Prayer is a huge part of the Catholic church. There are a ton of prayer practices that are recognized by the Church such asking a saint to intercede, praying a rosary, saying a novena, etc. The entire liturgical celebration is in itself a prayer. But what exactly does it mean to pray?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) says, “Whether prayer is expressed in words or gestures, it is the whole man who prays. But in naming the source of prayer, Scripture speaks sometimes of the soul or the spirit, but most often of the heart (more than a thousand times)” (CCC 2562). A key word I would like to focus on is “gestures.” We can make our whole life a prayer to God. In a similar way we are not called to go to Church to get something out of it or listen to a good homily. We are called to give the praise to God that he deserves.
Using the physical aspect of yoga as a prayer to God can also help the spirituality of a Catholic practitioner. This would fall under the fifth type of prayer defined in the Catechism, “Prayer of Praise.” The entire Catholic life can be and should be a gift to God. In every action, a Catholic should seek to honor God. A yoga practice can be used as a way to fully connect the body and soul to prayer. We can dedicate our yoga practice to God each and every time we step on to the mat. If your yoga teacher makes you hold a pose for a lot longer than you usually would (guilty!), offer up that sensation for someone else who is suffering. When Saint Charlene Richard was dying, she offered up her suffering for others. Practicing yoga with an intention in mind is one simple way to dedicate a piece of our lives selflessly.
So is meditating the same as praying? Well, yes and no.
In Catholicism, meditation is a method of prayer. As defined in the CCC, “this form of prayerful reflection [meditation] is of great value, but Christian prayer should go further: to the knowledge of the love of the Lord Jesus, to union with him” (CCC 2708). Catholicism approves of meditation practices, such as the meditating on the mysteries of the rosary, as long as they lead to a connection with Jesus who, according to the trinitarian belief, is God and the Holy Spirit. As both Catholicism and yoga define, meditation is not useful unless it connects one with God.
In yoga, meditation is the key to a successful and meaningful yoga practice. A meditative breath leads a practitioner throughout the practice and especially in asanas, or poses, that may panic the body. Many Catholics will take time to meditate on Jesus’ life, teachings, or crucifixion as a way to ease the reaction to surrounding situations. Meditation is essential in savasana, the concluding asana of a yoga practice. In this asana, a yogi lays on their mat and clears their mind. The purpose of performing this pose is to allow any and every connection with the Divine or God. This is where “yoga” (union with the Divine) is the fundamental benefit of a practice. As mentioned in an earlier post, I use savasana as quiet, prayer time.
Prayer is a simple way to release the mind and carelessly connect to God. Take prayer time (in whatever way that may be) today and every day.
Peace and namaste,
** Shared with permission from Allyson Huval, founder and blogger for Bethel Yogi.