|Father Don Farnan
I am no expert on yoga. But I know that some people think it’s focus is Hindu spirituality that promotes pantheism, the belief that everything is God and God is everything (“pan” means all and “theos” means God). For them, physical poses unite us with universal divine energy so that we become more closely one with all else. For most people, however and certainly in America, yoga is about breathing and stretching in a way that unites the body with other aspects of our being and being part of God’s creation. For them, it has nothing to do with pantheism but the channeling of energy to create greater interior and exterior awareness.
A similar word and concept, panentheism (God in all things), is a common Christian concept promoted by many saints. It begins with the idea that God is in us, as Jesus made clear: “I am in you, you are in me, I am in the Father, the Father and I are one, I am the vine, and you are the branches.” That reality was present when God formed the first human and breathed into him. That life-breath (ruach) keeps us united to the divine much as yoga, centering prayer, and other spiritual exercises calls us to breathe with our Creator. The most revered Jewish name for God (YH-WH) is unpronounceable because it is more about breathing than saying a name—though we sometimes say “Yahweh” or “Yehovah”. The first syllable is essentially a deep and conscientious breath inhaled while the second is the exhale. To breathe is to unite ourselves with the One who breathes life into us. When Jesus rose from the dead, His first act was to breathe upon the disciples, giving them new life and oneness with God, to make all things new.
Some who oppose Christians doing yoga might think this is a stretch. But that is what Christian spirituality calls us to do—stretch our minds, hearts, bodies, our entire being so that we become more “one” in our creation and gain greater unity with God. That unity is given to us in the Holy Spirit, the divine energy, the fire of God’s love, the promise of Christ that was widely and wildly gifted to the world on Pentecost. “Catholic” means universal; the primary mantra of yoga (om, ohm, or aum) means universal oneness. It seeks to connect each body with the universal body, original breath, and basic vibration of all creation. Numerous medical professionals claim that praying a decade of the rosary or offering a mantra can put our heart rate, pulse, and breathing in union with its preferred vibrational life-force (and life-source). As creatures of the Creator, we desire to be one with all that is created. As Catholics, we desire to be the one body of Christ; meditative or contemplative prayer can assist us.
As many saints and holy ones remind us, the more we know God the more we know we don’t know God. Spiritual exercises that stretch us also help us to exist in the immensity of the mystery of the unknown and draw closer to our unknowable God, of which we are part. Though I have been wrong about many things, it is my opinion that yoga and other spiritual exercises that center us and unite us with the very breath of our creation can help us to better comprehend the incomprehensible message of Jesus, unite our human spirit and energy with the divine energy of the Holy Spirit, and be one with our Creator.