icNewcastle, Aug 28, 2002
By Amanda Crook, The Journal
Yoga practitioners yesterday attacked a vicar’s decision to ban classes in the art from his church hall as “ridiculous”.
The Rev Derek Smith barred the exercise programme from the hall of St Michael’s Church, Melksham, Wiltshire, because of its associations with the Hindu faith.
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Mr Smith, 50, said that even if followers in the West used it just for fitness, spiritual leaders in the East insisted it was inseparable from Hindu devotional practice and “incompatible” with Christianity and would never try it himself because it would be “wrong.”
Speaking from his rectory in Melksham, he said: “I would ask people who do yoga to think about whether they believe they were in breach of their faith or not.
“If they genuinely believe what they are doing is acceptable – and I know people that do – of course, I would ask them to follow their consciences.”
But yoga enthusiasts at a class in Darlington last night were disappointed by his decision.
They are concerned that there could be a growing trend after a vicar in Henham, Essex, took the same step last November .
Yoga teacher Barry Garnett, 65, said: “These bans are no longer unusual which is very sad, but if they would just come and try yoga I’m sure all their concerns would be resolved.”
Rev Smith’s concerns about the spiritual basis of some versions of the exercise regime were backed by the Church of England.
But there are no plans to call for a blanket ban on the exercises classes in churches nationwide.
The British Wheel of Yoga, the governing body recognised by Sport England, condemned Mr Smith’s action as “ignorant”.
Their County Durham representative Connie Olding has taught yoga for 20 years and first became interested in it in the sixties.
She said: “I can’t understand why anyone from any religion would have a problem with Yoga, it’s ridiculous. For most people it is a purely physical thing, it aids relaxation, relives stress and improves movement and fitness. If people get really into Yoga, they can be affected by its spirituality, but in my experience it makes people look back to whatever religious background they had as a child.
“It’s certainly compatible with Christianity and we have had a number of yoga tutors in this region who were also clergymen.”
Barry Garnett, from Darlington, became a yoga instructor six years ago, after working for many years as an engineer.
He said: “Sadly I’m not very surprised by this vicar. Unfortunately there are a lot of people out there with quite a narrow view on religion, they think they have the monopoly on spirituality and are not prepared to open themselves up to anything new. In my experience yoga does not conflict with any religion, for most people it just has a lot of health benefits. They will move through different postures, practise deep breathing exercises, and perhaps some chanting. On a deeper level yoga is about an essence of spirituality but that complements Christianity, as it does all the major religions.”
A Church House spokesman said: “Yoga is used as a kind of generic term for exercise and stretching, but there are many different types of yoga. But some have a more spiritual basis as handed down from Eastern religions. It’s reasonably understandable that someone can say so if they don’t want something with a spiritual basis taught in their church hall.”
The Church of England was keen to promote good relations with other religions, he said, but that did not involve being “wishy-washy or mealy-mouthed” about distinctions in faith.