April 1, 2008
SOUTH AFRICA -- A Catholic spiritual teacher who encourages her pupils to find God through yoga has been criticized by Hindu leaders.
A story by Teneshia Naidoo in the Times of South Africa reported that Winnie Young, 96, has spent most of her life teaching yoga after studying under one of the world’s leading yogis, Yogacharya BKS Iyengar.
Young, who founded a national yoga institute in 1975, said people mistakenly believe yoga is a religion when it is really a tool to connect to God.
The Times reported that religious leaders in the Hindu community have criticized her, saying it is impossible to teach yoga from a Christian perspective.
Young disagreed, saying that yoga has helped her draw closer to Christ.
Her institute practices hatha yoga, which advocates controlled breathing to calm the body and cleanse the mind in an effort to achieve a heightened mental state.
The Times reported she said, “I have been led by my Christian beliefs, but I don’t do indoctrination. I teach as a Christian; my Christian principles guide me.”
In her book “Yoga for the Christian,” the Times reported that Young says while she realizes yoga is based on an Eastern philosophy, she can nonetheless make use of its guiding principles as she knows where to draw the line.
The story in the Times reported Young admits there are some Hindu beliefs in yoga that Christians cannot accept.
But the head of the South African Hindu Maha Sabha, Ashwin Trikamjee, is critical of Young’s teaching.
“It’s hypocrisy of the highest order. I don’t understand how anyone can teach yoga from a Christian background. It is an indisputable fact that yoga has its origins in the East and in Hinduism,” he told the Times.
He added that if Christians wanted to teach yoga, they should teach the true form and not be guided by any religion.
Kamal Maharaj, editor of Vishwa Shakti, a progressive Hindu newspaper, said that teaching yoga from a particular perspective defeats the purpose of the philosophy.
He told the Times, “You cannot come to yoga with a background. There is no perspective that you can embed yourself in. To believe that there is a personal creator and each creator is different goes against the teaching of yoga. If one has to adopt yoga, one must come out of the box.”
Yoga teacher Kanchana Moodliar disagreed. She told the Times that teaching yoga from a specific perspective should not be considered incorrect.
She said, “Yoga does form part of the Hindu religion, but does that mean we need to own it and not share it? Are we not about sharing, tolerance, embracing all and about making better people, no matter what their religion is?”
She added, “Yoga is a philosophy, and the practice is an exact science aimed at reaching a higher consciousness, so it can be adopted by anyone who has a yearning to connect with the Divine. So, whether yoga is taught from a Christian point of view or Hindu, as long as it enables the yogi to get into their bodies and through the body reach a higher consciousness, who are we to stop that?”
Father Desmond Royappen of the Catholic Church said yoga could help Christians quiet their mind and body to lead them closer to Christ.
The Times reported he said that Young employed techniques to discipline body and mind, leading her closer to God.
“Yoga is often misunderstood, but the technique of yoga can lead to great physical and spiritual health, although, for Christians, yoga is not to be used as a means of salvation but to draw them closer to their Savior.”
© 2008 ASSIST News Service, used with permission