Yoga and Christianity: Lord, Teach Us to Pray

by Sally Grillo

If you find something that relieves tension and stress from your body so you can sit quietly in prayer, something that helps you focus your attention on your sense of God’s presence and hold that focus for a period of time – you’ve found a very valuable practice.
— Fr. Tom Ryan, CSP

Yoga is an invitation to explore and discover the truth of who you are in body, mind and spirit. Yoga cultivates a harmonious blend of postural alignment, balance, coordination, concentration, strength, and flexibility with deep breathing, so it is spiritually uplifting and nourishing - but how does the practice teach us to P.R.A.Y.? How do we get out of our head and into our heart? We Prepare, Root, Align, Yield.

When we step onto our mats with the intention of honoring God, we are bringing our whole selves—body, mind, and soul—into worship of and communion with God.
— Fr. Tom Ryan

PREPARE: Planting the seed of INTENTION: “To glorify God in our body.”  This intention sets the tone for every class. Slow rhythmic breathing in and out prepares our minds to become still and focused. If we show up with resistance in body or distractions in mind, a steady flow of life-giving breath does wonders to calm the nerves inviting us back to the present moment. The Hebrew word, Ruach, means breath or Spirit: “The Lord God formed the man out of the dust of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7). 

In yoga we practice following the breath allowing each inhalation and exhalation to guide us. We introduce a Breath Prayer to keep our mind steady and our heart pure. Breath prayer is an ancient Christian prayer practice whereby a short prayer is repeated to the rhythm of the breath becoming a way of "praying without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

Take a moment to try it. Sit with intention, close your eyes and focus. Breathe in “BREATH OF GOD.” Breathe out “BREATHE IN ME.” Take your time, breathe the prayer slowly and deeply, silently repeat the prayer and stay present to the rhythm of your breath. When we become still and centered we can place someone in our heart so the practice not only nourishes us, but intercedes for someone else.

Each of us can live a life of power and peace and serenity, of integration and confidence – if we really want to….to live from a Holy Center, the Divine Center Who abides in us. Who can speak in us and through us at all times – if we listen.
— Fr Thomas Keating

ROOT: The foundation of our feet in yoga provides a sturdy base that supports our ankles, knees and hips. Every body part is affected by the way we plant our foundation so we need to "plant our feet on level ground!!" (Psalm 26:12). Rooting requires us to settle down as we embark on the path to healthy alignment. Last year, I remember feeling anxious when Hurricane Matthew approached the coast of Florida (where I live), but a man appeared on the side of the road with a backpack saying, “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14). The Gospel of John comforted the days ahead, guiding me back to my ‘Holy Center.’ The words of Jesus, “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” transformed my fear into faith and courage.  Conscious rooting stimulates our senses, and by the grace of God we become ever more aware of His INFINITE FLOW OF GRACE AND MERCY on the mat and in our daily lives.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
— 2 Corinthians 5:17

ALIGN: Postures restore natural mobility, healthy alignment, openness and flexibility while the mind becomes receptive to the wisdom of the body. As Christians we are told to put our faith into action because “faith without works is dead!” (James 2:26). Alignment in yoga calls for ACTION as we engage our minds and muscles to move the body into a desired posture. Aligning the body requires a balance of effort, ease, concentration, and clear communication. Slowing down and waiting for the breath cultivates patience, and when life throws curve balls we can meet the moment with open hearts working through difficulties with a calm state of mind. “Our bodies are ‘temples of the Holy Spirit, whom we have from God!’" (1 Corinthians 6: 20). Yoga postures purify the temple allowing the radiance and power of God to shine through while He uses us for His glory.

“Come to me all you who labor and are burdened and I will give you rest.”
— Matthew 11:28

YIELD: The practice of yielding involves letting go of resistance, surrendering into deep relaxation, and enjoying complete calm and stillness of being. Yielding is an extremely valuable tool to use in a world that keeps moving faster and faster. At the end of yoga class, we settle down into deep relaxation pose called Savasana or Corpse pose. We passively scan our body in complete stillness to observe places that might be holding onto tension. Like a tree in mid-winter looking lifeless and bare, we relinquish our need for doing and quietly surrender all. Resting gives glory to God and it is a beautiful way to settle back and relax from the business of life. A restorative yoga posture called ‘legs up the wall’ is highly beneficial. It is a passive inversion that relaxes the mind and body while giving refreshment to tired souls. Finally, when we step off our mat out into the world, we transform into the hands, feet, heart, and mind of Christ with a renewed energy, perspective, JOY, and love for all.

 

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Sally Grillo, RYT, has 20+ years experience as teacher/student of Hatha yoga. Sally teaches yoga from a Christian perspective after discovering Christians Practicing Yoga in 2006. Her classes are steeped in healthy body/mind/spiritual practices including breath prayer, postural alignment, movement and stillness guided by Biblical scriptures, contemplative practices and real life experiences! Her ministry is to ‘tend and feed His sheep’ (John 21). When we love and take care of ourselves we are better able to love and take care of each other!

Sally currently lives in So Florida with her husband and youngest son. She teaches yoga in Delray Beach, Boca Raton, and Palm Beach Atlantic University.