I think it would be fair to say that my experience with yoga has been somewhat of a stretch. Pun most definitely intended.
It simply isn’t in my nature to submit myself to quiet focus, non-vigorous exercise, or anything that can be perceived as wishy-washy. That’s the technical term, clearly.
As it turns out, yoga has been none of those things and sometimes all of those things. I usually go through a range of emotion and physical exertion so broad that its like I’m standing on the stage at The Price is Right spinning the giant wheel to see how I’ll feel next.
One element of yoga that has remained slipperier than a wet fish has been its connection to God. Initially I believed all of the stereotypes about this “Eastern practice” — that it was all Buddha, breathing and channeling my chi. And it may be that for some people. But largely the studio where I practice is void of any spirituality. It’s much more focused on exercise, peace and doing whatever works for you.
On my first day in January, I walked across the hardwood floors of the serene room with my walls up, however. I was determined not to let anything other than Christ be the focus of my practice. I decided that I would do my breathing and my movements out of worship and discipline.
But it was hard. I had a difficult time reminding myself to pray, to focus, to move in mindfulness. It was easier to think about my day at work or an argument with a friend; or really, nothing at all.
Which is why when the studio offered a three-part series called “Practicing Yoga with Jesus” I nearly did a hand-spring across my mat.
It promised to teach how to incorporate Jesus into a practice that has traditionally left Him out of it. I couldn’t wait.
Last Friday I walked across those same hardwood floors with my walls lowered, a bit. I still felt apprehensive that the instructor might weaken the Lord into a nice “teacher” with flowers and sunshine and smiles for everyone; in technical terms, wishy-washy.
Imagine my surprise then, when the instructor announced that he was a very serious Catholic.
My jaw did a very limber stretch when he said that. Then two of the four students said they were also Catholic, and I was elated. Even though I am not Catholic, I honestly thought this class would be filled with people who had little regard for solid truth about Jesus, and here was a group from one of the most doctrine-focused churches on the planet. Surely this wasn’t going to be wish-washy!
The instructor introduced himself and told a bit of his journey to incorporate Christian faith into a non-Christian practice. He used the Psalms as an illustration to show that we are supposed to use our bodies, not just our lips, to worship God. Sharing with us that his mother was dying, he pointed out that as her range of motion decreases, he is ever more aware that our ability to move is part of what makes us alive. Not to use that ability is akin to rejecting the life He gave us.
This made perfect sense to me. I honor God when I run. I honor Him when I bike. I show Him gratitude when I hike, or swim or walk a mile. Yoga is another extension of that.
As we went through the motions of exalting God through yoga, I couldn’t help but smile at the fact that a Catholic Chinese man was teaching an Eastern practice to a group of Christians in the most atheistic city in the US. I took this as further proof that only in the Kingdom do these gatherings have any chance of occurring.
About halfway through I hit a snag. We were supposed to do 12 sets of a motion that reflected the Doxology (see? Liturgy in yoga!) and while I loved the concept, I just couldn’t break through.
“How is this going for you, Abby?” the instructor asked me, in a thick Chinese accent.
“Um, I’m having a little perfectionist’s problem,” I replied. “I know I’m supposed to be thinking about God but all I can think about is my posture.”
“Ah, yes, we all do that,” he replied reassuringly. “What you need to remember is that ‘Always, we begin again.'” His twinkling eyes smiled at me behind circular, wire-frame glasses.
I stared back at him with a small smile. Of course. The phrase meant as much to yoga as it does to anyone who knows God. As far as I think I have moved toward Him, as close as I think I am to Him, every single day I have to begin again. I have to choose Him again. That is why it is so hard. But the fact that He promises always to choose us is what makes it so easy.
Normally at the end of every class the instructor bows, hands palms-together and says, “namaste” which is a term of respect and gratitude for having practiced together. I have always withheld this word out of the fear of tip-toeing into non-Biblical territory. I usually whisper “thank you” which is directed at both God and my teacher for instructing me. On this Jesus Yoga night, however, I was lead to recite the Lord’s Prayer, complete with movement to represent each petition in the prayer:
Thy kingdom come
Thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven
Give us this day our daily bread
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors
And lead us not into temptation
But deliver us from evil
For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory forever.