The discipline of Yoga, an ancient spiritual, mental and physical practice, was a taboo topic in my church upbringing.
I feel I have to be very careful in verbalizing my stance on Yoga. I’m part of a circle of people who are extremely divided on the subject. I’m not promoting Yoga for everyone, nor am I judging it all as evil. I’m simply embarking on an experiment to see if it can help me as much as it has helped others I know.
I made a goal to attend Yoga four times this summer. To dedicated Yogi’s out there, I bet that seems like a small number. To me, it seems like a huge, but manageable goal. As a fitness instructor, who does weight training, I have muscles that are often tight and sore. I’m at the gym regularly, and I seldom feel like making time for extra stretching or Yoga. My flexibility is not increasing, and my recovery time is becoming longer, hence the Yoga experiment. I was in a car accident in the fall, and got whiplash that persisted for months, despite the more than weekly massages and physio. Many claim that Yoga has helped them manage pain, and heal from various injuries. I am also in a season of big life change, and could use some focused relaxation time to de-stress.
In the church, Yoga has been seen as anti-Christian, too new-age, or even demonic. A simple Google search on “yoga and the church” brings up titles such as “Church Bans Yoga because it is Non-Christian,” or “Should Church Buildings be used for Yoga Classes?”
Here’s what WebMD says about the fitness benefits of Yoga:
“Workout fads come and go, but virtually no other exercise program is as enduring as yoga. It’s been around for more than 5,000 years. Yoga does more than burn calories and tone muscles. It’s a total mind-body workout that combines strengthening and stretching poses with deep breathing and meditation or relaxation” (www.webmd.com, July 25/18).
Hmm. As a Christian, do I participate in Yoga for the physical benefits, or do I steer clear altogether, just in case? The answer to this question isn’t simple. Rather than a black or white, yes/no decision, I believe the answer is very grey, and is different for everyone.
I signed up for my first Yoga class while I was in University. I was talked out of going to it by some well-meaning family members, who convinced me that it wasn’t right for me. Ironically, those same family members now practice Yoga as they’ve discovered how much it has benefitted their health. They’ve experienced relief from nerve problems and other ailments, through Yoga.
About a decade ago, the church I was attending brought in a practice called “Holy Yoga.” I practised my first yoga class there, and found it to be mentally and physically relaxing; it increased my flexibility, and I was able to connect spiritually with God. I continued to attend Holy Yoga, until the church cancelled it, due to the overwhelming amounts of negative feedback from several members; people were leaving the church over the fact that Yoga was happening on a weeknight, in the building.
A couple of years later, I tried Yoga again, when I got a gym membership, and discovered it was included at no extra cost. In the first Yoga class I went to, the teacher had an idol at the front, and he encouraged participants to pray to it. I respectfully refrained. As that isn’t something I’m personally interested in, I chose a different teacher the next time. That class was very fitness focused, and helped me loosen up my tight muscles and joints, and relax.
Today, I embarked on the first class of my summer Yoga experiment. I woke up early, got warmed up a bit first, and then entered the Yoga room and waited patiently. The teacher was seven minutes late. That wasn’t a great start, but I put it out of my mind and prepared myself to be open to the experience.
She began by taking requests for certain areas people wanted to work on. Several participants asked to focus on lower back, so we spent the first part of class loosening up the lower back with a variety of stretches, lying with our backs on the floor.
I was a bit distracted by the lady next to me, who was breathing so loudly, I’m sure everyone in the room could hear it. She also fell over a couple of times, but that’s okay; I’ll probably fall over one of these days too! I tried to tune her out and focus on relaxing my own body, and enjoying the relief of my lower back tension.
We spent the remainder of the class opening up our hips, shoulders, and hamstrings. I wouldn’t consider myself to be very flexible, but I was surprised at how much I was able to move after an hour of being in a warm room, committing proper time to each stretch, breathing through the movements, and slowly relaxing into them.
How do I feel now that it’s done? Physically, I feel looser, and more relaxed, for sure. My hips and hamstrings aren’t as tight as they normally are. My neck cracked at least a dozen times during the class, so I’ll be interested to see how it feels throughout the day, and tomorrow.
As for the mental and spiritual aspects, I was able to focus my mind on my body, instead of letting it run away with anxious thoughts about things I can’t control. I found moments to pray, and be grateful for the blessings I have in my life.
I wouldn’t say this was the best Yoga class I’ve ever been to, but it’s only week one. However, I would say it was worth the benefits I got from giving up a bit of sleep, and an hour and a quarter of my time.
I’m curious to hear of your Yoga experiences, and any benefits you’ve found in those experiences. Thanks for reading, and “Namaste.”