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Bishop of Waterford warns against yoga and mindfulness in schools

Bishop Alphonsus Cullinan said that yoga was “not suitable for a parish school setting”.

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File photo
Image: Shutterstock/New Africa

THE BISHOP OF Waterford and Lismore Alphonsus Cullinan has written to schools across Waterford city and county warning against the teaching of yoga and mindfulness.

In the letter, which was sent on 10 October, Bishop Cullinan said that “yoga is not of Christian origin” and was not suitable for a parish school setting “especially not during religious education time”.

Speaking about mindfulness, he said that it has been practised in the Christian tradition 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.”

The Bishop then quoted a homily from Pope Francis in 2015 where he reminded people that “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 newspaper contacted a number of schools in Waterford who confirmed that they received the letter and that both the teachers and the pupils practised yoga and mindfulness at times. None of the schools wished to comment publicly about the Bishop’s comments.

A spokesperson for the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation said that the primary school curriculum “allows schools a certian 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 schol culture and ethos and the needs of their pupils,” the spokesperson said. 

Waterford yoga instructor John Stokes said that religious studies and spirituality “are not the same and should be kept separate”. 

unnamed The letter sent to schools

“In an age where children are really suffering from anxiety and stress we should embrace practices like yoga, meditation and mindfulness,” he said. “We should consider having an extra class added to the curriculum – maybe call it spirituality studies.”

Stokes said that “yoga and mindfulness have been shown to improve both 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.”

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About the author:

Darren Skelton/Waterford News & Star

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