As a devoted yogi with strong Christian roots, I’ve been scolded more than once for practicing yoga. Happily, I’ve found far more support than not among Christians. That’s good, because it turns out there are many yogis in Church history! Of course, most of them aren’t identified that way and would not have thought of themselves as yogis. But they are there nonetheless, at least in my mind. One Christian yogi is Saint Ignatius of Loyola.
Some may be skeptical or even angry when I refer to Catholic saints as yogis. I assure you, my only goal is to connect yogis and Christians. We yogis are all about connection after all.
With that in mind, I’d like to introduce Saint Ignatius of Loyola, who had a lot in common with seekers on the yogic path.
Saint Ignatius and Detachment
Saint Ignatius developed a type of prayer based on meditation and contemplation. One of the core principles of Ignatian spirituality is finding God in all things. In yoga, we practice gratitude and being in the moment. Ignatius did the same. He was also a champion of a very yogic principle: the principle of non-attachment (or detachment).
Consider these words:
We should not fix our desires on health or sickness, wealth or poverty, success or failure, a long life or a short one. Our one goal is the freedom to make a wholehearted choice to follow God.
This is a quote from Saint Ignatius. Yogis say similar things.
Yogis and Christians (and most other spiritual seekers I’ve encountered) are called to union with a higher power. While some modern yogis are reluctant to call this higher power God, for Christians, God is exactly the name we use.
People who know more about the life of St. Ignatius than I do may feel like I’m reaching when I describe him as a yogi. And maybe I am. But I’m reaching because I believe there is a force at work in the lives of yogis, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists—all of us—that tries to bring us out of ourselves so we can discover who we truly are.
The core lessons of all spiritual traditions are remarkably similar, even if they appear quite different on the surface. An honest look at St. Ignatius’ view of detachment would have to include the Ignatian Prayer for Detachment. In true Christian form, this prayer focuses a lot on our own sinful nature. But let’s be clear — sin is nothing more than separation from God, or separation from that higher power that is the source of our true nature. The concept of sin is not much different from the concepts of attachment to ego and ignorance, which yogis know to be primary sources of suffering.
Christianity, Yoga, and Union
Obstacles to enlightenment in yoga and sin in Christianity have a lot in common. Unfortunately, many of us who grew up in the Christian tradition learned sin as self-hatred, not sin as separation from God or sin as an obstacle to enlightenment.
For Ignatius, detachment meant that status, success, good fortune, etc. had no spiritual meaning. This is significant, because it allows his followers (the Catholic order of Jesuits) to work among wealthy, comfortable, and educated people, as long as they (the Jesuits) don’t get attached to wealth, comfort, status, or good fortune. While other orders emphasize poverty and simplicity, Jesuits may work those who experience and remain attached to success, wealth, good health, and popularity.
The students in most of my yoga classes live comfortable middle-class, even affluent lives. But we know there is something more. We know that attachment to material comfort, success, and even physical health is not wise. All of that will end, perhaps sooner than we expect.
But the truth of who we are will remain, and living in tune with our source (with God) will set us free.
Would you like to explore more yoga topics in depth—perhaps with a group of yoga friends? Get your copy of Yoga Circles, A Guide to Creating Community off the Mat. You’ll find lots of topics and activities for living the yoga lifestyle and enjoying time with like-minded yogis! Click here to order!
Hi, I’m Maria. I created Yoga Circles for you if you want to delve more deeply into the philosophy, practice, and life-changing effects of yoga. I’m also a writer and editor who helps small business owners, wellness professionals, teachers, and authors publish books, develop marketing strategies, and connect with readers, clients, and students. Visit my website (link below) for more about that. I’d love to hear from you!