Southampton priest bans yoga from church hall

Cori Withell from Eastleigh Cori Withell said she was trying to combat an obesity epidemic

A priest has banned yoga from a church hall because the class was "not compatible" with the Catholic faith.

Instructor Cori Withell from Hampshire said her yoga and pilates classes at St Edmund's Church building in Southampton were cancelled with 10 days to go.

Father John Chandler said that the hall had to be used for Catholic activities, and he banned it because it was advertised as "spiritual yoga".

Ms Withell, 37, said it "seemed terribly petty to cancel the classes".

The ban is not Catholic Church policy and decisions are left to the discretion of individual priests.

Yoga and religion

Buddhist man meditating
  • Yoga is one of the Shadh Darshanas (Six philosophies) of Hinduism
  • In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna refers to every spiritual path as a Yoga and every chapter of the Gita refers to Yoga in a different form
  • Yoga is practised in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism
  • The 19th Century Hindu monk Swami Vivekananda is credited with introducing yoga to the western world
  • Meditation is an important part of yoga. Buddhists practice meditation as part of the path towards enlightment

Source: BBC Religion and Ethics

Ms Withell, from Eastleigh, said the church accepted the booking two months ago and she paid £180.

She was called later and told that yoga was "from another religion", so she could not have the hall.

A separate pilates class she had booked was also cancelled.

Ms Withell said she did not use meditation in her classes, just exercises.

She added: "As a nation we have an obesity epidemic. I was trying to bring some exercise to the community and coming across blocks like this is frustrating."

Father John Chandler of St Edmund's Church Father John Chandler regards yoga as a "Hindu spiritual exercise"

Fr Chandler said the church was "misled" by Ms Withell's booking because he said at first the hall was booked for pilates and then he found out it was also for spiritual yoga.

He said: "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.

"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."

Ravindra Parmar, president of the Vedic Society Hindu Temple of Southampton, said yoga was "a form of exercise" and "not a religious type of activity".

He added people were welcome to practice yoga exercises at the temple and said he felt "a little let down" because of the work the Southampton Council of Faiths does to "get all the faiths talking to each other".

A spokesman for Portsmouth Catholic Diocese said: "It's not possible for Catholic premises to be used for non-Christian activities, and there is a dilemma with yoga as it can be seen as Hindu meditation or as relaxation.

"There is no national policy on this and the decision is for each priest."

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