THE ALERT was sounded when Father John Chandler investigated the details about how the church hall would be used, and found that classes for both yoga and pilates, a body conditioning routine invented by a German, had been scheduled. The yoga class, advertised as 'spiritual yoga' scared the devil out of Chandler who didn't throw light on why even the pilates class had been canceled but made sure of what he thought about yoga. “Yoga is a Hindu spiritual exercise. Being a Catholic church we have to promote the gospel and that’s what we use our premises for," said Chandler whose sentiments were seconded by a spokesman for Portsmouth Catholic Diocese, “It’s not possible for Catholic premises to be used for non-Christian activities and there is a dilemma with yoga as it can be seen as Hindu meditation or as relaxation," reported The Sun.
Father Chandler's decision and comments indicate that he had no doubt that his already-dwindling flock of conservative Catholics would have been very cross had they seen people humming 'aum' and stretching themselves silly during pilates - a product of a German-born US citizen. What has also got relegated to the sideline after Father Chandler panicked - is the local instructor's desire to contribute to taking the obesity epidemic in the UK head on - by organizing the yoga and pilates classes.
What scared the church administration? That yoga will drive Jesus out of the parishioners' heart? That Stuart, McCallister, and Emily will binge on Patanjali's Yoga, The Gita, and Natyashastra and recite hymns while doing Sirshasana (the head stand)? If one turns around the situation - how would it stand? Well, one can pretty much go to any temple in the world, except for those who take Hinduism and its 'sanatan' directives too seriously, ring every temple bell, plop down in the middle of the temple right in front of Lord Krishna, Hanuman, Durga, and Ganesh - read the Holy Bible, and munch on boondi laddoos or puffed rice, coconut and sugar till the cows come home or when the priest calls it a day, whichever happens first.
Perhaps the church in Southampton is not aware how unassuming 'spiritual yoga' is, in relation to its supposed attachment to Hinduism, especially 'spiritual yoga' offered commercially by Arya Samaj Hindus. A yoga session, co-ordinated by an emigrated Indian or a British yoga enthusiast, usually comprises of yogic exercises, postures, and meditation, which is largely neutral. In no way, and one means as set out in 21st century application of this vedic physical and spiritual cleansing (not conversion) tool, is practicing yoga 'religious'.
While meditating, one has full freedom to think of God or recite a religious mantra. But one can, equally, think of streams, music, landscape, etc., or whatever else that gets the meditation juices going to calm one's mind. As fas as yogic poses and exercises, only a few have religious connotation but in no way they encourage an individual to change one's mind about religion. Usually, one is so busy getting the yoga exercises right, that the last thing in one's mind is an ardent prayer - unless of course one's head is trapped between the thighs.
There is also the question of motivation - whether to try to convert people who have paid to join a yoga class to Hinduism or to Hindu beliefs. However, one can't discount the fact that the 'Hindu way of life' automatically comes up at such classes during the course of small talk or to explain yoga to those curious about its origin and purpose. Even an idiot understands that by reading aloud the definition of an idiot - one does not become an idiot.
In the West, one would not want to scare away precious customers - more precious than ever before in recession-hit UK. Many men and women feel awkward if one takes out the 'Here's what you need to do to be a Hindu' manual, and reads it out to people who have come to de-stress. Leading a Catholic through the twists and turns of Hindu mythology and explain how Hinduism is not a religion only increase stress - it does not require provoking the Hindu out of a Bible reader.
What would be the gain from trying to convert? Lead them into deeper practice of Hinduism, bringing us back to 'spiritual yoga'? If one is out to convert or to make money, or both, one doesn't necessarily need to be subversive or secretive - in the West one just goes right ahead, if there are enough takers, which is exactly why Father Chandler ordered the rolling-up of the yoga mats and requested the people who had signed up for 'spiritual yoga' to get lost and find their way back to the altar and bow before Jesus Christ.