Breathing in the Neshamah of Christian Living and Practice
“Pray as You Go,” a Jesuit produced daily prayer podcast, used Karen Money’s song “Echo” in their March 25 broadcast. The song says: Let me stay a little longer so I breathe in more of you.
Yoga connects us with the fundamental breath of life, neshamah in the Hebrew, breathed into us at our first breath and continuing on from this life to the next. The word is often used in connection with the spirit of God. In Genesis the neshamah is breathed into Adam. Throughout the Old Testament neshamah appears as the life giving breath of God. The act of breathing alone can remind us of God’s love and life giving spirit. Through refocusing on the movement of breath in the body, yoga stills us to be attentive to our true selves, our new and renewed selves in Christ, our fullest selves. For to truly lose ourselves in Christ, we will truly find ourselves.
Yoga allows a greater awareness to the still small Voice creating an adeptness to prayer and reflection and meditation. This is an awareness as God intended. Some find it in other gifts and through other modalities: art, music, dance, study, writing, teaching. For me the attention yoga brings to the breath has brought a stillness to better enjoy all these and develop my true self as expressed internally and externally in Christian living.
How often does God tell us through the Old and New Testaments to be still, cast our cares upon Him, that He cares for us and holds us in the palms of His omnipotent hands?
During a burdened time for me, a cherished yoga teacher—who no doubt saw the weight resting on my shoulders and pushing on my body and soul—drew God’s care and comfort to my attention in the ending rest of a private session. She reminded me that in rest I could recall the promise of God holding me in the palm of His hand. I knew this promise but needed her words to pull the vividness of God’s presence to the forefront of my mind.
God used her as a vehicle of His refreshing love, which was lavishly poured out onto my heart that day as many days before and since. The insight of this teacher resonated in such a poignant way that it showed visibly and physically as I was freed to breathe again. My shoulders and chest released, the shallow breathing deepened with the heavy load lifted. Yes, God is holding me and why was I trying to carry the burden that wasn’t mine to carry?
This rich gift, an ah-ha moment, has come to my mind many times since and I have shared it with several Christian friends. As I deepen my personal yoga practice, I find myself drawing nearer to our Lord and Savior, remembering His veracity and omniscience and all encompassing love for His children and all the children of the world.
As I train in embodied yoga living and teaching, I have confidence in God using us as His ambassadors in our worldly walk about. Whether we know it or not, His love flows through us to the people in our lives, in our brief encounters and long lasting relationships. In 2003 lecture “The Christian Way as Losing and Finding Self” at a University of St. Andrews symposium on Buddhist-Christian dialogue, Richard Bauckham refers to it as “loving identification, that is the kind of love that is able to go out of itself in self-giving and truly to identify with others in their own situations and needs.”
When we meet others where they are at in their breath and in their lives, we have the potential to meet them as Christ met us at the first and as He continues to meet us—where we are—with an expectant hope of our fullness and transcendent transformation. In this understanding we can embrace our yoga practice as another multi-faceted gift of God to us to learn and grow in Him. May we manifest His grace and mercy and unconditional love to those we meet on the mat and off the mat.
Verses for reflection: (from the Holman Christian Standard Bible)
Genesis 2:7 - Then the Lord God formed the man out of the dust from the ground and breathed the breath of life into his nostrils, and the man became a living being.
Psalm 46:1 - God is our refuge and strength, a helper who is always found in times of trouble.
John 1:16 - Indeed, we have all received grace after grace from His fullness
Job 12:10; 33:14 - The life of every living thing is in His hand, as well as the breath of all mankind. For God speaks time and again, but a person may not notice it.
Deuteronomy 6:4 - Listen, Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One.
1 Corinthians 12:11-12
Lamentations 3:22-26 - Because of the Lord’s faithful love we do not perish, for His mercies never end. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness! I say: The Lord is my portion, therefore I will put my hope in Him. The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him. It is good to wait quietly for deliverance from the Lord.
Matthew 6:26 - Look at the birds of the sky: They don’t sow or reap or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth more than they?
A few other inspirations for this essay and my practice over the months include:
A Beautiful Offering: Returning God’s Love with Your Life by Angela Thomas (Thomas Nelson 2004)
Bringing Yoga to Life: The Everyday Practice of Enlightened Living by Donna Farhi (Harper Collins 2003)
An Invitation to Christian Yoga by Nancy Roth (Cowley 2001)
Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis (Blackstone Audio 2000)
The Overcomers by Richard Wurmbrand (Bridge-Logos 2006)
“Hymns for the Christian Life” and “Awaken the Dawn” by modern hymn writers Keith and Kristyn Getty
Sons of Korah, a musical collection of the psalms in the ancient tradition