How We Planned to Move to Italy and Ended Up Choosing New Zealand; Our Story Part 3

The house wasn’t renting, so I had a summer of wrestling with God. We felt we had been hearing Him so clearly for two years, guiding us to this move, and now, this house was holding us back. How will we pay for everything without selling it? (I still don’t know the answer to this). Why didn’t we get renters sooner?

I was really struggling one week, and one morning I decided to go find some nature and have it out with God (cause you know, God is there apparently… I know He’s actually everywhere, but I seemed to think meeting Him in nature would give me answers). Greg happened to call me that same morning and said he had to go to the lake for a quick job that afternoon, and invited me along. Perfect. This was my chance!

As he worked, I found an old, wooden swing set and went for a long swing. I told God exactly how angry I was and laid all my confusion out there. I asked, “why haven’t we rented the house yet?” I noticed that as I was moving on the swing, the same view to the side looked different from the forward swing than it did from the back swing. I could look at the same swing post, and see that it looked entirely different depending on how I looked at it. I thought, “maybe we’re looking at this move all wrong. I heard, “you need a new perspective.” I had no idea what that meant. I went away mad that I hadn’t gotten what I wanted: my phone buzzing with dozens of potential tenants, but I kept the thought in the back of my mind.

I kept spending time every morning reading lots of devotionals about trust, and one day, one of them suggested a journaling practice of writing out my fears and facing them head on. I started praying and writing them out, and I remembered the “perspective” thought I’d been trying to figure out. I kept writing fears, and eventually I got to, “what if it’s not Rome?” I immediately felt a sense of peace when I let go of Rome.

I thought, if it’s not Rome, it’s Australia or New Zealand. We’d never been to either, but we had our eyes on them. We’d talked about traveling to visit them, maybe on the way to Italy since we’d have some time. We had even discussed living in one or both countries after a year in Italy. They were on our must-see travel destinations list, but we hadn’t been yet and I had been unwilling to choose a place to move to, that I hadn’t already been to. I’d seen people do that on House Hunters International and always thought they were absolutely nuts! “I would never move to a place I hadn’t been before,” I had said to Greg. Cue God’s laughter.

Australia and New Zealand looked and sounded wonderful, and my favourite wine is from Australia. New Zealand has great wine and weather too, and is part of the commonwealth. Australia wasn’t accepting people our age for working holiday visas (at that time), but New Zealand was! I met Greg at the gym before teaching my fitness class and quickly said to him, “I don’t think we’re supposed to move to Rome. I think we’re supposed to move to New Zealand. Don’t say anything yet, but think on it during my class.” It must have come as quite a surprise to him, but he just said, “hmm. Okay. I’m open to that!”

We discussed it in more detail that evening, and he was at peace about it too, fully on board, and excited about it. We could work in the wine industry there; I could have a break from teaching, and there would be more opportunity for us to both have jobs. More importantly, there would be the opportunity for my husband to have his dream job. We’d have to start at the bottom, of course, but we’d gain experience in the industry. It’s English speaking, and culturally less of a departure from what we’re used to for our first move ever. Visas are way simpler to get, our dollar goes further, and the climate is warmer. Also, guess what begins in New Zealand in November – the month we were supposed to be moving? Wine season.

We wanted to think on it, keep praying for wisdom, and try it on for size. I suggested that we actually start “trying it on” by speaking like we had picked New Zealand instead, and seeing how it felt. In our daily conversations, we changed out “when we live in Rome,” to “when we live in New Zealand.” We noticed it was easy to say, and exciting. I wasn’t terrified anymore, and Greg was no longer overwhelmed at the prospect of the do list that living in Italy presented us with. We noticed that we were excited again! We began dreaming again, and we felt renewed. We wanted to use our upcoming summer holiday to really invest time into the decision, so we decided to officially choose after the trip was done, and to keep it quiet for the time being. We still had to rent the house anyways, and sell the BMW.

We went on a trip to BC to do wine touring, and to visit some of our favourite cousins (the same ones who challenged my husband to find his passion). They inspire us and challenge us both so much. We explained how we weren’t sure where to move. They advised us not to worry about “the where,” so much as “the what.” What was it that we felt we were supposed to be doing? When we were asked to think of it in that frame of mind, we felt we knew already that we were to be in the wine industry.

Every industry needs Christians. We could be the Christians in the wine industry. I know that seems counterintuitive, or taboo to some people, and we know we don’t have everyone’s support. We know some people are probably praying for us, thinking our souls are lost because we want to work in this industry. That’s fine, and we’ll gladly take extra prayers, but we feel it is where we’re supposed to be, for this time in our lives. Italy couldn’t fulfill that “what,” so we needed a new “where” that could. We ended up deciding on either Australia or New Zealand by the end of our trip; Greg was really leaning towards New Zealand.

