Book Review: Christian Yoga by Jean Marie Déchanet

J. M. Dechanet: Christian Yoga. Hardback, 1960. Burns & Oates (UK), Harper & Row (USA), This lovely little book is the testament of a modest Belgian monk that yoga assists him not just in his prayer and meditation, which he does after his morning practice, but in his whole life as a Christian.

Jean Marie Déchanet was a French Benedictine monk. La Voie du Silence was first published in 1956. The third edition was translated into English in 1960 by Roland Hindmarsh for Burns & Oates in London under the title Christian Yoga, and published that same year.  It was also published in the United States by Harper & Row, where its publication was noted in the July 1960 edition of Time magazine.

Fr Déchanet is careful to distinguish between different kinds of yoga, pointing out that the aims of certain kinds of yoga – control of subconscious processes – are incompatible with the Christian life. Here is what he has to say about Rāja Yoga:

With the Christian, every technique is subordinated to the initiative coming from God… any Yoga that seeks to be Christian must repsect and serve this fundamental trait in Christianity. While it is possible to adapt Hatha Yoga to fit this basic requirement without very much trouble, the same is not true for other forms of Yoga. Rāja Yoga, for instance, seems to be in essence, an absolute turning inwards on oneself… an effort to withdraw oneself from māya, the great cosmic illusion, an absolute silence of the mind that shuts itself off from any outside influence, even though it be divine. It is a direct realisation of the self; a mysticism lacking both dogma and faith.
– Dechanet 1960, p15-16

The preface also contains an oblique reference to Carl Jung, who stated publicly on several occasions that Yoga could never be suitable for Western minds (sic). Fr Déchanet sidesteps the whole question, which I am not convinced he takes seriously:

In writing Christian Yoga I obviously did not intend to solve the important problem which today is busying a number of people very well informed about Indian forms of Yoga, and who are, moreover, eager to see the Christian West work out a Yoga of its own. My modest aim was primararily practical – Ibid p9

He goes on by listing the benefits:

To giet rid of a few problems in general health, to increase one’s capacity for work, to make one’s character gentler and stronger, to free oneself of various complexes, to create in oneself a whole atmosphere of calm and silence, and to do this by exercises in gymnastic or repose and by a simple but careful method of breath-control – such aims may appear humble enough, rather down to earth, and a far cry from the goal of even the more modest of yogis…

I do not intend to betray the cause of Yoga – of the Christian Yoga that people are dreaming of… It is certainly not a mere matter of hygiene and equanimity. But it should be pointed out to those of us whose eyes are turned to the East, as well as made clear to the specialists (who too frequently are prisoners of theory and strangers to practice), that the very first service the Westerner must ask of Yoga is to teach him to become, to re-become, a man – a fully human being, human in the complete sense.
– Ibid, p11

The aim of Christian yoga is to harmonise animus (the conscious thinking mind), anima (the animal body) and spiritus (the spirit), which he calls a setting in order of our powers. Only then can the human being flower and open out in its full beauty.

J.M. Déchanet: Christian Yoga. Paperback, 1965. ISBN: 0-85532-190-3
To the modern reader, it’s also interesting to read that, even in Déchanet’s time, most people were treating yoga as simply a physical exercise.

I leave the last word to Fr. Déchanet, who reminds us of the essential difference between the Christian and the Eastern spiritual life:

The Christian in praying does not have to search for his own self nor to forget himself in the manner of the Orientals, but to open himself to the word of God, for it is solely in this and by this that he can find himself and exist [Ibid p27]

The paperback edition ISBN 0-85532-190-3 was still in print in 1984.

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~ by scalambra on August 3, 2009.

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