If you search for "Christian" and "yoga" in a library database or Google, you'll inevitably run across a book called Christian Yoga by Fr. Jean-Marie Déchanet. Originally published in French in 1956, Christian Yoga is one of the oldest books available considering the intersection of yoga and Christianity, and in many ways, Fr. Déchanet became the Father of today's movement of Christians practicing yoga.
So who was Fr. Déchanet?
Jean-Marie Déchanet, O.S.B. was born Gabriel-Robert-Vladimir Déchanet in Isches (Vosges), France, on January 18, 1906. His father, Octave Déchanet, died when he was only two, and his mother, Marie-Rose Braconnier, raised him and his older brother with the help of her parents. His family survived in the location of the battle of Verdun, considered the lengthiest and bloodiest battle in human history.
In 1924 Déchanet entered Saint-Andrew’s abbey as an oblate brother. (He was refused the ordination process because Church law forbade a man with epilepsy, which he had, from becoming a priest.) In his early 40’s he was “providentially cured” of his illness and began learning various forms of physical exercises; eventually he discovered hatha yoga, which he subsequently wrote about extensively as well as taught others through group classes over the course of 20-plus years. He was ordained a priest on May 22, 1948. From 1956 to 1964 he lived at St. Andrew’s mission Kansenia (Katanga) in Africa working on various missionary projects. When his requests to adapt rather than impose European monastic culture on the locals was rejected by his superiors, he chose to leave the mission and return to Europe.
Not wanting to return to the St. Andrew’s Abbey, Déchanet reached an agreement with the bishop of Grenoble and his abbot at St. Andrews for him to establish himself in Valjouffrey, a small hamlet in southern France, where he lived and worked for more than 24 years. At Valjouffrey he gave classes on hatha yoga, theology and whole foods. From the 1970s, French, Swiss and Italian people came to visit him in Valjouffrey and to learn his teachings on spirituality and health.
During the autumn of 1990, Father Jean-Marie returned to the St. Andrew’s Abbey where he spent the last months his life. He died on May 19, 1992.