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In March of 2009, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a document declaring the practice of Reiki (pronounced RAY kee) incompatible with Christian teaching and scientific evidence and therefore inappropriate for Catholic institutions to promote or support. The actual document can be found as a pdf here.
Scandalously, many churches, Catholic hospitals, and retreat centers continue to offer Reiki as a “healing practice” despite the Bishops’ clear condemnation. It is important to understand what Reiki is and why it is so dangerous to the practice of authentic Catholicism.
Reiki originated in Japan in the late 1800s and was invented by a man named Mikao Usui. He was a well-educated man, having traveled to both Europe and China to study. Usui was a successful businessman and was interested in arts, medicine, Buddhism, and was a member of the Rei Jyutu Ka, a metaphysical group dedicated to developing psychic abilities.
It is said that in a difficult period of his life when his business was failing and he was feeling spiritually empty, Usui was atop Mt. Kurama fasting and suddenly received a “Reiki” over his head. He was then infused with the Reiki, was healed spiritually, and acquired the Reiki cure. From whom he received this “gift” is not mentioned. After this experience, Usui took himself to Tokyo and in 1922 he opened a center for training and cures in Reiki practice.
Reiki was brought to the West by a woman named Hawayo Takata in 1937. She was raised in Hawaii by Japanese parents and on a trip to Japan became ill, eventually seeking the healing of a Reiki master and later becoming one herself. She left Japan prior to World War II and spent thirty years practicing and teaching Reiki in Hawaii.
So what is Reiki? Reiki is comprised of two words, “Rei” which means “God’s wisdom” and “Ki” which means “life force energy”. It is a practice of stress reduction and relaxation that is said to promote healing. The technique is to minister by “laying on hands” and is based upon the idea that an unseen “life force energy” flows through us and is what controls our physical and spiritual health.
It is interesting to note that the techniques for laying on hands are taught by Reiki Masters but the Reiki itself, the healing force, is said to be passed from teacher to student via an “attunement” which opens up a well of life force energy. People who have experienced attunement report undergoing such life altering changes as having their third eye opened, increased psychic abilities, releasing of negative feelings and energy and, oddly, a change in food preferences. Other people claim to feel absolutely nothing. It seems to be a hit and miss kind of thing.
Like many New Age practices Reiki is merely a hijacked Eastern philosophy with Pantheistic roots, some elements of Christian doctrine and a dash of self deification. The story of Mikao Usui climbing a mountain and returning with supernatural powers is designed to evoke the forty days Jesus spent in the desert before His death, or Moses’ time in the desert or Mohamed’s. Even the idea of passing the power along in a formal attunement takes liberally from the apostolic succession of the Catholic church.
In using the familiar concepts and terminology of legitimate religious traditions, the Reiki master makes people of faith comfortable with a practice that defies logic and is at a cross purpose with the practice of Christianity. This life force of which they speak can be likened to the Christian doctrine of the soul. While we, as Christians have never claimed scientific evidence to prove the existence of our souls, it is a matter of faith. We do not believe that the soul is moveable from one to another, nor is it a healing force. Our doctrine calls for healing of a soul through confession, prayer, spiritual direction, reception of the Blessed Sacrament, and the like. The soul itself does not heal. Rather it enables us to seek the healing grace provided by God through the sacraments.
From the International Center for Reiki Training’s publication, A Brief Overview:
“The knowledge that an unseen energy flows through all living things and is connected directly to the quality of health has been part of the wisdom of many cultures since ancient times. The existence of this “life force energy” has been verified by recent scientific experiments, and medical doctors are considering the role it plays in the functioning of the immune system and the healing process.”
Since the “energy force” is unseen it would really not be verifiable by any reputable medical practitioner thereby making that statement a falsehood. Any role an unverifiable force in the body could play in healing would be a figment of the patient’s imagination, or the power of self delusion,
Also from the same publication:
“Ki is the life force. It is also called the vital life force or the universal life force. This is the nonphysical energy that animates all living things. As long as something is alive, it has life force circulating through it and surrounding it; when it dies, the life force departs.”
This, again, tries to liken the Ki with the Christian concept of a soul but fails in that, as we know, all life comes from God. The life of grace that is our soul will not die but will experience everlasting life. What kind of everlasting life is up to the person in question.
Reiki masters claim that Reiki is not a religion or even spiritual, rather it’s the use of the body’s own force to heal. Since there is no scientific method of qualifying this and there is an entire culture built around Reiki, it is hard to see how it can be anything but a spiritual practice. Certainly the laying on of hands, a key component of the healing, speaks to many healing rituals in many faith traditions.