While in BC, we filled our cousins in on the house situation and the struggle with the move. We had been praying to find tenants through a mutual connection all summer. We didn’t want to post the house publicly and have someone in it that we didn’t know anything about, as it’s not just a rental property; it’s our home and we wanted to leave it furnished. Word of mouth and social media had not been working. I struggled with feeling like I would be giving up on God if I posted it publicly. Our cousins said that sometimes you just have to pick a date, make a decision, and move forward with it. We decided to try that strategy.

We prayed and chose September 15th. We told God we were trying to trust Him but felt we needed to take action of some kind, and that if we didn’t have tenants by the 15th, we’d post it.

On the 12th, we went to a Wine Locker Member invite only wine tasting, for Villa Maria wines, from New Zealand, with a Kiwi there to lead the tasting. We spoke to her after, and she is from the exact area in New Zealand that we want to live. She gave us her contact info, told us how to make our resumes (CV’s), told us where to buy a car, find a rental, and gave us so many helpful tips. She encouraged us and said we should be able to get jobs in the industry. I hope she’s right! Talking to her was so encouraging, and made us feel even better about our choice. We were pretty set on New Zealand after that night.

September 15th came, and we still had no tenants, so we posted the house. We had prayed that by my brother in law’s wedding on October 5th, we would be able to tell all our family and friends the date we were leaving, and where we were going. It was important for us to have closure and be able to use the wedding as a family reunion in a way, to say our goodbye’s in person, hug everyone and tell them we love them.

Within the first week of the house being posted, we had lots of interest. We set up several viewings, and our first one was three people who we have several mutual connections with, including some of my family members, and our property manager! They had seen the add publicly, and didn’t even realize it was us they had been speaking to! They informed us the next day that they wanted our house for October 1st. This was what we’d been praying for all along and I was beyond excited and grateful!

We moved in with Greg’s parents on my birthday, finalized our health insurance, and booked our flights a couple of days later. We applied for our New Zealand work visas, expecting them to take 3 weeks. I had to submit my driver’s license information on my visa application, but I had just gotten a new one, and it hadn’t come in the mail yet! I had to submit the date of issue and had no idea what it would be. I prayed, and guessed a date, entered it, and applied, praying more that it wouldn’t be a problem, and that I’d be able to change it when my license arrived. Our visas surprisingly came through within only 2 days, the day before the wedding!

We were able to tell everyone in person, and say our goodbyes, just as we’d hoped and prayed for. When my license arrived the following week, I ripped it open anxiously to see what the date of issue was going to be. To my surprise, it was the exact date I guessed when I filled in my visa application! I don’t even have to contact immigration and try and change it, or risk problems when we land. Amazing.

I love looking back and seeing all of the things that had to come to be in order for us to be where we are now.

If we hadn’t been set on Rome initially, I wouldn’t have even been open to moving abroad at all. It had to be somewhere warm, and in Europe for me in the beginning or I wouldn’t have even considered a move.

If we hadn’t been pulled towards Rome, where we thought we wanted to go, we wouldn’t have been planning ahead in order to save money and arrange finances and other details we still needed to get New Zealand visas.

Without the comfort of my English teaching course, we would have had no plausible job possibilities for either of us, and wouldn’t have even considered moving abroad.

If our friends hadn’t given Greg the brewing supplies, he never would have found his passion for the industry, and asked to take the WSET course for our anniversary.

If that watch I bought him hadn’t cancelled for no reason, I wouldn’t have had the money to pay for the WSET course, and we wouldn’t have done it.

If we hadn’t done that course, we wouldn’t have considered working in the wine industry.

If we’d never done the WSET course, we also wouldn’t have our wine locker, and wouldn’t have met the Italian winemaker who discouraged us to look for wine jobs in Italy, or the Kiwi wine rep who encouraged us about possibilities in New Zealand.

If we hadn’t had our 10th anniversary in 2018, we wouldn’t have done the Europe trip that essentially clarified that it was not where we were supposed to live.

Had I not gotten my extended contract at my school in 2017, and the timing of all the other things I mentioned that year hadn’t lined up, we would have tried to move a year sooner.

Had I not gotten laid off in 2018, I’m not sure what we would have decided about proceeding with the move, especially once September came and we didn’t have tenants.

If we had rented the house out even one month sooner, we would have bought plane tickets to Italy, not New Zealand.

God’s timing – it’s a thing!

We still have no idea where we will end up living, or working, and as anyone who’s moved before knows, we’ll be starting up a new life in so many ways. Nothing is certain. It’s exciting and terrifying, all at the same time. Even the things we think we’ve planned now, could still change. Maybe we won’t settle where we think, or end up working in the wine industry after all. Life is so uncertain that way. This is a risk, and it could be incredibly rewarding, or incredibly disappointing. I know it will be challenging, and I know we will learn.

