A WATERFORD yoga instructor has hit back at the Bishop of Waterford and Lismore, Alphonsus Cullinan, after the cleric wrote to schools across Waterford city and county warning against the teaching of yoga and mindfulness.
In the letter, Bishop Cullinan said that “yoga is not of Christian origin” and was not suitable for a parish school setting “especially not during religious education time”.
Speaking about mindfulness, he said that it has been practised in the Christian tradition since the beginning but “Christian mindfulness is not mindlessness but is meditation based on Christ, emptying the mind of everything unnecessary so that we become aware of the presence and love of Christ.”
In an age where children are really suffering from anxiety and stress we should embrace practices like yoga
But Waterford yoga instructor John Stokes said that religious studies and spirituality “are not the same and should be kept separate”.
“In an age where children are really suffering from anxiety and stress we should embrace practices like yoga, meditation and mindfulness,” he said. “We should consider having an extra class added to the curriculum – maybe call it spirituality studies.”
Mr Stokes said: “Yoga and mindfulness have been shown to improve both physical and mental health in school-age children.
“Yoga improves balance, strength, endurance, and aerobic capacity in children,” he said.
“They offer psychological benefits for children as well. A growing body of research has already shown that yoga can improve focus, memory, self-esteem, academic performance, and classroom behaviour, and can even reduce anxiety and stress in children.”
practices like yoga are not capable of opening our hearts up to God
The bishop then quoted a homily from Pope Francis in 2015 where he reminded people that “practices like yoga are not capable of opening our hearts up to God.”
The bishop quoted the Pope as having said: “You can take a million courses in spirituality, a million courses in yoga, zen and all these things but all of this will never be able to give you freedom.” However RTE radio’s Liveline was inundate on Monday last with callers telling Joe Duffy that the Bishop of Waterford had “misquoted” the Pontiff and taken him out of context.
The majority of callers to the show, many from Waterford, were dismissive of the bishop’s remarks about yoga.
In his letter, Bishop Cullinan concluded by asking teachers and principals to encourage children to “pray the Rosary” and help them spend time with Jesus in “adoration or in quiet meditation” in the classroom.
A number of schools in Co Waterford contacted on the matter declined to comment.