especially not during religious education time’.
He added that mindfulness had been practised in the Christian tradition ‘in a sense’ since the beginning, though stated in his letter: ‘Christian mindfulness is not mindlessness but is meditation based on Christ, emptying the mind of everything unnecessary so that we become aware of the presence and love of Christ’.
See the full letter below:
Bishop Cullinan also referenced a 2015 homily from Pope Francis, in which he said ‘practices like Yoga are not capable of opening our hearts up to God’.
At the time, the pope said:
You can take a million courses in spirituality, a million courses in yoga, Zen and all these things but all of this will never be able to give you freedom.
Rather than doing yoga, the bishop asked his schools to encourage children to ‘pray the rosary’ and help them spend time with Jesus in ‘adoration or in quiet meditation’ in the classroom.
"In the letter, Bishop Cullinan said that “yoga is not of Christian origin” and was not suitable for a parish school setting".
On one hand, its refreshing when bishops are honest clear about what church teachings actually are, and the impact they have on schools.
— Trina Golden (@CatrionaGolden) October 18, 2019
According to the Irish Times, the Irish National Teachers Organisation [INTO] responded to Bishop Cullinan’s letter in a statement, saying the primary school curriculum allows schools a certain amount of flexibility and autonomy with regard to its implementation.
The INTO believes that schools are best placed to make decisions about how they implement the curriculum, taking into account their school culture and ethos and the needs of their pupils.
John Stokes, a yoga instructor from Waterford, told Waterford News yoga improves ‘balance, strength, endurance, and aerobic capacity in children’ and pointed out ‘religious studies and Spirituality are not the same and should be kept separate’.
He also commented on the other benefits of the practices, saying:
[Yoga and mindfulness] offer psychological benefits for children as well. A growing body of research has already shown that yoga can improve focus, memory, self-esteem, academic performance, and classroom behaviour, and can even reduce anxiety and stress in children.
Yoga and mindfulness has been incredibly beneficial to both my physical and mental health. It has proven, positive effects on the body. If Bishop Cullinan wants to take that away from children then I would say that negative attitude is 'not suitable for our parish school setting' https://t.co/QbSN1Q0rX8
— Úna-Minh (is my first name) Caomhánach (@unakavanagh) October 18, 2019
Stokes added we should embrace practices like yoga, meditation and mindfulness in an age ‘where children are really suffering from anxiety and stress’.
One parent took to Instagram to respond sarcastically to the bishop’s comments, writing in part:
Thank you for highlighting the wonderful practices of yoga and meditation that although, “not suitable”, are benefiting thousands of children, including mine, across the country because our passionate teachers believe in them.
View this post on Instagram
This is the Bishop of Waterford and Lismore, Alphonsus Cullinan, who wrote to schools across Waterford City and County this week warning against the dangers of yoga and mindfulness as it is “not of Christian origin”. To you, Alphonsus, I say thank you. Thank you for reminding me how we don’t have to listen to narrow minded men in robes for spiritual guidance anymore. Thank you for highlighting the wonderful practices of yoga and meditation that although, “not suitable”, are benefiting thousands of children, including mine, across the country because our passionate teachers believe in them. And thank you for helping me see that, were he alive today, your man, Jesus, would be bustin out downward dog like the tolerant, love sharing, self-empowering ledgebag that he is. Namaste, Alfie. 🙏🙏❤️❤️ #meditation #mindfulness @davidjimeditation #mindfulnessinschools
Yoga’s origins can be traced to the Vedas, ancient Indian texts dating from around 1900BCE, from which the Hindu, Jain and Buddhist religions also arose. However, the exercise professes no belief systems.
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Emily Brown first began delivering important news stories aged just 13, when she launched her career with a paper round. She graduated with a BA Hons in English Language in the Media from Lancaster University, and went on to become a freelance writer and blogger. Emily contributed to The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and Student Problems before becoming a journalist at UNILAD, where she works on breaking news as well as longer form features.