We appreciate all of your thoughts and prayers as we take steps forward on this adventure, and we look forward to sharing the experience with you via my blog, and through the Instagram handle, “ourroadleadstoroam.”

Thanks for reading our story, and following along with us.

How We Planned to Move to Italy and Ended Up Choosing New Zealand; Our Story Part 2

We spent the 2017 – 2018 school year doing our best to be grateful for our jobs and home, and all of our blessings here, even though we had hoped to be in Rome. It was a lesson in patience and gratitude. We would get there in September, we thought. In December, my brother in law got engaged, and picked October 5th as his wedding day! He wanted my husband in the wedding, and us to sing. We wanted to be there too, but we thought we were moving in early September. We planned to miss the wedding, and stick to our September plan.

During that winter, I was out of town for a friend’s birthday. We were in a big mall, and my husband and I ended up having a miscommunication that left me pretty upset. I was crying in public; as classy as that is, I wanted to be somewhere alone for a few minutes. I ran into the first store I found (Indigo) and went to the farthest back corner I could find where I could pretend to look at the shelves and finish crying. Low and behold, something caught my eye. I was in the calendar section, and there was one that was upside down and misplaced. I could only see a corner of it, but I thought it looked like Italy, so I pulled it out. Sure enough, it was an Italy calendar. It was 30% off, (and I was going to be 30 when we moved, and found that significant at the time) and I bought it. I saw it as a sign. I couldn’t wait to find out which month Rome was. I was sure it would be September, because that’s when we were planning to go, and it would be so serendipitous! Nope – Rome was November. November? No way we weren’t moving until November. I hoped this wasn’t foreshadowing.

A few months later, we decided we really should be a part of my brother in law’s wedding. We decided to postpone our move to November, and then travel around a bit before finding work for me in January. The only thing that I was disappointed about was that November is probably the worst month ever to travel Italy. They get tones of rain and lots of places are closed down for the winter. There’s a condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and as much as I made fun of it the first time I heard about it, I am a full on SAD sufferer! If it’s not sunny often enough, I am upset and tired. If it’s raining when I’m trying to travel or be on a holiday, I am Up-Set! We couldn’t decide where we’d want to travel in November to get out of the rain, and not kick our move off with me being very SAD, leading to Greg being very annoyed.

By this time, Greg also knew he would love to work in the wine, spirits or beer industry. Ice-cream-in-the-square business out; alcohol industry in! A few years ago, some friends gave him some old home brewing supplies to sell for them, and he decided to keep the supplies and try his hand at it. We had no idea how much he was going to love it, and how that passion would lead to him wanting to work in the alcohol industry one day. He found a passion for brewing beer, and over the years and many trips to wine regions, we both found a passion for wine. The answer to his cousins’ question from years ago was finally clear.

As our 10th anniversary was approaching, I decided to get him a nice watch as a gift. I found what I thought was the perfect one and waited for it to go on sale. It had my birthstone on the front, and was clear in the back, and called the “open heart” watch, which felt great for an anniversary gift. I ordered it and paid. Within a week, my money was refunded to me and I was sent an email saying they couldn’t fulfill my order, with no reason! I was so disappointed. Greg, of course, knew none of this, and happened to notice one of our city’s private liquor stores was offering the WSET Level 2 course in the spring. We had wanted to take this before, but it’s not cheap. He asked if we could take the course together as his anniversary gift. Seeing as how I had just been refunded the watch money, and had no idea what to get him, I agreed!

We loved every minute of it, and both passed with distinction. We started volunteering at wine tastings and participating in everything we could to learn more. We made new friends in the industry and had great connections with them over a bottle of wine. When people asked what we were going to do in Italy, our answer was now, “well Chelsea can teach English, but what we really want to do is work in the wine industry.”

We knew it was not easy to get jobs in that industry in Italy unless we spoke Italian or had connections. Our liquor store hosted an Italian wine tasting with a wine maker from Italy on site. We spoke to her of our plans and she made it seem very unlikely that we could get jobs, other than maybe as harvest hands in smaller centres. That was a bit discouraging, but we kept holding onto the idea that we wanted to work in the wine industry and we were going to at least try; I had my English teaching certification to fall back on. We relayed this dream over and over to people who asked what we wanted to do for work, but we didn’t hear ourselves saying what our passion really was.

My husband surprised me with a trip to France for our 10th anniversary in June. We went back to Paris, and spent 5 days exploring several iconic wine regions. (We clearly love this industry.) I was so excited for the trip for all the obvious reasons, but also because I expected God to give me this incredible sense of peace while we were over there. I was sure He would confirm for me that we were making the right decision to live in Europe.

