Church stands by decision to ban yoga class

February 27 2015

THE instructor of a yoga class, which was ousted from a local church hall, says that she has been heartened by the amount of support she has received.

THE instructor of a yoga class, which was ousted from a local church hall, says that she has been heartened by the amount of support she has received.

Naomi Hayama was given notice in December to end her yoga class, which had been running for nine years. St Michael's Church in Pigsty Hill informed her that they will no longer be taking bookings for groups practising "alternative spirituality".

Naomi has since found a new venue upstairs at Portico Play in North Road for her Thursday class, but is still on the the look-out for a new hall for her Monday session.

She says that she needs to find somewhere close by, as many of her students are from Bishopston.

Naomi, who lives in Horfield, said: "People have been really supportive. I've received lots of emails, even from people of the Christian faith opposing the decision. I've also received emails from people wishing me luck with finding a new venue. There's a possibility that I will find somewhere, but there's also possibility that I won't.

"My main gripe with the church is that I have been renting the space for nine years and they didn't even come along to watch the class. I feel their decision was very unfair."

"The hall was perfect for the class and it meant a lot to my students. Part of the reason my story has attracted so much attention is because of how passionate my students have felt.

"At the beginning I thought about just moving my class, but when I told my students, they were shocked and outraged."

She explained to the church that her classes have no religious aspect and are run purely for physical and mental well-being. She also invited members of the church council to observe a class, but they declined.

Her petition, which called on the church to show tolerance and understanding, has received over 1,200 signatures. Her final class was on February 26.

Reverend James Stevenson, who joined the church four and a half years ago, has defended the church's decision. He says that the he is confident the church has acted legally and to show Naomi grace, they have waived the last nine months of her fees, amounting to almost £1,000.

He confirmed that the church will not be going back on its decision.

Rev'd Stevenson said: "We were addressing how our halls were being used and came to the decision that we no longer wished for the yoga classes to continue. It had been an issue for sometime with a lot of people at the church, so they were relieved when it was dealt with.

"By definition, yoga is a spiritual practice - it means the union of mind, body and spirit - and it's an activity which has roots that are not Christ centred.

"We understand that it has upset a lot of people. But, we do reserve the right to exercise our religious freedoms, and decide what happens in our building. Therefore we are not going to reverse our decision."

Rev'd Stevenson added that another reason the decision cannot be reversed is because they have already let out the halls from the beginning of March to other groups. "When we initially gave Naomi the notice, she asked for an extra month, so we agreed. And then she responded with an email saying that it was an agreeable compromise. So we felt very surprised when we found out about her petition."

Reverend Stevenson says that he has received a "very mixed response" from people, with some saying that the church has been intolerant, and others commending the church for standing up for their beliefs.

Naomi Hayama