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At this time of the year when we speak so much about angels and spiritual warfare, there are questions pertaining to unorthodox -- but to many, harmless -- practices like yoga, which is even advertised, at times, in parish bulletins (along with Catholics retreat houses) as a means of meditation and relaxation, or even exercise.

The argument: while Eastern mysticism, which is the basis for yogic exercise, is contrary to our faith (a form of pantheism), the physical part of yoga -- minus the mantras and chants and gods and goddesses -- is no problem. What's wrong with the stretching and deep, slow breathing?

A priest who specializes in deliverance and healing the family tree argues otherwise.

This is Father Yozefu-B. Ssemakula of Uganda (and now the Washington, D.C. area), who points out that while many are now using yoga as an exercise like aerobics or a means to relieve tension, it has deep spiritual undertones that cannot be avoided by those who believe they have taken the physical aspect of it -- the discipline, the twisting, the relaxation techniques and even trance-like state -- away from the mystical ones.

"Yoga is one whole thing, it's one 'package,' just like I am one package," argues the priest. "The split of exercises from their spiritual load is a good analysis in the mind, but it's not a concrete reality out there. You did not invent yoga, so you can't split it or put it together as you like. You cannot separate the rituals of Santeria from what they mean and say. For example, have you ever thought of that -- doing the rituals of Santeria without its spiritual components? If you can't do it with Santeria, how should you do it with Yoga?"

Notice how Father Yozefu capitalizes the "Y" in "Yoga," as we capitalize a religion.

He also warns that if a therapist is involved in an esoteric belief system such as the New Age, one should avoid that therapist even though occult-like practices may not be part of the specific treatment. The energy carries over, writes Father Yozefu.

But back to yoga (for our discernment). Adds this priest (in The Healing of Families): "What would you think of a Muslim who comes every day to prostrate himself before the Blessed Sacrament in your church -- but who says out loud that he is not a Christian and he doesn't really care for whatever is in that 'box' over there? Can you imagine the children of Israel telling God, 'No, God, we are only bowing and prostrating ourselves before these statues of Baal just for the stretches it does to our backs and biceps and leg muscles. We don't really care about about those statues in front of them, it's not for them!'

"Do you think God would buy that?" Father Yozefu asks.

"It could be true that they don't really care about those statues in front of them, but then how would one distinguish between the movements of one who cares for the statues and the movements of one who doesn't care for the statues, if all are exactly the same movements? Simple spiritual warfare of the saints will tell you that when the enemy wants to attack, he normally begins by twisting things in our minds, such that he can have our consent, because we must give our consent in one way or another -- including not conscious consent -- in order that he gets to do whatever he wants to do in our lives."

[resources: The Healing of Families: How to Pray Effectively for Those Stubborn Personal and Familial Problems and The God of Miracles]

[Also: Michael Brown retreats (the family tree, deliverance, the afterlife, the prophetic pulse: September 29: Chicago, October 13: Northern New Jersey-New York; and November 3, Minneapolis]

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[Notes the Catholic Education Resource Center: "Yoga is incompatible with Catholicism because the best known practice of Hindu spirituality is Yoga. 'Inner' Hinduism professes pantheism, which denies that there is only one infinite Being who created the world out of nothing. This pantheistic Hinduism says to the multitude of uncultured believers who follow the ways of the gods that they will receive the reward of the gods. They will have brief tastes of Heaven between successive rebirths on earth. But they will never be delivered from the 'wheel of existence' with its illusory lives and deaths until they realize that only 'God' exists and all else is illusion (Maya). To achieve this liberation the principal way is by means of concentration and self control (yoga)." We report; you discern.]

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