There are even five principles that Reiki followers are supposed to adhere to:
- Just for today, I will not be angry
- Just for today, I will not worry
- Just for today, I will be grateful
- Just for today, I will do my work honestly
- Just for today, I will be kind to every living thing
Rather kindergartenesque as far as creeds go, but it certainly expresses a spiritual ideology.
It is particularly strange and somewhat horrifying that Reiki is practiced in Catholic institutions all over the country. A retreat center not far from my house offers Reiki and massage at every weekend retreat. I think you need to seriously rethink your spiritual life if your idea of a Catholic religious retreat is to disrobe and have someone lay hands on you.
When meaningless and incongruous acts are performed within the context of a real religious service or ritual it is superstition. To add superstition to a Catholic retreat truly is exposing the attendees to sin. It also exposes them to forces that may try to use this spurious laying on of hands to thwart the will of God and cause serious spiritual harm.
When confronted, many Catholics who practice Reiki or receive the “treatments” claim that it can be Christianized, and invocations to the Holy Spirit and such accompany the healing ritual. This justification simply does not hold up. There is no need to take a non-Catholic spiritual practice and try to force it to be something it isn’t. Our faith provides all that we need in terms of spirituality.
Things that are good, true, and beautiful have no need for extra Christianization since the author of all that is good and true and beautiful clearly provided them. Things that are not good, true, and beautiful have no place in Catholic circles. It is for this reason that it is incumbent upon all faithful Catholics to be aware that there is no place for New Age practices of any kind in our worship, rituals, practices, or prayers. If something is added in the name of “spirituality” or “enlightenment,” be sure to question why Catholics need to import from other sources when our faith was given to us by the Source of all truth.
Catholicism is by itself a whole and complete worship with no need of spurious addends. When the faithful are well-educated and well aware of what is consistent with our faith and what is not, their radar should be well-tuned to weed out superstition and heresy.
I did not want to write about yoga. Yoga is controversial. Lately I feel this need to avoid controversy. Apparently God has other plans for me since recently no less than five people asked me to write about yoga.
So here we go, yoga.
Yoga is an ancient Sanskrit word meaning union. It is an “asana” which means the “practice of posing or posture”. In Western culture the words are used interchangeably but that is not really correct since yoga is also comprised of a spiritual and emotional element that has its roots in Brahmanism which is the basis of modern-day Hinduism. The earliest practice of yoga is known to have taken place in the Verdic period, the time in which the oldest scriptures of Hinduism were written, art from that period depicts people in the various poses. Vedic hymns praise a divine power and the practice of yoga was to unite mind and body in praise and worship. Yoga evolved to include meditation practices and sometime near the year 500 BC the Bhagavad-Gita, or the Lord’s Song, was composed. It is the oldest known yoga scripture and is said to have come from a conversation from a Prince Arjuna and a god-man Krishna.
Yoga has eight basic principles, referred to as the Eight Limbs of Classical Yoga.
- Yama, which means social restraints or ethical values;
- Niyama, which is personal observance of purity, tolerance, and study;
- Asanas or physical exercises;
- Pranayama, which means breath control or regulation;
- Pratyahara or sense withdrawal in preparation for Meditation;
- Dharana, which is about concentration;
- Dhyana, which means Meditation; and
- Samadhi, which means ecstasy.
None of this sounds particularly harmful, does it? Hang on, we are getting there. The purpose of these principles is to reach for the divine. Except that the divine they are reaching for isn’t really divine at all.
“Yoga exercises are practiced to free the soul from the body. Some of these exercises were: to rid one’s self of moral faults, although there is no consensus as to what these faults are, to sit in certain, sometimes painful postures, check the breath, and reduce thought to a minimum by staring at the tip of the nose; to place the soul in a particular part of the body, and so gradually acquire mastery over it, or, rather, let the soul, the true self, acquire mastery over the body; to stave and learn to subsist on air or even without it; to concentrate thought by meditation, i.e. to think of nothing. Thyana, the highest state of which is the cataleptic trance samadhi, in which the mind is suppressed but the soul is in full activity. In this sate the person is a mahatma, a master-soul and can enjoy a temporary release from the body which it leaves to go roaming about, performing wonderful feats on material nature and controlling other less powerful souls. This latter was the secret of the Yogi’s real power and was supposed to be done by a transfer of soul. When the soul re-enters the body, the Yoga wakes and is like other people. By repeated exercises the soul can become so strong that is secures perpetual release from the body, thus, according to the older Yoga teaching, it flies to heaven where it enjoys great happiness, riding in a celestial car attended by lovely women and music; but with the latter Yogas, on breaking all bodily bonds it formed immediate absorption into the Supreme Soul.” (Source: NewAdvent.org)
Yoga was introduced to the West in the nineteenth century as part of an Eastern religion craze that was happening. It became particularly popular in America beginning in the 1930’s culminating in the 1960’s with the popularity of Maharishi Mahesh, the Yogi who popularized Transcendental Meditation. You may remember seeing pictures of him with the Beatles, who famously, spent a weekend in his ashram learning about TM.