We arrived and on the first night, I had an ear ache. Greg was fast asleep. My doctor advised hydrogen peroxide for my ear aches in the past, and I didn’t have any with me. I started thinking about how I needed to buy some, but I didn’t know how to communicate it, or where to buy it. Then I got thinking about how I would communicate with doctors once we moved if something else happened. I realized a lot of things that I wasn’t feeling good about that night, and I basically had a panic attack. I was up most of the night, pacing the Airbnb and out on the balcony, feeling very unprepared and unsettled about the move. I was sick to my stomach for almost half of the days on that trip, and just felt off about the move.

All the excitement and peace I was expecting to feel were nowhere to be found. I was terrified. We ate at an Italian restaurant on the last night and couldn’t communicate at all with the server. I had a reality check of what it would be like committing to living in Italy for a year. At this point, I still thought we were going through with it, so I tried to console myself; I was probably just getting cold feet. “Everyone probably feels this way when they move,” I thought.

Italian Friday’s were not going well either. Every time we tried to do one, we ended up discussing the things we were worried about; we had concerns and were trying to push through them and get excited again, but the reality of living in Rome began to feel more like a burden than a dream. We stuck to the plan though, as we felt God pulling us towards this move, and He had been pushing us to leave Saskatoon for so long. We figured we must persevere.

As we were planning to go later in the fall due to the wedding, we planned to sell the house in the spring in order to get rid of all ties and all debt. I was using it as a test; if we sold the house, we’d move to Italy. If it didn’t sell, we wouldn’t. Our realtor came over, we picked a price range, he took photos, and said he’d be back in a couple weeks once the snow had melted to list it. A couple weeks later however, the comparables in our neighbourhood had dropped by $50,000! Our realtor said he’d never seen anything like that happen before, and he refused to even list it. We would take a loss on the house if we sold it, and it was my grandmother’s; he didn’t want us to go ahead, and told us to fix up the basement and rent it out instead (we have an amazing realtor that actually cares about us).

Selling the house was my test to see if we were really supposed to move to Italy! What now? Without listing it, there went that test. Even despite the sale of the house being my self-proclaimed confirmation on Italy, I felt extremely relieved. I wasn’t sure I actually wanted to sell the house yet. I felt bad that my husband had to continue to maintain it, and I was concerned about finances, but I felt at peace knowing we were keeping it for now. (Looking back on it, we didn’t sell it, and we’re not actually going to Italy. Maybe God was hinting and/or clearly shouting at me about the destination, even then.)

New plan, again! This new plan was to rent out our house in June or July (at the latest), and live in our camper again to save money for our move. I was laid off from my teaching position in June. This was actually a huge answer to prayer for me! I was really dreading facing having to make a decision myself on taking another contract, or turning one down. In my city, if a teacher turns down a contract, it’s essentially career suicide. Jobs are nearly impossible to come by with thousands of grads piling up in town, and only a handful of positions open each year. By being laid off, I was able to move forward with no regrets, and it having been out of my control, and this was a major load off of my shoulders.

We also got rid of our truck. We couldn’t sell it, so we traded it for a BMW that we thought would be a quick and easy sell. (It wasn’t! I am still driving that car.)

We posted our house for rent on social media at the end of May, around the same time as we had the year before. We found our first tenants within 3 weeks last year, and I expected the house to go fast again. Despite the delay in selling the BMW, we were taking steps towards the move, finally! Except our house didn’t rent, and didn’t rent, and I really struggled with that.

…to be continued.

How We Planned to Move to Italy and Ended up Choosing New Zealand; Our Story Part 1

“Let’s move to New Zealand and work in the wine industry.” That’s something we just wouldn’t have said or even thought, but here we are. It’s crazy to me that this is what we’re planning now, because we never would have started there.

People have asked what God specifically said to us, but He didn’t just tell us the end goal; it’s been a slow progression of small steps from what we thought we wanted and what we were willing to get on board with, to where we’re headed now. We honestly may not even end up living or working where we think we will, but that will be okay, as long as we keep trusting and following God. We’ve learned that even at this point, God could still change anything, so we’ll just have to see what happens!

This is the story of what’s happened so far.

Shock has been the most common response when we’ve told people that we’re going to move to New Zealand. That’s fair; we’ve been dreaming of living in Italy for two years, and we told everyone that Rome was the plan. It was the plan, until God changed our minds at the last moment.

I used to think I’d never be willing to move away. I’ve learned to never say “never,” because typically when I say I’ll never do something, I end up doing it. God probably laughs in heaven and thinks, “oh Chelsea, you have no idea.”

