After a church's ban on yoga classes sparked an uproar in the United Kingdom, a Roman Catholic priest and school principal in India weighed in, claiming that the British clergy who described yoga as a "sham," a "false philosophy" and "unchristian" are ignorant about the practice.
"They know nothing about yoga," commented Father John Ferreira, the principal of St. Peter's College in Agra, one of India's oldest educational institutions.
"They should first study and experience the benefits of India's ancient science before commenting," the 57-year-old priest told the Indo-Asian News Service (IANS) during an interview.
A few weeks ago, the Silver Street Baptist Church and St. James' Anglican Church in England rejected a children's exercise class because it teaches yoga.
Although the Baptist church originally granted Louise Woodcock's Yum Yum Yoga class for toddlers use of its hall for a children's group activity, the Rev. Simon Farrar withdrew his consent after discovering it was for yoga, according to London's The Times newspaper.
"We are a Christian organization and when we let rooms to people we want them to understand that they must be fully in line with our Christian ethos," the Baptist priest explained.
In defending her classes, yoga instructor Woodcock has insisted that they have 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.
"This is a class for mums and children, which has yoga-inspired moves – but as soon as I mentioned the word yoga, the church staff completely changed their attitude. They have completely misunderstood and are being narrow minded."
Catholic principal Ferreira, who claims Yoga healed him completely from his sickness since 1981, was also met with opposition when he first began conducting his half-hour yoga class, which is now attended by over 1,500 students, teachers and office assistants every day.
"When I started these yoga exercises a month ago, there were natural reservations and opposition from students as well as parents. But I persisted. Now they all congratulate me because some have stopped suffering from colds and allergies while others are feeling more energetic," said the priest, who dislikes when students have stooping shoulders, obese or sickly postures.
"I want them to walk straight, with chest out, shoulders raised and head held high. At their age they should be a bundle of energy. Unfortunately, parents have no time for their kids and there is nobody around for guidance," he said, according to IANS.
Ferreira said schools need to focus on the body and mind of students, who should maintain a good shape. The Catholic leader has fervently appealed all schools in the country to make yoga mandatory, wishing for the practice to be made basic and necessary for studying youths in the country.
Farrar in Britain, however, said yoga "clearly … impinges on the spiritual life of people in a way which we as Christians don't believe is the same as our ethos."
"If it was just a group of children singing nursery rhymes, there wouldn't be a problem but she (Woodcock)'s called it yoga and therefore there is a dividing line we're not prepared to cross," the Baptist priest added.
The Rev. Tim Jones, vicar of St James', has supported Silver Street's decision, noting that yoga "has its roots in Hinduism and attempts to use exercises and relaxation techniques to put a person into a calm frame of mind – in touch with some kind of impersonal spiritual reality."
"The philosophy of yoga cannot be separated from the practice of it, and any teacher of yoga, even to toddlers, must subscribe to the philosophy," the Anglican priest asserted.
"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."
The comments by Farrar and Jones have drawn criticism from groups including the Hindu Council UK (HCUK), the largest national network of Hindu organizations in the United Kingdom, which expressed its disappointment over the churches' "medieval-like irrational prejudice."
Christian Post correspondent Daniel Blake in London contributed to this report.