Yoga is not suitable for a parish school, the Catholic bishop of Waterford & Lismore Alphonsus Cullinan has told schools in his diocese.
In a letter to schools across Waterford, sent on October 10th, he also warned against mindfulness.
Bishop Cullinane pointed out that yoga was “not of Christian origin” and said it was not suitable for a parish school setting “especially not during religious education time”.
On mindfulness, he told schools it had been practised in the Christian tradition “in a sense” since the beginning.
“But Christian mindfulness is not mindlessness but is meditation based on Christ, emptying the mind of everything unnecessary so that we become aware of the presence and love of Christ,” he said.
The Bishop referenced a homily from Pope Francis in 2015 in which he said "practices like Yoga are not capable of opening our hearts up to God".
“You can take a million courses in spirituality, a million courses in yoga, Zen and all these things but all of this will never be able to give you freedom,” Pope Francis said.
The Bishop concluded by asking teachers and principals to encourage children to “pray the Rosary” and help them spend time with Jesus in “adoration or in quiet meditation” in the classroom.
The Waterford News & Star contacted a number of schools in Waterford who confirmed they received the letter, and also confirmed that teachers and pupils practised yoga and mindfulness at times. They declined to comment publicly about the Bishop’s letter.
In a statement, the Irish National Teachers Organisation said the primary school curriculum allows schools a certain amount of flexibility and autonomy with regard to its implementation.
“The INTO believes that schools are best placed to make decisions about how they implement the curriculum, taking into account their school culture and ethos and the needs of their pupils,” the union said.
Waterford yoga instructor John Stokes said yoga and mindfulness had been shown to improve “physical and mental health” in school-age children.
“Yoga improves balance, strength, endurance, and aerobic capacity in children,” he said.
“They offer psychological benefits for children as well. A growing body of research has already shown that yoga can improve focus, memory, self-esteem, academic performance, and classroom behaviour, and can even reduce anxiety and stress in children.”
He said in “an age where children are really suffering from anxiety and stress we should embrace practices like yoga, meditation and mindfulness”.