When we got married over 10 years ago, we planned to always stay in Saskatoon. After all, our families are here, and we bought into the Saskatchewan mentality that you have to get a 9:00 to 5:00, buy a truck and car, buy a house, and tie yourself down with payments, and you should have all the kids too (but maybe on the 5 year plan since we got married young). Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with this plan if you’re most people, or if that’s actually what you dream of doing with your life. As we got older, and started experiencing different things, we realized that plan was wrong for us. Our cousins almost prophesied over us that we would move one day, and we started to realize that maybe we would be open to moving… like, a 6 hour drive away. Our minds were so small back then! Those same cousins once asked my husband if he could do anything in the world for work, and if money were no object, what would he do? He was stumped. He had no idea. For years, he had no idea.

You’d probably believe that almost everyone tried to convince us that settling in our city of birth was the only way of life… but we weren’t convinced. We just felt like settling here was just that – settling. We felt deeply that there was something more out there for us.

We started becoming interested in moving overseas somewhere after we took our first Europe trip in 2015. “The Travel Bug” is a real thing and we got it bad! House Hunters International inspires us. People do this. Every day, people move abroad. It’s possible. It eventually got to the point where we knew that if we didn’t make every attempt at this move abroad, we’d regret it for the rest of our lives. We’ve been back to Europe two more times, and we love it there, so when we decided to move, we naturally decided that somewhere in Europe should be our new home. But what would we do there?

I knew of job opportunities in the English teaching field, and as I am a teacher, I felt safe and secure with that choice. I graduated from a Teaching English as a Foreign Language course in the fall of 2017, and we picked Italy as our destination for several reasons. First, we had to pick somewhere. Second, we have been to Italy before, and love the culture, food, and scenery. We decided on Rome because my course advisers told me there are lots of jobs there, and it’s technically in a tropical climate. No winter! (Except it snowed there in 2017.) We didn’t know what my husband would do, though. He always joked he’d sell ice cream in the square. We also always said when people asked us where we would live that we were open to almost anywhere. We always said Rome, but we knew that it might not be Rome, and we were open to living anywhere we got jobs, really.

We used to dream about living in Italy. We would do “Italian Friday’s,” as we called them. My husband would cook an Italian dish, and we would have Italian appetizers and Italian wine, and we would dream together about what it would be like living there.

We rented out our house in the summer of 2017, and lived in our camper as a practice run. Could we live in a small space? (Not a problem). Could I survive with a smaller amount of my clothes and shoes, and no cable? (I did surprisingly well). What would it be like to rent out our house? (It went over plainly awful with some family members and friends, but our tenants were fantastic and a gift from God).

We planned to move to Rome in January of 2018, as that is one of the main hiring months for English teachers. (We were not sure how hopping the ice-cream-in-the-square business is at that time of year.)

Then, several things happened that made us feel we were supposed to be home for one more year. I was offered a renewal on my teaching contract, and the way it all worked out was nearly impossible that I should have had that job. Both of my sisters in law were expecting our two new nieces, and my brother in law, who had been single forever, was dating a girl we figured he’d marry. Our passports needed to be renewed in January, so it wasn’t a good time to leave, and our mortgage was up for renewal, also in January! A best friend invited me on a Maui trip in October to celebrate our 30th birthdays, and we decided to go, and used up our last bit of savings for that trip. So it was decided; we would stay all year, and go to Rome in September of 2018 (another prime hiring month).

…to be continued.

Summer Yoga Experiment – Week Four

After four weeks of Yoga, I agree that there is a physical, mental, and spiritual component to the practice.  In my first Yoga blog, I focused a lot on the physical, and somewhat on the mental; I’ve concluded that Yoga has great physical benefits for me, and some mental benefits.  As I have continued practicing Yoga, writing about it and participating in discussions that have come from my blog posts, I can’t deny that the spiritual aspect of Yoga is a large part of it, or at least, its roots.  The spiritual aspect is largely what I’ll be addressing in this final post.  I was able to get some spiritual benefits from my practice; however, I don’t believe the spiritual benefits were something that I could only get in Yoga.  I believe they resulted from personal intentions of what I chose to focus on for a dedicated amount of time in a quiet space, something I could do (and have done) in other environments as well.

“Yoga is not synonymous with Hinduism…True Yoga neither competes with nor precludes any other religion.  You may use your Yoga – your disciplined practices of sacred union – to get closer to Krishna, Jesus, Muhammad, Buddha, or Yahweh…The Yogic path is about disentangling the built-in glitches of the human condition, which I’m going to over-simply define here as the heartbreaking inability to sustain contentment” (Gilbert, Elizabeth – Eat Pray Love – p.122).

You may not believe the Bible, but I do, and there are some verses that I love in there that support contentment and discipline. Here’s one:

Romans 12:2a “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

Some might use this verse to suggest a Christian shouldn’t go to Yoga.  I’m proposing the opposite; if Yoga helps someone break away from discontentedness and other “built-in glitches of the human condition” because we are so distracted with our lives, then it could be helping us focus on things that actually matter, and it could be used to renew our minds.

