Don’t give me the side-eye. I know yoga has it’s origins in eastern spirituality, but the majority of Americans who practice, do it for the health benefits. If you only know me from the blogosphere, or we haven’t seen each other’s faces in several years, you may not know that I teach yoga for a couple of different gyms in my area. I am a reformed hard-core gym rat who once thought yoga wasn’t real exercise. But after a torturous back injury, I tried it and fell in love.
It occurs to me that even though I “do” yoga for physical fitness and not the “spiritual enlightenment” some claim they can attain, that my yoga classes correlate to my life as a disciple of Jesus in many ways.
- It helps to be flexible. Not every pose is about muscular elasticity, but when you are doing this: or even this: it certainly helps. In a similar way, following Jesus requires a willingness to be stretched beyond our comfort zones. Proverbs 16:9 NASB tells us that, “The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” As Christians we must often put aside our own desires to glorify our Maker. And when we do it helps us reach (think stretch) to new levels of intimacy with Him.
- A social discipline of yoga is the tenet of non-violence, which encompasses non-competition (considered violence against oneself). In a class, it is emotionally and physically unhealthy to compare yourself or your poses to someone else’s. Trying to match another’s stamina, flexibility or fitness level can manifest in injury, frustration and self-hatred. This is one of the reasons we refer to yoga as a “practice”. Few are considered masters. In God’s kingdom, if we take our focus from Jesus and look around too much at each other, jealousies easily arise. If you have been reading this blog for even a few weeks you know that I fight against envy in my life, coveting what someone else has or even the talents God entrusts to them. The Bible compares the global church to a body in 1 Corinthians 12 and addresses this type of jealousy. “If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired.” v. 17-18 NASB
- Yoga invites you into child’s pose any time you need it. As one of the most common and popular resting asanas, child’s pose brings rest and rejuvenation when another pose or series causes discomfort or fatigue. And bringing yourself face down helps block out distractions, increasing focus. When life events generate discomfort or fatigue, as they often do, going face down before the Lord in prayer and/or worship invites Him to heal the hurt as we call on His mercy and power. “Come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.” Psalms 95:6 NASB
- Warrior poses (there are five primary and many variations) strengthen and stabilize the body. I often feel unmovable and steadfast holding a solid Warrior pose. Outside the classroom, my human nature falls short of this kind of reliability and sturdiness. But my Heavenly Father provides what I lack. He describes the tools, or armor, He gives to me in Ephesians 6:13-17 NASB “Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”
- We benefit from quiet and stillness. The majority of yoga sessions end with Savasana – a time of relaxation and meditation. Most instructors teach students to use corpse pose (don’t focus on that name) for this time, although a number of other poses substitute nicely for it. After the exertions of practice, savasana allows for a rejuvenation of the mind and spirit as the body regroups and resets. I once regularly skipped out on this time during sessions, not fully understanding the value of it. I now fully look forward to these precious moments of the day. After, or even better BEFORE, the exertions of life in general, spending time in quiet solitude, meditation of scripture, and rest (and not just when you are asleep) is one of the only ways we can pay attention to the heart whispers God sends to us. “He says, ‘Be still and know that I am God.'” Psalm 46:10 NIV