There is nothing there that we, as Catholics, should be a part of. Unfortunately, yoga is wildly popular in our culture and classes are available in schools, community centers, churches and every fitness center you walk into.
So let’s boil this down. Yoga is a part of the Hindu religion that has expanded to include many New Age beliefs that is disguised as a harmless exercise program. There is no denying that yoga began as a prayer posture to praise and worship various Hindu gods. The postures all have Hindi/Sanskrit names which have great significance in the Hindu religion. The meditation portion of much yoga practice is designed to center people on themselves and to focus their energy on themselves rather than, what we as Catholics should be doing, that is resting in the Holy Spirit. It is a very self-centered practice and one designed, not to bring you closer to God, or even other people, rather closer in to yourself. The first words from a yoga instructor’s mouth will be to tell you to empty your mind. As Christians we are not called upon to seek mindlessness but rather to constantly renew our minds to be able to discern God’s will (Romans 12:2).
In 1999, while serving as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Father Gabriel Amorth issued the document “Some Aspects of Christian Meditation“ in which he warns Catholics about the dangers of eastern practices such as yoga, Zen, and transcendental meditation, saying that these practices have the danger of degenerating “into a cult of the body” that debases Christian prayer.
He also states that yoga poses could create a feeling of well-being in the body which could be confused with “authentic consolations of the Holy Spirit.” (Source: Women of Grace)
Yoga is problematic for Catholics because it makes us very comfortable with a New Age, cult-like practice that serves to draw us away from God. Spiritually it is incredibly harmful if the participant actually starts to fall into the nonsense espoused at many classes. Yoga is always referred to as a “practice”. This is a clear indication that it is a not for Catholics. Witchcraft and Wicca are also are also referred to as practice and everyone knows Catholics should not be joining covens for the interesting meetings. Were yoga truly just exercise it would be called a class or a program. I have never heard anyone call their treadmill a practice or refer to their practice of Zumba. They may brag about surviving it but it does not consist of an entire lifestyle, and a lifestyle yoga is, believe me. A profitable one for many, including that Marharishi, who became yogi to the stars and retired from public life living large on the proceeds of their foolishness.
Many argue that the physical benefits outweigh the spiritual dangers since the exercises are easy to do and build strength and balance. It is at this point that I must confess that I have taken yoga classes myself. I am a big fan of any exercise I can do laying down and yoga seemed like a lazy way to get fit. It is, in fact, pretty strenuous and since I have begun seriously researching the threat to our faith by the insidious arms of the New Age movement I realize how very dangerous the practice of yoga could be to people of faith. My own experience bears that out.
I had taken a few hot yoga classes (called Bikram yoga) and I didn’t really get into it because it was expensive and the class was at 6:00 am and I hate getting up early. Then I joined a gym (a popular chain) and noticed they gave yoga classes. The first class I took was given by a nice lady who merely guided us through the exercises, using meaningless to me, English names for them, focusing on strength and posture. I was impressed enough by the workout to show up for another class a few days later. This was taught by a man who had obviously bought the whole spiritual nonsense behind the practice and was not shy about showing it. He “OM’d” which is, I later found out, a sacred incantation to the god Omkara, he burned sage and waved it around and he spoke the Hindu names. He had a little gong that he hit an chanted to, it was very disturbing to me. I was outta there, long before the class ended. I have to tell you it was the creepiest feeling I had ever had and I was uncomfortable until I went to confession. I felt as if I were under spiritual attack while in that room with that man and whenever I see him I get the same creeped out feeling. I still go to that gym although I don’t take those classes anymore. I mostly work out alone now.
There is no physical benefit to be had from yoga that you could not achieve in any well run exercise class. All good excerise should begin and end with stretching and every trainer out there will focus on balance and building muscle tone. You could derive the same benefits from most classes given at most gyms without the whole “OM” praying to a Hindu god thing.