I completed my final week in my Yoga experiment with another evening class of Hot Yoga, with my husband in attendance, and a fourth new teacher.  Guess what?  She was different than all the others.  She had her own style, and there were things I liked about her style (lots of movement through a variety of poses, gentle instruction), and things I didn’t (lack of specific tips on postures, and I don’t think Yoga is the place for repeated silly jokes).  I was pretty comfortable during this class, and finally felt that I knew what lots of the poses were, and how to get my body into them.  I had learned my range for several stretches, and knew when I needed a block for assistance.  I noticed I was way better at paying attention to my breath, and actually taking deep belly breaths without having to consciously remind myself as often.  I was prepared with a verse mantra again, and was able to relax my mind and body, and focus on it with intention during the last 10 minutes of the class.

Whether or not you believe in the Bible, you may believe that Jesus existed; regardless of who you think Jesus is or was, historically, he was a rule-breaker for the sake of loving people.  He spent time with everyone that religion said he shouldn’t, did things that religion told him were wrong, and didn’t care what the religious leaders thought of him.  He was representing the Father – love.  I’m not saying that this means everything is okay all of the time.  The point I’m trying to make is that just because there’s a religious rule saying something is evil, doesn’t necessarily mean it is.

I’m not Catholic, but my aunt is, and after reading my previous posts, she dropped off some information for me titled, “A Catholic Perspective on Yoga,” by Terry Donahue (2011).  Although I’m not Catholic, I enjoyed the article, and picked up on some key points Donahue makes.

“The problem with Yoga, and what must be rejected by a Catholic, are the spiritual beliefs… of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism that are incompatible with the Catholic faith…Practicing Yoga in order to reach self-fulfillment or spiritual enlightenment is to be rejected since it is contrary to the Catholic teaching that such fulfillment and enlightenment are found in Jesus Christ.”  He also explains that Catholics should not mistake all feelings of physical relaxation as mystical experiences, but that relaxation techniques can be appropriate in order to be at peace, less distracted, and able to communicate with God.  “Furthermore, there is nothing intrinsically evil about any particular body pose or stretch used for the purposes of flexibility, exercise, or physical therapy.”  He finishes the article with the stance that “Catholics should not participate in the spiritual practices of Yoga,” but that Catholics “could learn Yoga poses and stretches from a teacher who does not teach or promote Yoga’s erroneous spiritual and philosophical beliefs.”  For him, it’s the teachers that matter, and what they’re promoting spiritually, not the physical and mental practices of Yoga itself.

I believe in God, the Father, and I believe He created the world, and everything in it; yes, I’m saying that I believe God created meditation, stretching, focus, and many other parts of Yoga. (I wonder what backlash will come of that statement?)

People may have given it a name, but God gave us the ability to sit in stillness, focus our minds, calm ourselves through deep breathing, relax through stretching our muscles, and to set disciplines of gratitude.  I also believe He can meet us in the quiet darkness of a Yoga room, just as much as He can meet us in a church, or in nature, or…anywhere?  As my Yoga experiment culminates after four short weeks, I feel confident that the practice of Yoga can be used, like most practices and habits in this world, for good or evil, depending on the intentions and goals of the teacher and participant.   

My position on this is humble, and stands to be corrected if further information presents itself on this topic.  Right now, this is my opinion on Yoga, but I’m open to learning something new, and I don’t like to be closed minded or set in my ways.  I realize that I possess an extremely limited knowledge of Yoga, and that I’m addressing a controversial school of thought within my circle of church-goers, and to be completely honest, even within my own family.

I’m not trying to persuade you into doing anything that makes you uncomfortable; I believe that each person needs to follow his or her own conscience.  I’m presenting what I’ve learned, and what my mind has been opened to during my short experiment, and I’m fighting for more love, and less judgment, in Christian circles on whatever religious rules each person decides are the “right ones” to follow. Just because Yoga/alcohol/(insert taboo Christian topic here) makes one person spiritually uncomfortable, doesn’t mean it should be a write-off for everyone.

I’m also presenting this opinion with my own religious affiliation, and I respect that it may not be yours; however, I’ve learned that unity of people, despite their backgrounds and beliefs, is one of the great things about Yoga. There is so much hate, judgement and division in this world, and I know a lot of people that don’t feel unity in churches.  You and I could be side by side in the same Yoga class, and we could each experience our own physical, mental and spiritual benefits.  You could set your own intentions, and I could set mine, yet we could be unified with each other for 75 minutes, present in the moment we’re experiencing together, regardless of what individual unions that moment held for each of us.  It’s one more way to be a part of a community.

Will I attend Yoga every week now?  No, I probably won’t.  Has my perspective on it changed?  I’d say so.  I believe I’ve found one more tool that I can use in my life for various benefits.  I will go back, when I need a bit of help relaxing, stretching or focusing on a particular something.  I’ve learned a lot, and I’ve learned there’s even more that I still have to learn – and that’s a great thing.

