At a time when Indian yoga camps are spreading far and wide in Britain, two churches here have banned a group from conducting yoga classes because the ancient practice is allegedly "un-Christian".
The yoga class for children was to be run by Louise Woodstock at the Silver Street Baptist Church and St James' Church of England in Taunton, Somerset. But church ministers this week banned it and branded yoga as a "sham" and "un-Christian".
AdvertisementWoodstock, who was turned away from the churches Thursday, said the allegations against yoga were "ridiculous" because her classes simply involve music and movement. She was told that yoga "impinges" on the spiritual agenda of the churches.
Baba Ramdev's camps have been held in several places across Britain, most recently in Scotland. The camps attracted a large number of people, mostly Asians, but also non-Asians who have benefited from his advice and exercises.
Said Woodstock: "I couldn't believe it when they suddenly said I couldn't have the hall any more because yoga is against their Christian ethos. It's crazy because we're talking about kids pretending to be animals and doing exercise routines to rhymes - it's really sweet.
"There is nothing that could damage their minds in any shape or form. The churches have completely misunderstood it and I think they are being narrow-minded. I explained to the church that my yoga is a completely non-religious activity. There is no dogma involved."
Reports from Taunton say that Woodstock was originally given permission to use the Baptist Church hall for a children's activity group, but the minister, the Reverend Simon Farrar, withdrew his consent after discovering it was for yoga.
Later, St James's church also barred her for the same reason.
Defending his decision to ban the yoga group, Rev Farrar said: "We are a Christian organisation and when we let rooms to people we want them to understand that they must be fully in line with our Christian ethos.
"Clearly yoga impinges on the spiritual life of people in a way which we as Christians don't believe is the same as our ethos. If it were just a group of children singing nursery rhymes, there wouldn't be a problem. But she's called it yoga and therefore there is a dividing line we're not prepared to cross."
Rev Tim Jones, the vicar of St James' church, told The Telegraph: "Any alternative philosophies or beliefs are offering a sham - and at St James's church we want people to have the real thing.
"Yoga has its roots in Hinduism, and attempts to use exercises and relaxation techniques to put a person into a calm frame of mind - in touch with some kind of impersonal spiritual reality.
"The philosophy of yoga cannot be separated from the practice of it, and any teacher of yoga (even for toddlers) must subscribe to the philosophy. As Christians we believe that this philosophy is false and not something we wish to encourage.
"Yoga is encouraging people to think that there is a way to wholeness of body and mind through human techniques - whereas the only true way to wholeness is by faith in god through Jesus Christ."
The reports added that Woodcock had moved her classes to a nearby village hall.
Woodstock is among the many non-Asians who practice and teach yoga in Britain.
Many of them learn yoga techniques during visits to India and continue their practice and begin teaching after returning home.