It is particularly important that young people, especially young women, be told that this is not a practice that will feed them spiritually. Like many New Age practices it is pretty and comfortable and given in lovely surroundings with nice music playing. It feels happy to be in a yoga studio and young people, whose lives are so frenetically paced, might find solace in such surroundings. The fact is that there are parts of the yoga movement which are actually cults that prey upon the young and uncatechized, stealing their time, money and eventually their souls. We must guard them against this, a difficult task, since it is so prevalent.
Not helping is the recent popularity of the book by Elizabeth Gilbert; Eat, Pray, Love which has young women seeking the kind of self centered peace that the author achieves in her narcissistic memoir. The power of her message is so compelling that, Julia Roberts, a Catholic, converted to Hindu while filming the movie version and had her children renamed with Hindu names. Seriously. This is such a shame and indicative of the culture we live in. It also does not speak well of Ms. Roberts intellect. Sorry Julia but people who jump into a religion because of an Oprah book club selection don’t impress me as being all that cerebral.
While the devout Catholic is probably not going to come to any harm going to a yoga class the question we must ask ourselves is why take the risk that the muck of a few thousand years of heresy settles in your soul? Especially when a good aerobics class will do your body just as much good.
The other day I received a letter from a former doctor of mine. This was an obstetrician that I used to see years ago who decided to longer practice obstetrics, while I was pregnant with twins, due to the high cost of the malpractice insurance. He was a very nice man and I was sorry to lose him as a caregiver. This was five years ago and I look at it as providential since I have since found an amazing pro-life obstetrician who goes along with my crazy idea of having a large family.
The letter was more than a little disturbing. It was an announcement of a change in his practice, and in fact, of his whole viewpoint in the practice of medicine. He was associating his new philosophy with that of Dr. Andrew Weil and the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine. This is all fine and good. There is nothing against our faith in taking a whole body and mind approach to healing. In the letter he indicated that his office would provide a variety of services and the names of the practitioners were listed on the side of the letterhead. There was a nutritionist and several kinds of therapists for both mind and body and there at the end was a yoga instructor and a psychic healer.
Now, I was not considering going to this doctor, but had I been this would have been a huge red flag for me. The yoga was annoying but you can’t seem to go anywhere any more without someone wanting to sign you up for a yoga class, but psychic healing?
Psychic healing is a practice by which a person who may or may not claim to have psychic ability, lays hands on the “patient” and unblocks their energy force and allows the force to flow freely through them promoting both physical and emotional healing.
Or something weird like that.
I generally unblock my energy force with coffee. It works and does not lead me into mortal sin.
Reiki is the most common and popular form of physic healing that is, scandalously, offered in many parishes and Catholic hospitals. Aura healing is also a physic healing practice that is popular and claims to cleanse your aura and unblock the energy flow to your chakras and allow negative energy to flow out.
Let me make this perfectly clear, your life source is your soul, if it is blocked with negativity that is called sin. If you want to be spiritually healed make a good confession and an earnest penance. There is also no such thing as an aura. There I have said it. No auras.
Practitioners of these “healing” methods are often certified by organizations that exist to promote New Age philosophies and occultism. You can usually become certified online and be out unblocking chakras for a large fee in a very short time indeed. As Catholics we would never consent to accept a sacrament from a minister or priest who received an online certification nor, as intelligent people, would we accept real medical treatment from a doctor who only completed an online course. If that is the case then why would you entrust your mind and soul to someone who filled out a questionnaire online and now claims to be able to cleanse your mind and spirit? It makes no sense.
Catholics should shun these practices and complain loudly should they be offered by any parish or Catholic organization. In 2009 The US Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement preventing any use of or promotion of Reiki by Catholic chaplains, retreat centers or health care facilities;
Reiki “finds no support either in the findings of natural science or in Christian belief,” the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Doctrine said in six pages of guidelines. Moreover, practicing Reiki puts Catholics’ spiritual health in danger, the bishops said, by corrupting worship of God and turning religious devotion “in a false direction.”
“A Catholic who puts his or her trust in Reiki would be operating in the realm of superstition,” the bishops said, “the no-man’s-land that is neither faith nor science.”
If you want true spiritual healing seek out a faithful priest, a representative of Christ here on earth and ask him to hear your confession and give you absolution. The peace and love you will experience will bring grace to every part of your life and you won’t have to wonder what a chakra is.