An Irish bishop has warned that the practice of mindfulness and yoga are “not suitable” in school settings.

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Bishop of Waterford and Lismore Alphonsus Cullinan wrote October 10 to schools across Waterford City and County on the occasion of the new academic year.

“Prayer is key and is the central part of each school day”, Cullinan said.

He added that he has personally seen that “children have no problem praying. It comes naturally to them, once they are given the time, space and proper setting”.

But he said that he had been asked “by several people” for a word on the place in schools of yoga and mindfulness.

Go deeper

On these meditative practices, Cullinan said his doubt was: “Will they bring us closer to Christ or replace Him?”

“Yoga is not of Christian origin and is not suitable for our parish school setting and especially not during religious education time”, the bishop warned.

Regarding mindfulness, Cullinan admitted that “in a sense” it has been practised in the Christian tradition “since the beginning”.

But he explained that “Christian mindfulness is not mindlessness”, but instead 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 quoted from words of Pope Francis in 2015, to the effect 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”, Cullinan quoted the Pope.


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Why it matters

The bishop concluded his letter encouraging teachers to instead “pray the Rosary and help the children to spend time with Jesus in adoration or in quiet meditation in the classroom”.

“You will find a peace from Him which is beyond price”, Cullinan assured educators.

The Waterford News and Star contacted a number of schools in the area who confirmed they had received Bishop Cullinan’s letter.

The schools confirmed that both teachers and pupils practised yoga and mindfulness occasionally, but declined to comment further on the bishop’s letter.

For its part, the Irish National Teachers’ Association (INTO) said teachers have a certain amount of flexibility and autonomy with regard to how they implement curricula.

“The INTO believes that schools are best placed to make decisions about how they implement the curriculum, taking into account their school culture and ethos and the needs of their pupils”, the union said in a statement.

For the record

Local yoga instructor John Stokes told the Waterford News and Star that schools need to “forget about focusing on religion and instead focus on the benefits of spirituality”.

“In an age where children are really suffering from anxiety and stress we should embrace practices like yoga, meditation and mindfulness. We should consider having an extra class added to the curriculum. Maybe call it Spirituality Studies”, Stokes suggested.

“Yoga and mindfulness have been shown to improve both physical and mental health in school-age children”, Stokes continued.

“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”, he said.

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