Yoga Studies and the Mission of a Catholic University

The LMU Center for Religion and Spirituality operates more than a dozen certificate programs in English and Spanish which directly support the ministry formation needs of the Catholic Church: for example, the Catholic Bible Institute, the Pastoral Care certificate program, and the Pastoral Liturgy certificate program are all offered in both languages (click here for a list of all certificate programs). Additionally, the Center has been the principal organizer of the Regional Summer Seminar on Formation for Hispanic Ministry, which gathers directors of Hispanic ministry formation programs from California, Hawaii, and Nevada to work on projects of common interest.

The Yoga Studies Program in the Center does not fit into this framework of direct support for pastoral ministry; instead, as Yoga grows in popularity in the U.S. and elsewhere, the programs of the Center aim to educate the public about it. Many practitioners of Yoga understand it as a holistic practice that includes the spiritual, but do not understand it as a system of beliefs. Others understand their Yoga practice as a pathway to psychic balance as they endeavor to remain faithful to the spiritual practices found in their religion.  It is the purpose of education to uncover all aspects of any topic, to approach each topic with an open-minded and critical gaze.

Catholics need to be aware that, since 1989, the teaching of the Church distinguishes between techniques of Eastern meditation such as Yoga which are practiced for therapeutic reasons and those which emphasize the theological and spiritual implications of the question. In its Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Some Aspects of Christian Meditation (Orationis formas), the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith differentiated between those individuals who practice Yoga merely as “a path to interior peace and psychic balance,” and those who practice it in order to become immersed in a spirituality, one that may be foreign to the Christian tradition of prayer (paragraph 2). The letter states that “proposals to harmonize Christian meditation with eastern techniques need to have their contents and methods ever subjected to a thorough-going examination so as to avoid the danger of falling into syncretism” (paragraph 12). Orationis formas also highlights the benefits of many prayer and meditation methods found in the long history of the Christian tradition. Click here to read the full text of Orationis formas.

Yoga Studies is also important to LMU's mission in terms of interreligious dialogue. Interreligious dialogue is a constitutive aspect of the Church's mission to evangelize by means of respectful dialogue with other religious traditions. This relationship requires both giving to and receiving from traditions other than one's own. In no way does the study of Yoga detract from Catholic identity; rather, a respectful inquiry into this practice is consistent with Pope Francis' insistence on the need to foster within the Church a "culture of engagement:"

  • Yoga Studies in the Center is therefore informed by the Second Vatican Council's Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions (Nostra Aetate), in that the Church needs solid knowledge of all religious traditions in order to fulfill its mission; one way for a University to maintain good access to such knowledge is to engage those traditions and the experts on those traditions directly.
  • Yoga Studies allows a Catholic institution such as LMU to engage people who might not embrace the Catholic faith, precisely by taking seriously their questions in regard to the spiritual life.
  • Nostra Aetate (no. 2) exhorts Catholics to “recognize, preserve and promote” the good that is found in other religious traditions; often the context of interreligious dialogue affords the followers of Christ an opportunity to learn about God. Pope St. John Paul said this in 1986 to the exponents of non-Christian religions in Madras, India: “By dialogue we let God be present in our midst; for as we open ourselves in dialogue to one another, we also open ourselves to God.”