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Catholic Yogi: An Oxymoron

Updated: May 4, 2022

I love oxymorons and when seemingly oppositional things actually do make sense together. My first MA thesis in the Humanities & Leadership at the New College in San Francisco, CA, more than 20 years ago, was entitled: "Leadership is Art." Not "leadership is an art," but actually "leadership IS art." This was back when I was just beginning to get the hang of dual truths existing at the same time. This was also about the time I came-out a second time, after coming-out gay five years prior. This time being bisexual. Now that I am identifying more as a Transgender Bisexual Man, I’m learning there are multiple truths that can exist at once too.

Reversing the script about Catholicism began for me around seven/eight years ago when my family moved to the East Bay near Oakland, CA. A student who is a teacher at a local Catholic school approached me after a kid’s yoga class I was teaching at a nearby yoga studio. At first I flinched and cringed at the word Catholic, but then was reminded of my yoga teacher Darren Main who not only teaches yoga in an Episcopal Church but also wrote the book about talking to Christians about homosexuality. I decided to try to have an open mind, reverse the hate into love, and attend the job interview. I was hired and have been shifting and reframing my thinking about Catholicism ever since. I was baptized and confirmed in 2015.

Even though I have daily struggles with my spouse, who despises Catholicism for its patriarchal, hierarchal, and closeted tendencies, I feel I have successfully been reframing my conception of the very institution that may cause marginalization and suffering on earth.

Yoga was spoon fed to me as a child. My mom and my grandma both taught yoga classes. My mom inspired me to read Siddhartha as a preteen and it is still one of my favorites regarding the Buddhist side of yoga. My family growing-up was part of a hippy commune of trust fund intellectuals who thought they could self-sustain and live off the land in Colorado. Yoga was of course a central thread, as well as LSD and marijuana. My yoga stems from stories of trust fund brats traveling to India and finding the true path to enlightenment.

I was however sexually abused as a kid from someone in our spiritual community. My family put him away in jail, but at the same time the molestation charges of the Catholic Church were arising as seen in the movie Spotlight. This was the early 90s.

I began to think all Western religions were fronts for child molestation, so I avoided them like the plague. I had a good atheist phase, ten years in my teens. I still value the “spirituality” behind atheism because denying a God, in this opposite’s attract lesson, brings one that much closer in conversation.

It was easier for me to begin to trust Eastern religions like Buddhism at first. Then in my first MA program we read the Bhagavad Gita and I was hooked on God. I finally found a way to envision God seemingly on my own two feet and attribute Hinduism as my home religion, even though Catholicism is far more familiar to my race, gender, and class.

I love the studies of religion and feel they are a great part of our humanism. To deny the truths behind world religions is to deny a big part of our humanity. I simply need to reframe all the bad parts. Yoga needed the same for me, but because yoga was such a part of my life-long identity, I didn’t realize I’ve been doing this for yoga all my life.

Catholicism, I thought, was hand’s off for most of my life, however I found myself questioning who owns the word 'catholic?' This also happened just before my yoga teaching began to take off, when I asked, who owns yoga? Well, if I can own Catholic for myself, I’d say it is very reminiscent of our/my convenant with God that took the form of a rainbow. Ironically my first kid’s yoga teacher training was with an outfit called: Rainbow Kid’s Yoga.

I suppose I teach kid’s yoga because I also got to stay-at-home with my kids as they were infants and toddlers. When they started going to preschool I started teaching preschool yoga. Being more an effeminate male all my life I was the only boy in dance class, the only boy in yoga class, but it really hasn’t bothered me as much as in preschool education, especially Catholic preschool education. In an institution that prides itself on separating gender roles and opportunities, it feels extra scary and queer to be the one and only male preschool teacher in the Oakland Diocese.

I shall be soon framing my research on yoga education in Catholic schools from a queer theorist perspective. As I love Father James Martin’s Building a Bridge book about the Church working with and supporting the LGBTQ+ community, I am still very scared to come-out with my research stating how yoga education in our Catholic schools is a direct intervention to specifically reach and support the LGBTQ+ population.

Yoga in Catholic schools may possibly be a way to support and transform marginalization into leadership of all kinds. Ironically, teaching yoga in the Catholic schools is safer than the public schools, but yoga education itself is marginalized at this time. We need more yoga educational research. The xenophobia and ethnocentrism I’ve encountered teaching yoga in public schools, but less in Catholic schools, is tremendous.

In James Martin's book he tells the story of someone saying how easy it is to come-out queer to Catholics, but so hard to come-out Catholic to the LGBTQ+ community. In my case, coming-out as a Queer theorist researching the benefits of yoga education in Catholic schools is kind of terrifying and overwhelming. Please pray for me to succeed with my doctoral studies about yoga as an inclusion intervention for Catholic schools.

The Divinity in me, sees the Divinity in you.

Emmit Hancock is currently pursuing his PhD in California. His research focuses on Catholic identity and teaching children's yoga. Check back next month for an introduction to his research.

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