Hindu Leaders Split Over Yoga for Christians

Hindu religious leaders have strongly criticized a Catholic spiritual teacher for encouraging her pupils to find God through yoga.

Winnie Young, 96, meanwhile, questions why people misunderstand yoga to be a religion.

Young who studied yoga under one of the world's leading yoga practitioners, Yogacharya BKS Iyengar, claims to have spent most of her life teaching yoga.

She says the national yoga institute that she founded in 1975 practices Hatha yoga, which advocates controlled breathing to calm the body and cleanse the mind in an effort to achieve nirvana – an elevated mental state.

Explaining how yoga helped her draw closer to Christ, Young says, "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," Young concedes that she knows yoga is based on an Eastern philosophy but says Christians don't have to accept the Hindu beliefs incorporated in yoga.

"[Christians] can learn the techniques and use it in a better way," she says

Ashwn Trikamjee, the head of the South African Hindu Maha Sabha, however, has criticized Young's ideas.

"It's hypocrisy of the highest order. I don't understand how anyone can teach yoga from a Christian background," he commented.

Trikamjee further added that if Christians want to teach yoga, they should teach the true form and not be guided by any religion.

Yoga teacher Kanchana Moodliar, on the other hand, feels that it is possible to teach yoga from different faith perspectives.

"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 asked.

"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," Moodliar continued.

"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?" she said.

Last September, two church halls in England refused to allow a children's exercise class to be held on their premises because it taught "un-Christian" yoga.

At the time, the Rev. Tim Jones, vicar of St. James's, defended the decision, saying: "Yoga may appear harmless or even beneficial, but it is encouraging people to think that there is a way to wholeness of body and mind through human techniques – whereas the only true way to wholeness is by faith in God through Jesus Christ."

Yoga instructor Louise Woodcock, however, insisted that her class had no religious content at all, and only involve music and movement.

"I explained to the church that my yoga is a completely nonreligious activity. Some types of adult yoga are based on Hindu and Buddhist meditation but it's not a part of the religion and there is no dogma involved," she said.