The leaders of a church in Bristol have been subject to criticism after evicting a yoga class from their church hall. Their reasons? Because it is not Christian based, and it focuses on “alternative spiritualities.”
The yoga class in question, taught by Naomi Hayama, has met in the church hall twice a week for 9 years. This nearly decade-long partnership means nothing to the church officials who have decided yoga is “too spiritual.” The church officials have never attended a yoga class. Ms. Hayama and her students say her class is religion free.
“They [church officials] are trying to say it is a spiritual practise but my classes are not,” Ms. Hayama told the Telegraph. “I respect people who are religious but I am not [religious]. That’s what attracted me to yoga – you don’t have to be religious to teach it. My students are puzzled and outraged as well. My class is a physical exercise which is about relaxation and breathing and it’s a healthy thing to do.”
The parochial church council wrote Ms. Hayama a letter. They said the foundation of yoga “lies in thinking that is not compatible with the Christian faith.”
Ms. Hayama is a beloved figure in the Bristol yoga community, where she teaches over 600 students city wide. Her class at St. Michael and All Angels Church attracts 30 students. After being told the priest and church council refuse to back down, Ms. Hayama collected 500 signatures on a petition to plead with the church to change their mind. Also, many students have written directly to the church to try to persuade the church to change their minds.
But it has not worked. Reverend James Stevenson is firm in his decision. The church facilities will only be used for Christian-based activities. No activities that are of any spiritual nature “outside of Christ” will be permitted.
“We understand yoga is practised as a physical exercise and discipline but it’s definitely a spiritual act whose roots are not Christ centred,” said Reverend Stevenson.
“We are confident we have acted legally and fairly in handling this matter but we understand why the students are upset. One student of the class said everyone he had spoken to had viewed it as a ridiculous decision but every church leader I’ve spoken to completely understands this decision. It is a beautiful building with under-floor heating – it’s the perfect place for a yoga class and we understand that people are upset.”
St. Michael and All Angels Church is not the first church to ban yoga, and I fear it won’t be the last. In September 2012 another British priest, Father John Chandler, banned a yoga class.
The yoga class in the parish hall of St. Edmund’s in Southampton was banned because it is a “Hindu spiritual exercise.” Thus, it is “not compatible” with Catholicism.
“Yoga is a Hindu spiritual exercise. Being a Catholic church we have to promote the gospel and that’s what we use our premises for,” said Father Chandler. “We did say that yoga could not take place. It’s the fact that it’s a different religious practice going on in a Catholic church. It’s not compatible. We are not saying that yoga is bad or wrong.”
St. Edmunds has yet to allow the yoga class to come back. And it appears St. Michael and All Angels will be steadfast in their decision about Ms. Hayama’s yoga class. Ms. Hayama was given until the end of February to find a new facility for her class.
I believe the act of churches banning yoga is a matter of ignorance. A devout Catholic friend of mine refused to attend yoga with me because he was afraid he would be “praying to false gods.” It was only after I explained the class I was trying to bring him to was not based in religion that he opened his mind enough to attend with me.
Perhaps if these church officials would attend a class they could see not all yoga is religious.