“Am I sure I’m allowed to do this?”
I had to keep asking, because yoga doesn’t really exist in the Christian imagination. It might float in the shadows at the edge of our collective map, but the Bible never talks about yoga and preachers don’t preach about yoga, realities that ultimately make yoga an uncertain thing. Without instruction, yoga becomes difficult to place and near impossible to interpret.
Which meant that opening the door to my first class wasn’t just a physical act; my mind would also be crossing the threshold and carving out space for yoga as an acceptable practice, even if I wasn’t entirely sure that it was a Christian thing to do.
All of this uncertainty and newness meant that yoga took time. It took time to stop worrying about other students seeing me struggle, and it took time to figure out how to keep my too big body on my borrowed mat. It took time to get comfortable with the teacher’s gaze, and it took time to relax into the deliberate pace of a new practice.
As time did its work though, yoga stopped looming on the hinterlands of my imagination and it began to take on new life. Time brought familiarity, and familiarity brought new awareness.
I began to notice my breath, suddenly aware that I breathed all day without ever taking a breath. I let the rhythm and singular focus of this breathing draw me into an awareness of myself, and aware of myself, I became much more aware of how I am connected to Creation.
I began to pay attention to my body. Mindfulness crept into my movements, and I began to notice that yoga isn’t just an exercise in balance or flexibility. Each pose required my entire body to work in concert, and that synthesis demanded head to toe awareness. In order to embrace this new thing, I would have to silence my mind and pay attention to my body.
Grunting my way through the first few classes, I began to sense points of contact between my body and the limited world of the classroom around me.
This breakthrough was huge, but the real revelation was an emerging awareness of the points of contact between yoga and my daily life as a Christ follower.
Yoga and Re-Integration
If you are anything like me, the world seems to be happening in fragments, and those fragments rarely seem to point to God or Spirit or anything even remotely Christ-like. The only certainty is that those fragments will keep coming; disorienting us and making it almost impossible to perceive the closeness of God. It is this increasing disorientation that makes yoga meaningful for me.
Yoga draws me into an awareness of myself, creating calm in spite of an increasingly fragmented world. Yoga teaches me to let mind and body work together, a stark contrast to bodies sitting in coffee shops while minds travel the world twice. Yoga provides a pathway that can be used for living and worshipping well.
I am aware that yoga is taboo for many Christians, and I am also aware that yoga is rooted in a spirituality that is wholly foreign to most Christ-followers. I have no desire to hide from these things and I have no desire to push someone who is uncomfortable with the idea of yoga to try it.
But on that night I begin to experience yoga as a transformative practice.
As Christians we worship a God who is both body and spirit. As amateur yogis, we receive tools for integrating human minds and bodies–tools that empower us to worship God over the noise of a fragmented and fragmenting world.
Ultimately, yoga allows us to chip away at external distractions to become people who are sensitive and aware, alert to the presence of God in Creation.
In this new year, let us become a people who are mindful of the places where soul meets body, breathing deeply to worship a God who is near.