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Pope Francis on Yoga, Freedom, and Mindfulness

Comments made by Pope Francis on Vatican Radio earlier this year have people divided. Some say the Pope was knocking the yoga practice, but I think his words are a reminder of how yoga can operate in conjunction with faith.
Pope Francis spoke about how having “hard hearts” limits our freedom. He said, “You can follow a thousand catechism courses, a thousand spirituality courses, a thousand yoga or Zen courses and all these things. But none of this will be able to give you the freedom as a child (of God)” (from The Official Vatican Network).
The Pope’s words have since been taken as a subtle knock to yoga or condemnation of it. However, I’d like to point out how he places catechism classes alongside yoga practice.
Yoga isn’t the problem; the real problem is the hardness of heart and coldness that comes to us when we limit ourselves.
Pope Francis spoke of the hardness of heart that comes from closing in on ourselves. Our mental activities become separated from our physical activities, which become separated from our spiritual lives.
Showing up to church services and then mentally checking out is the same as arriving on your mat and mindlessly going through the motions.
Yoga is about the connection between the mind, the body and the spirit. There is no reason why your practice cannot become part of your faith – whatever that faith may be.
Yoga is a way to open yourself to the beauty of the universe. Yoga is not an escape from the world, but rather a way of experiencing it.
The physicality of yoga is what drew me to the practice and I can’t deny that it remains an important aspect of my practice. (How could it not?) But from that aspect, my practice has grown; I’m not only more aware of my own body and how I carry myself, but also of my surroundings.
In practicing (and it is a practice, not a skill I just turn off and on) mindfulness during even a fifteen minute practice, I’m able to be more aware of the world outside my practice and myself. I can really see the beauty and wonder of creation around me.

Yoga has also become a way for me to relax and relieve stress in between deadlines and coursework, homesickness and whatever else is buzzing around my head. Who doesn’t want less stress in their life?
The spirituality of yoga is most definitely not one-size-fits-all. Yoga is a personal practice. It becomes yours when you learn to accept yourself and accept that you’re a part of an amazing universe.
Everyone’s faith is their own. I’m not saying you even need to believe in God. What I am saying, though, is freedom from fear and self-imposed barriers can only be found through practice.
Freedom can only be found when you are physically, mindfully, and spiritually present in a regular practice (even if it’s only fifteen minutes a day). Yoga is one very effective combination of all three of those aspects.
So I wholly agree with Pope Francis; a thousand yoga classes will do nothing for you if you show up and check out.
But keep coming to your mat. The physical connects to the mental connects to the spiritual.
Some days your mind will be filled with self-doubt, worries of the day, or even that annoying song that’s stuck in your head. In showing up physically, you remind yourself to practice mental and spiritual presence.
I’m still working on combining all three aspects of yoga into my own practice. Some days it works out and others I spend my entire practice with my mind on my to-do list (or what I’m going to eat after class). I’ve got walls I’m still reinforcing rather than tearing down. I’m working on it; it’s a practice, not a goal that can be checked off a list.
But that’s the thing – I’m working on it.
Freedom can be found if you first take down your own walls. Enjoy your time on the mat – however long that may be.
Don’t limit yourself. The universe is vast and beautiful and wonderful. And so are you.


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Ashley Stern

A Wisconsinite at heart, Ashley is currently a student working on her masters in creative writing in Edinburgh, Scotland. She’s a writer, a reader, traveler, a nerd, and a lover of life. Ashley is new to yoga and developing her practice from her student flat. She drinks a lot of tea and even more coffee. She’s a dog person, wears lots of purple, and believes in Laini Taylor’s wise words, “Cake as a way of life.”

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