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Get to know: Alan Haras ’16, combining religious traditions into something new

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February 27, 2018

Alan Haras does a yoga pose.In January, Jesuitical, a podcast presented by America Media, which publishes America, The Jesuit Review, posed the question “Is it possible to blend yoga and Catholicism?”

On the podcast, Bobby Karle, S.J., answers questions about Ignatian Yoga, a new movement gaining attention and which he co-founded with Alan Haras, a 2016 graduate of University of Detroit Mercy.

Haras, who came to Detroit Mercy to earn a master’s degree in Religious Studies, said Ignatian Yoga draws upon the dynamics of the Spiritual Exercises and, specifically, the Jesuit philosophy of cura personalis, or care of the whole person. It’s about finding God in all things, including yourself, and giving thanks for the gift of life.

“People today are so stretched for time that they often don’t take care of themselves,” Haras said. “Yoga is a way for people to come home to themselves, reconnect with who they are and find a renewed sense of intention and purpose. It provides an opportunity to slow down, listen deeply to what is stirring in one’s heart and take a ‘long, loving look at the Real.’”

Teaching yoga, Haras writes, is like a ministry of consolation, a philosophy that dates back to the earliest Jesuits who offered “help and care as a way of revealing the God who helps.”

Haras has been teaching yoga for 13 years and is the owner Hamsa Yoga Center in Lake Orion, Mich. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Religious Studies where he was introduced to and fell in love with Indian philosophy, and discovered yoga. Years later, he decided to continue his education and said Detroit Mercy felt like a good fit. He learned more about the program at the Jesuit residence on campus and said, “I left Lansing-Reilly knowing my life was about to change for the better.”

This change included earning his master’s degree, converting to Catholicism, doing the Spiritual Exercises, becoming a trained spiritual director and retreat guide and the founder and director of The Cardoner Institute for Contemplative Leadership, which is “dedicated to fostering transformative insight through programs that connect one’s spiritual identity with a sense of mission and purpose in the world.”

It was about this time he met Karle, and the two began exploring the intersections of the two, centuries old traditions of Ignatian spirituality and yoga.

The two often find themselves defending this combination of yoga, so often associated with Hindu or Buddhist traditions, and Ignatian spirituality, but they — and others — say they are more alike than one might expect.

Francis X. Clooney, S.J., a Harvard professor, Hindu scholar and comparative theologian, says the common ground between the two is that yoga and Ignatian spirituality both have, as the end goal, “a freedom to be a certain type of person in the world.”

James Martin, S.J., editor at large of America magazine, calls himself a fan of this movement.

“I think it’s one of the great ideas in the Society,” he says in a video on ignatianyoga.com. “I think a lot of people forget that we are embodied creatures…so it’s important to take our bodies seriously. And one the great things about Ignatian Yoga is that it encourages us to do that in an Ignatian way.”

Haras says it this way: “For me, it’s something that can lead us toward a deeper experience of wholeness, interior freedom, and solidarity with others. People can do Ignatian Yoga and afterward they are welcome to interpret that feeling of peace in a way that makes most sense to them.

“I tell people who question it to come and see,” he continued. “Maybe it’s not for everyone, but for those who are interested, it can be transformative experience and an opportunity to ‘find God in all things.’”

For more information, visit ignatianyoga.com and alanharas.com.

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