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Anglican church off limits for yoga

A simple change of name means that a yoga provider in Sydney’s inner west can continue to hold his exercise classes in Erskineville Anglican Church’s hall.

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A decision by the Sydney Anglican Synod (church council) in 2015 “advised churches not to rent out their premises to yoga classes on account of the spiritual confusion this may cause,” among other things. But a local provider of yoga classes, which focus on physical movement and breath work, elected to change the name of his classes and all his signage to “Mindful Movement” classes, and thus preserved his leasing arrangement with Erskineville Anglican Church.

The yoga instructor, who asked to remain anonymous, has held yoga classes in the Erskineville Anglican Church hall for about eight years and told Eternity that he doesn’t have an issue with the decision made by the Anglican Diocese of Sydney because “there was plenty of warning.”

“Their concern was that the teaching of yoga as they understood it was not necessarily consistent wiht the teachings of Jesus Christ.” – Yoga instructor

“The diocese made a decision, and we were warned about this a long time ago – maybe up to a year ago – [and] at the Synod (church council), there was a meeting, and they issued a statement which was sent to all providers of yoga in church halls.

“Their concern was that the teaching of yoga as they understood it was not necessarily consistent with the teachings of Jesus Christ.

“They gave us an extra six months on our leases and then it was a case by case thing [for local churches] to talk to us about whether our classes could continue or not.”

The yoga instructor told Eternity it was unfortunate that the ban was a blanket ban on all yoga.

“… it has nothing to do with the exercise, it’s really just the spiritual component of yoga. And in many classes that’s not an issue, it really is an exercise class.” – Michael Stead

“I teach yoga in the church; I didn’t chant or do anything like that in my classes because I figured it was in a church. My classes focused very much on physical movement and breath work and so when the decision came through I emailed [the church] to find out what was driving the whole thing.”

Speaking to ABC Radio’s Robbie Buck on Tuesday morning, Anglican Bishop of South Sydney Michael Stead said the advice on yoga classes, “has nothing to do with the exercise, it’s really just the spiritual component of yoga. And in many classes that’s not an issue, it really is an exercise class. The issue is around yoga as a spiritual practice.

“We want our churches to be places where people hear about Jesus. We don’t want to have a contrast spirituality taught in churches.”

When Buck asked about whether there was a problem with meditation, Stead said, “Christian meditation is something that is very much part of a Christian way of thinking. It’s about filling your mind with truth and the word of God. [But] there are other kinds of meditation to do with emptying the mind.

“If it’s designed to create an altered mental state, if it has nothing to do with filling the mind with truth, then yes, that is a problem.”

The yoga instructor commented that the decision had not been communicated well.

“I think there was a little bit of miscommunication, but when I spoke to [Erskineville Anglican Church] they were quite reasonable with me and so I changed my classes to call them Mindful Movement; I don’t refer to it as yoga any more. I just changed my signs and the church was happy with that so I’m continuing my classes.”

“[Synod] advises churches not to rent out their premises to yoga classes on account of the spiritual confusion this may cause.” – Sydney Anglican Diocese Synod

The yoga instructor told Eternity that yoga is a philosophy, not a religion, but also noted that in India there is a connection between Hinduism and yoga. “There’s this idea going around that yoga is somehow connected intricately to Hinduism which is not correct. But there are certain styles of yoga that are taught which refer to different texts, and so depending on the style that is being taught they may refer to certain things.”

Anglican churches in Sydney have repeatedly questioned whether church property should be used for yoga. A report was tabled at the 2015 meeting of  the Sydney Anglican Synod that said: “Synod, noting the report on Yoga and Other Such Activities in response to Synod Resolution 16/14, thanks the Social Issues Committee for its work on this matter and –

  1. emphasises that Christians are called to obey the first commandment “You shall have no other Gods before me” and thus must, as Christ’s disciples, avoid participating in the worship of false gods;
  2. recommends that individual Christians should exercise discernment with respect to yoga and other such practices, which may or may not contain elements of worship of other gods;
  3. advises churches not to rent out their premises to yoga classes on account of the spiritual confusion this may cause;
  4. advised schools, and other Anglican institutions not to engage in yoga and other such practices, but to seek alternative means of promoting health and well-being; and
  5. urges Anglicans, clergy and laity alike, to consider the missional significance of the widespread uptake of yoga by Australians of Western European cultural background in recent decades.”
The Inner West Courier reports on the yoga ban

The Inner West Courier reports on the yoga ban Inner West Courier

A spokesman Anglican Diocese of Sydney said, “following a report to the Sydney Synod, it was decided to review classes being conducted on church premises where there was a spiritual teaching associated with the practice, as opposed to yoga positions done merely for the sake of exercise. The review is ongoing in a number of churches.

“In the case of Erskineville, conversations have been entered into with class providers but no final decision has yet been taken.”

The spokesman indicated he had no knowledge of other churches that were entering into similar conversations.

Erskineville Anglican Church declined to comment.

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