I attended my first yoga class in 2009 while serving as Campus Minister at UofD High in Detroit. I had recently returned from two years as a Jesuit Volunteer in Belize and was on the fence about entering the Jesuits. I was immediately intrigued by the way this new “American fad” transported me into a state of deep consolation. Yoga brought together so many different parts of myself: the physical, athletic, spiritual, desire for community, intimacy, and a sense of the sacred. It left me feeling calm, connected, grounded and more in touch with my deep desires. Was this of God? Could this be compatible with my Catholic faith? Whatever it may have been, yoga helped me find the clarity and conviction to apply and enter the Jesuits in August 2010.
During the first summer of Philosophy Studies at Fordham, I participated in a 200-hour yoga training program and lived at the University of San Francisco Jesuit community with Frank Buckley, a Jesuit priest and yoga teacher. Six days a week for one month, I spent in a studio with 40 other students learning alignment, sequencing, philosophy, meditation and other aspects of yoga. On Tuesday nights, I attended the donation-based Yoga on the Labyrinth class at Grace Cathedral with 300 to 400 others. Wonder and awe filled my entire being as I moved and breathed along with the diverse sea of people in this beautiful Christian Cathedral. Could this ever happen in a Catholic church? I was going to try.
Upon returning to NYC, I started teaching yoga at a local Bronx food pantry called POTS (Part of the Solution) and at Fordham University. The food pantry yoga class evolved into Spanish-language yoga for the Dominican and Puerto Rican clients of the center, and the Fordham class — called “Chapel Yoga” because it took place in Our Lady’s Chapel — became a very popular Ignatian-based yoga class that continues today under the direction of campus minister Carol Gibney. Over past four and a half years, I’ve had the privilege to teach yoga in jails on the Pine Ridge and Rosebud reservations, to the homeless in the Tenderloin District of San Francisco, at The Center in Hollywood, at Sts. Peter and Paul Church in downtown Detroit, in Australia, Belize, Loyola, Spain, and in rural villages of Northeast India.
The more I’ve immersed myself in Ignatian spirituality and yoga, these two traditions have grown increasingly interconnected. When studying or practicing one, I think about the other. With one foot on the Ignatian spirituality path and the other on the path of yoga, I began to offer retreat experiences that integrate Ignatian spirituality and yoga.
Out of these retreats emerged Ignatian Yoga, an organization I co-founded in 2017 with Alan Haras, a master yoga teacher, yoga studio owner and Ignatian-based spiritual director. Ignatian Yoga is a collaborative effort between Jesuits and non-Jesuit yoga teachers offering workshops, day retreats and multi-day residential retreats sharing the foundations and core principles of Ignatian spirituality and yoga. The programs offer instruction and guidance to experience these two traditions in order to support the spiritual journey. Ignatian Yoga also aims to accompany yoga teachers in Catholic settings and share Ignatian spirituality and yoga with people on the frontiers and margins of society, including people facing homelessness, addiction and incarceration as well as lapsed Catholics and spiritual seekers. I am profoundly grateful for my Jesuit vocation and the many wonderful opportunities and connections it has provided.
Bobby Karle, SJ, a Detroit native, is a teacher at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School in Indianapolis and a co-founder of Ignatian Yoga. To learn more, get involved, or attend an event, visit ignatianyoga.com or email email@example.com.