Namaste.

Summer Yoga Experiment – Week Three

For my third Yoga class of this experiment, I decided to change a few things.  I tried an evening class, it was Hot Yoga, and my husband came with me.  I also came across some Yoga history in a novel that inspired me to look at it differently, as you’ll read below.

Again, it was a new instructor, but I know this instructor from staff parties, as I instruct my own classes at the same gym.  It added a certain comfort level being under the instruction of someone I already knew.  She was early and prepared, she started the class off with moments of readiness and preparation, and focused our minds on loving ourselves and others.  She reminded us to be grateful for our bodies, our hearts, and life itself.  She was detailed in her instructions, and gracious in the areas we needed growth.  Her class was also the most physically challenging one I’ve attended this month, with many strength and balance poses that the other two didn’t include; fine this time, but I wouldn’t always want that.

I’m learning that it’s important to find out what I want from a Yoga class, and then choose a time of day, level and instructor that delivers what it is that I need in that season.  There’s a time for everything.

Coming into an evening class felt okay for me, because I’m not a morning person.  I was more alert and had spent more time preparing for my experience.  I had picked a Bible verse I’d come across recently that applies well to my current life space, and I was ready to use it as a mantra.  I was also using this class to help wind down at the end of a day, rather than rolling out of bed into it, another plus for this time.

It was over 30 degrees Celsius in my city at the time, and we don’t have air conditioning in our house.  I had concerns about how Hot Yoga would affect my already over-heated body, so I consumed extra water before going (something I wouldn’t have done well before a morning class). As it turns out, when you walk from 30 degrees into 34 degrees, it doesn’t really feel that different; however, I noticed immediately how much further I was able to stretch into my downward dogs and forward folds, simply from the added heat in the room. I was actually cold when I left the room, which was just what I needed to feel!

Having my husband there was great.  He attends my fitness classes often, lifts with me, or we run together.  I’m comfortable exercising with him in many capacities, so I was aware of him, but he didn’t distract from my focus.  He’s a bit more experienced with Yoga than I am, so I looked forward to discussing the class afterwards with him.  His main observation was that he appreciates the time to slow down and actually focus on breathing.  The average person breathes in and out more than 20,000 times per day, and breathing is an essential life function, but we don’t stop and think about it unless we make the effort to focus on our own bodies and be grateful for a few moments.

I recently read Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, because in the first third of the book, she relays her experiences of life in Italy, a place I hope to move to.  The next two thirds of the book cover her experiences in India and Bali, and I wasn’t planning to read them, but I noticed that the introduction to the India section was about meditation and Yoga, and seeing as how I was right in the middle of my summer Yoga experiment, it captured my attention.  Here’s what jumped off the pages at me.

“Why do we practice Yoga?… Is it so we can become a little bendier than our neighbors?  Or is there perhaps some higher purpose?  Yoga, in Sanskrit, can be translated as ‘union.’ It originally comes from the root word yuj, which means ‘to yoke,’ to attach yourself to a task at hand with ox-like discipline.  And the task at hand in Yoga is to find union between mind and body, between the individual and her God, between our thoughts and the source of our thoughts, between teacher and student, and even between ourselves and our sometimes hard-to-bend neighbours… The ancients developed these physical stretches not for personal fitness, but to loosen up their muscles and minds in order to prepare them for meditation” (p.121).

I love that “Yoga” essentially means “union.”  Sure, it can be a simple physical exercise, surface level stretching, if that’s what you are comfortable with.  But, it can be an opportunity to experience union with other people, or with soul, spirit and body, or with my God, if I set that intention, and I love that.  In the business of this life, this North American culture, and this crazy mind of mine that insists on fighting rest at any cost… it’s a gift.

1 Corinthians 1:10 “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.”

I also love that it encourages one “to yoke” to something, and attach to it with ox-like discipline.

Matthew 11:28 “Then Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you.  Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.’”

Sometimes, I feel weary, like I am carrying a heavy burden, and I want rest for my soul from a humble, gentle God.  There are many ways I can seek His rest, and I would argue that Yoga can be one of them, if I’m setting that intention – to take His humble, gentle yoke upon me and let myself be taught.

“Yoga is about self-mastery and the dedicated effort to haul your attention away from your endless brooding over the past and your nonstop worrying about the future so that you can seek, instead, a place of eternal presence from which you may regard yourself and your surroundings with poise” (Gilbert, p.122).

Phillipians 4:8 “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” 

Exactly.

Needless to say, after reading all of this, I entered my third Yoga class with a fresh perspective.

“Take my yoke upon you…you will find rest for your souls.”

