Encountering God in Yoga Class
Guest Post by Adrienne Keller
I took my first yoga class, a Hatha style class, in Cambridge, England, in 1974. Since then I have practiced many forms of yoga: Hatha, Asthanga, Iyengar, Kripalu, yin, even Kundalini on occasion. Now my regular practice is anchored by a Hatha yoga class that includes a brief seated meditation time after savasana.
I have often found it easier to be faithful to yoga than to my religious tradition. I have often found that yoga opens my heart and mind to God in a gentle, renewing way. I offer two recent examples.
When my 93 year old mother moved in with us earlier this year, I joined her in worship at a Catholic Church. However, I struggled with feeling alienated from my Catholic tradition, questioning many of the accepted doctrines and practices. Sunday mornings in church often left me restless. In contrast, my three times a week yoga classes leave me feeling renewed, with a quiet spirit. Often, as I move through familiar asanas, I pray a simple doxology with my ujiya breaths: Glory be to God my Father, Glory be to God my Mother, Glory be to God my Brother.
Recently, during the brief seated post-savasana meditation time, I suddenly thought, "God wants to make it easy for us to reach Him. It's theology that makes it complicated." All of the theological niceties of Trinitarianism, the nature of Jesus, transubstantiation vs consubstantiation vs simple memorial, the nature of miracles, Immaculate Conception, Assumption -- all seem like weeds and rocks hiding the clear straight path to God. As psalm 143 says, "For You are my God. Let Your good spirit lead me on a level path."
Now, in church, I let the theology flow over and through me, without grasping, and focus on what is clear and enjoyable – even if it is the very simple, like all the colors and styles of hair of people worshiping together.
My second example happened just last week, in a morning yoga class. As I started a seated forward bend, I got a bit impatient with myself because I couldn’t reach my feet. A few minutes later, as I let go of my impatience and relaxed into the pose, I felt my body sinking a bit lower and my index fingers encircle my big toes. Slowly I sat back up.
Later, in Warrior 1, I saw that the young person across from me had her thigh bent almost parallel to the floor. I remembered being able to do that and looked down ruefully at my own thigh, which was still closer to vertical than horizontal. I wanted to be able to do what I could once do. Instead, I focused over the head of the person across from me and let my body relax a little more into the pose. Not a lot, just micro-movements, but I focused on my own body.
During the final seated meditation, I thought about those moments and I thought that my focus and goal cannot be to be as good as, or better than, I once was; and it cannot be to be as good as, or better than, anyone else. My only focus should be my body right then and there, as it is in that moment. To listen to it, to respect it, and to help it to move freely in that moment.
And then I thought, “I make that same kind of mistake with God.” I too often compare – how strong is my belief compared to what it once was, compared to someone else’s belief? How can I recapture a past certainty, a past peace, a past immersion in liturgy? How can I be as sure as others?
I resolved to try to sink into my relationship with God right at the moment I am praying. Just let it be, even if that is doubting God’s existence. Just letting the moment be enough, with whatever I can have of God right then. I’m not quite sure how exactly I will do that. Writing about it is part of helping myself to do that and trying to tell others is part of helping myself to do that. And I know that yoga will continue to be part of that.
And so it goes for me. God, in Her wisdom and grace, continually uses yoga to enrich my faith and quiet my doubts.
Adrienne’s Bio: I am a retired professor of epidemiology. I have practiced yoga in England, Canada and the USA for almost 50 years now. I was raised Catholic. As an adult I have worshiped and taught Sunday School in Lutheran, Episcopal and Catholic churches. I currently worship, teach Sunday School and am active in social ministry in a Catholic church in Charlottesville, Virginia, where I live with my husband and my 93 year old mother. I love the psalms and rewrite them to reflect my internal world. I blog regularly at https://vabutsy.com
Have you ever had a yoga+God moment like this? Share your story in the comments, below, or write to us at email@example.com