The Controversy of Yoga in Benedictine College: Rebranding and Cultural Appropriation

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Religious Concerns Prompt Rebranding

Benedictine College, a Catholic institution located in Kansas, has announced its decision to discontinue yoga classes on campus. This move stems from concerns raised by religious leaders regarding the perceived ties between yoga and “eastern mysticism.” President Stephen Minnis cited concerns expressed by Archbishop Naumann, stating that yoga “has some potential for eastern mysticism which has caused concern among members of the Catholic Church.” The decision was made to avoid the potential “spiritual harm” that the practice of yoga could bring to the campus.

Catholic Beliefs and Yoga

Within Catholicism, there are differing views on the compatibility of yoga with the faith. Some adherents believe that yoga’s spiritual connections conflict with their religious beliefs. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, a foundational text in the practice of yoga, describes the purpose of yoga as achieving mental clarity and reducing suffering, which is often associated with religious practices. While the Catholic Church does not explicitly prohibit the physical movements associated with yoga, it cautions against the potential for spiritual interpretation, which could lead to “mental schizophrenia” and ethical challenges.

Lifestyle Fitness as an Alternative

In light of these concerns, Benedictine College has opted to rebrand yoga as “lifestyle fitness.” These new classes will focus solely on the physical and mental benefits of yoga, without the spiritual or religious elements. President Minnis expressed his belief that yoga has become a generic term for stretching and breathing, and that the potential for spiritual harm on campus is minimal. However, by removing the spiritual roots of the practice, the school risks compromising its authenticity and significance.

Cultural Appropriation Concerns

The rebranding of yoga as lifestyle fitness has raised concerns regarding cultural appropriation. Yoga originated in ancient India and has deep spiritual and cultural roots. Removing these elements from the practice, while retaining the physical aspects, could be seen as a form of cultural appropriation, where elements of a culture are adopted without acknowledging or respecting their origin. As Julia Gibran, a yoga teacher of Indian descent, states, “We need to ask ourselves, ‘Why is that? How can I be really respectful and say, ‘This is a different culture’s science, so how has that been taken and shifted and grown?'”

The decision by Benedictine College to rebrand yoga has sparked a debate about the compatibility of yoga with Catholic beliefs and the ethics of cultural appropriation. While the college seeks to address religious concerns, it is important to consider the potential loss of authenticity and cultural respect that accompanies the removal of yoga’s spiritual roots. By engaging in respectful dialogue and acknowledging the cultural significance of yoga, institutions and individuals can find ways to incorporate its benefits without compromising its integrity.
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