The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
Email This PagePrint This Page
Secular hardsell for yoga in UK
- Cambridge conference counters ‘anti-Christian’ claim

Cambridge, Sept. 21: The Hindujas have told a two-day conference at Cambridge University arguing “The Case for Modern Yoga” that the ancient Indian method of healing the body and mind “is a science and (has) nothing to do with religion”.

This reassurance by Srichand and Gopichand Hinduja comes against a background of hostile moves by a couple of Church of England vicars who have expelled groups holding yoga classes in church halls on the grounds that yoga propagates Hinduism and thereby undermines Christianity.

Although the Church of England has not spoken out against yoga, it has also not distanced itself from the “individual vicars” who say that “yoga is incompatible with Christianity”.

The vicars themselves claim to represent the views of many other people in the Church of England. Cambridge’s involvement gives yoga an academic respectability, not that it needs it. It is estimated that the number of British people who regularly attend yoga classes increased from 30,000 in the 1970s to 1,20,000 in the early 1990s, and the figures have risen sharply since then.

Yoga has gained from the involvement of many high profile celebrities both in Britain and the US, including Madonna, Geri Haliwell, the former Spice Girl, and the pop singer Sting.

This has not impressed vicars such as Reverend Richard Farr, in the parish of Henham, Elsenham and Ugley in Essex, who accuses the celebrities of merely climbing aboard the yoga bandwagon. Farr asked a yoga group which was using his church hall to find alternative premises.

Yoga, Farr told The Telegraph, causes confusion among Christians by telling them that it will help them to “ascend a higher spiritual plane”. Farr said that this was the exclusive prerogative of Jesus Christ within the Christian faith.

The vast majority of people who attend yoga classes in Britain are non-Indian. This was why Farr added: “We hope Christians will think carefully before continuing with their classes.”

The one vicar who has spoken out in support of yoga is Reverend Humphrey Squire, who retired eight years ago from his parish in Wareham, Dorset. His view is that yoga does not undermine Christianity or any other religion and he has strongly argued his case in a book, Yoga and Christ. “I don’t know much about yoga,” he said sarcastically. “I have only been doing it for 23 years.”

Church halls throughout Britain are used for yoga and many other classes, and the Church of England is generally very tolerant of other faiths. Arun Kataria, a press officer for the Church of England based at Church House in Westminster, would not give a direct reply when asked if the Church approved or disapproved of yoga. “It is up to individual vicars,” he said. “We don’t have a view.”

The anti-yoga lobby appears outgunned, however. The two-day conference at Cambridge, which has drawn 200 people, including leading international experts, is being held at the university’s Faculty of Divinity. The conference was launched by no less a figure than the university’s vice-chancellor, Sir Alan Broers, who set the tone for the discussions and learned papers by stating: “Once divinity was a narrow subject but it is no longer so.”

Sir Alan said that the faculty would in future expand the study of traditional theology and religion and encourage “greater interchange between the religions of the world”.

The conference has been organised by the Dharam Hinduja Institute of Indic Research which was funded and set up in 1995 within the Divinity Faculty by the Hinduja family in memory of Srichand Hinduja’s son, Dharam.

Srichand Hinduja, 67, who said he had been practising yoga since his boyhood, disclosed it had helped him deal with the many ups and downs in his life. “Yoga offers practical solutions for dealing with stress,” he declared. “I do yoga twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. I mediate whether I am at home, in the office or in the aircraft.”

Email This PagePrint This Page