It appears that all roads really do lead back to the coronavirus pandemic these days with even yoga taking a battering.
The Greek Orthodox Church has claimed yoga to be “absolutely incompatible” with Christianity after it was widely recommended by the media as a way of de-stressing during lockdown and the slow opening up.
“[Yoga] is a fundamental chapter in Hindu religion… it is not a ‘kind of physical exercise’,” Greece’s Holy Synod said last week and has no place “in the life of Christians”.
It is a view shared by the autocephalous Church of Cyprus which has also spoken out against yoga, theologian Theodoros Kyriacou told the Sunday Mail.
Critics of the church have said that they should loosen up a bit as they are being inflexible on the issue, but Kyriacou explained the underlying reasoning behind the rigid position on the practice.
“Yoga is a school of Hinduism, wherever you look and whatever you read online will link yoga to Hinduism.”
The issue is not as clear cut as that but many of the yoga gatherings reflect the tenets of Hinduism, he said.
He explained that the main issue is that it is difficult to separate the physical practice from its philosophical roots in Hinduism.
Kyriacou said that yoga has been presented in Europe as a purely physical exercise, divorced from the religious aspect, and this has led to greater acceptance.
But he reiterated the very different worldview between Christianity and Hinduism on topics such as reincarnation.
For many, however, yoga is simply a set of physical exercises without links to spirituality or religion. Participants praise benefits such as stress-relief, physical health and mental wellbeing, all of which were highlighted during the lockdown.
When asked to comment on the issue, Suresh Sharma, the commercial and cultural head of the Indian High Commission in Cyprus pointed towards a UN portal which says: “Yoga is a powerful tool to deal with the stress of uncertainty and isolation, as well as to maintain physical well-being.”
The World Health Organisation mentions yoga as a means to improve health in its global action plan for a healthier world.
“Today it is practised in various forms around the world and continues to grow in popularity.”
The immensely popular practice in the West has nothing to do with religion, said Richard Meik – a yoga instructor in Cyprus.
“In the holy text of yoga, God is mentioned but it’s not the same thing – you worship God but it’s the self, yourself,” he said.
“But, of course, it can be separated – the yoga that we do doesn’t really have anything to do with the spiritual aspect.”
Christian leaders’ acceptance of the practice varies widely, he explained, recalling that a church in England was more than happy for him to host a class in their premises.
But even in England, with the liberally inclined Church of England, a yoga instructor was turned away from a church hall in Devon last year.
The Church of England said each parish could decide if “eastern spirituality is something they feel happy with in their church premises”.
The Greek and Greek Cypriot Orthodox churches are famous for sticking to their traditional views, drawing support from the flock but mockery – and at times the ire – of their detractors.
Both churches during the pandemic said that the practice of Holy Communion – which involves many people sharing a single spoon – could in no way lead to the spread of the coronavirus.
To many, yoga is at worst an inoffensive pastime.
It has emerged, however, that to some of a religious persuasion – yoga is not an innocent pastime but a threat to Christianity.