Does Yoga have to be spiritual?  No.  It can be purely fitness related.  You can walk into that room and let your mind wander through all your to-do lists, and everything you’re worried about, and you can watch the clock and just stretch.  If that’s what you need, then do that.  If you’re not into the Bible like me, you can choose a different focus, any mantra you like, and make it a positive or relaxing experience, where you practice gratitude, or learn to focus your mind a little more.  Or you can use it to connect with yourself, a friend, or God.  I have done all three now.

Yoga keeps surprising me. There is one week left in my summer Yoga experiment, and I’m curious to see what it will bring.

Namaste.

Summer Yoga Experiment – Week Two

Two out of four; I’m half way to the completion of my summer yoga experiment. I’m embarking on this journey with an open mind, to discover how weekly yoga may impact my mental, physical and spiritual health.

Following Last Week’s Practice

I noticed a bit of stiffness in my neck throughout the same day, but none following that.  I also felt less back pain and joint stiffness at the end of the week.  Last week was what we call “Launch Week” at my gym, when brand new choreography is released in a branch of fitness classes we offer.  I am a fitness instructor, and on Launch Week, I typically teach upwards of twice as many classes as my usual amount, which leaves me very sore by the end of the week.  I can’t say I wasn’t stiff at all, but I can say that I noticed a marked improvement in how I felt, just by slotting that one Yoga class into the middle of the week.  I should not be surprised; I’ve been well educated on the benefits of proper stretching!

This Week’s Practice

If you recall, there were a few things I wasn’t fond of in the class I attended last week, namely the late instructor, and the overly full room of loud, bad-breathed breathers.  I purposefully chose a different class this week, so that I could experience another teacher’s practice, and a fresh environment.  I’m pleased to report that the teacher was early, stayed late to chat with me, and there were no loud, bad-breathed breathers.  The only breathing I heard today was when the instructor asked us all to exhale forcefully, and we did it as a group, which had a nice sense of comradery to it.

I came into the class slightly more comfortably after having just done Yoga last week.  I began my morning in a similar fashion, getting up early and heading to the gym with ample time to warm up and get acquainted with the room.  I also don’t have my own yoga mat (yet?), and there are only a couple of spares, so I wanted to make sure I got there early to get one.

I was tired today.  I had lots of sun this weekend, and a restless sleep last night.  I seriously considered turning the alarm off and just rolling back over, but then I remembered I made a commitment to myself, and the blogging community, to do four classes this summer, and I needed to get my lazy butt out of bed.

My experience today was entirely different than last week.  I’m discovering that this is something that intrigues me about Yoga.  I never know what to expect; no class is ever exactly the same.  There are so many poses a teacher can choose from, based on the experience level of the participants, requests, or simply what he or she is feeling inspired to practice that day.  In some classes, like the ones I teach, predictability and patterns are keys to success and the development of better cardio-vascular fitness, strength and stamina.  In Yoga, predictability doesn’t seem to matter as much. There’s lots of time to sink into each pose, adjust, and re-adjust.  I can see how familiarity with the poses would add value, but Yoga truly is a practice, and there’s always room to keep practicing and growing in the many facets of what it offers.

Some of the poses were familiar today, but some were new, and the order surprised me.  Not knowing what was coming forced me to be mentally engaged in the class, and to pay attention.  In Yoga, I have to listen and heed the instructions; I must be aware of what I’m experiencing in my body.

The Instructor Matters

I specifically appreciated three things about the way the instructor taught this morning (on top of her timely arrival and personable manner).

First, she made an effort to remind us to be aware of our mental state.  She started the class with a relaxation time, in which she brought our attention to all parts of our bodies and our breath; she challenged us to let go of worrisome thoughts or our to-do lists of the day, and be present in the class.  I needed this.  Throughout, she reminded us to focus in on our breathing.  At the end, she encouraged us to be grateful for something, and to set a goal for our state of mind for the rest of the day, whatever we each wanted it to be.  She wasn’t specifically spiritual, but I was able to make it spiritual for me, in the way I wanted to.

Second, she gave detailed instructions, in a calm voice.  She explained all poses with care, and reminded us to tighten up tiny details in our postures that would have altered their effectiveness if we’d forgotten them.  She taught us how to breathe deeply, to the top of our lungs, into our belly breath, and within our body’s natural rhythm; she cued which types of breathing to do in each pose.

Third, she came to me when she noticed I was struggling, and whispered the question, “Would you mind if I offered you some assistance?”  I gladly accepted, and she helped re-align my legs and hips into the proper placement, which in turn enabled me get the most out of that stretch.  I clearly needed this too, and she acted on it.

I felt more satisfied after this class than last week’s.  That could be partially caused by simple familiarity, but I imagine it mainly had to do with the room being less full, and the instructor’s style.  I will certainly try to make it to one of her classes again.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts last week on how Yoga has impacted you.  Any tips on choosing a Yoga mat?

Namaste!

Summer Yoga Experiment – Week One

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.”