ATCHISON, Kan. – A Catholic college in northeast Kansas plans to rename its yoga classes and change the content to ensure they focus only on physical exercise and not spiritual or cultural elements.
Benedictine College in Atchison plans to rework its yoga classes into stretching and breathing classes after this semester in response to concerns from students, alumni and faculty, The Wichita Eagle reported (http://bit.ly/2p5PFaq ).
"We'll continue the classes so they're still offering the physical challenges and benefits of yoga, but we're changing the name in the catalog so it's a class without spiritually and culturally sensitive content," said college spokesman Steve Johnson. "The content was never religious in nature, but some people took it that way, I guess. That's where the confusion came."
The Rev. John Riley, chancellor for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, said in an email to the Eagle that yoga is more than just exercises, breathing and meditation.
"It is a mind and body practice developed under Hinduism, the goal of which is spiritual purification that will lead to a higher level of understanding and eventually union with the divine," Riley said. "It is for these reasons that Catholics are alerted to the dangers of the practice of yoga and are encouraged to look for other exercise alternatives that do not incorporate a spiritual dimension."
Riley recommended that Catholics seeking a spiritual alternative to yoga should try something like Pietra Fitness, which incorporates Christian prayer and meditation with stretching and strengthening.
The college's student newspaper, The Circuit, first reported the college's decision to change the classes.
In response to that story, Rajan Zed, president of Universal Society of Hinduism, issued a statement Saturday urging Benedictine not to "abolish" yoga at the school. He said while yoga is a Hindu-based practice, it is a mental and physical discipline that can provide benefits to everyone.
An online petition started by Benedictine students asking the school to "bring back yoga" had nearly 100 supporters earlier this week.
Josh Olson, a junior business marketing and management major, said he has done yoga since high school to prevent injuries from athletics and reduce stress. He called it a "step in the right direction" that the school isn't eliminating yoga classes but said he was frustrated by the lack of communication from school officials.
"It seems like a PR move to me, like we don't want to step on anyone's feet," Olson said. "I don't see the sense behind it."
Information from: The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle, http://www.kansas.com