In truth David, my man, is much more familiar with Our Lady of Perpetual Succour than I. His ancestors come from Portugese Goa, where Catholicism still thrives. I on the other hand, went to a Quaker School that taught Human Studies in place of Religious Education, and have the religious liberalism of my generation, pluralist and tolerant, believing in the idea of many paths leading to one place, the idea of something bigger than oneself, something better than oneself, but not necessarily one benevolent God looking down on our endeavours. I am definitely not used to there being One Way – but I find myself liking the service enough to get out of bed, one Sunday in three, at 7.30am.
I like the way that our fellow worshippers respond to David – he might be the first Paki in the village but they welcome him with open arms, or at least with friendly nods in his direction. My favourite part of the service is giving each other the sign of peace – ‘peace be with you’ we say as we smile and shake hands with our pew neighbours, ‘and also with you’ comes the reply; it makes me feel as if I’ve been a member of the village in which we live for much longer than a year. The service is reassuringly timeless, and it feels good to take the time to stop and think about what we are doing on this earth; the big and the small, the near and the far – the children’s pilgrimage to Walsingham, the arrival of a parish computer ‘ten years younger than the old one’, prayers for the parishioners in Great Yarmouth’s James Paget hospital and for the starving in Africa, all of this reminds me that life might just be about more than whether our new bath should be finished with burnished copper or Farrow and Ball’s Saxon Green.
On the two Sundays in three that I am not at Church I was generally practicing yoga at home. Dom Anthony Sutch, our priest, pretends (I think) to be horrified. The Reverend Richard Farr, of St Mary’s in Henham, on the Essex-Hertfordshire border, had been highly bothered by what he saw as a New Age teaching and a threat to the Christian establishment, claiming that “…yoga… is a gateway into other spiritualities, including Eastern mysticism.’
I am wondering if yoga has become the new religion? Think about it – yoga centres as churches, teachers as priests ministering to their student congregation, asana as the liturgy. There is fierce loyalty to the different yogic methodologies – Ashtanga with its strict disciplines and emphasis on regular practice seems closest to Catholicism, Iyengar’s evangelical and puritanical approach might be considered Protestant, the individualist yoga of Desikachar might be seen as Quaker liberalism.
I’ve told the Dom that I see yoga as a compliment to religion, not a threat. Although yoga is historically infused with Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism, it seeks to put us in touch with who we are, our innermost nature, and as such actually benefits the practice of any religion – helping us to deepen our faith, not lose it. But maybe he should be worried, the point for most regular practitioners of yoga is not just that it puts us in touch with our true selves but that it rewards us with the same sense of community and belonging, and in that sense it had become a rival to the church, especially in urban areas where there are so many young single people and the church has fewer roots.
What do you think? Is yoga the new religion?