How Yoga Saved My Faith
This is the first in a series of introductory posts by our new team of writers, a multidenominational group of fellow Christians and yoga teachers. In these posts, each writer is asked to answer “Why Christian? Why yoga?” Deeply moved and inspired by the late Rachel Held Evans and her ideas on the Power of Testimony, we hope to share our own stories with you. Please share your stories in the comments.
My mom dragged me to my first yoga class when I was 25 years old. I had just been diagnosed with depression, and I moved back in with my parents to figure out what was going on. Deep down, I knew that my depression was caused by my perfectionism and how I related it to God: I thought that God had asked me to be perfect—the perfect Christian, the perfect English teacher, the perfect missionary, the perfect youth pastor. I had tried all of them, and the last one made me cry every day.
So I quit my jobs, enrolled in a theology degree, and moved in with my parents.
It was, I realize now, the beginning of my deconstruction of faith. Today, over a decade later, the phrase “deconstruction of faith” has been made popular by Christian figureheads like Father Richard Rohr, the late Rachel Held Evans, Science Mike, and Lisa and Michael Gungor (the Liturgists). Deconstruction, explains Rohr, makes way for reconstruction—it’s a necessary journey of faith, of loss of ego and false self.
In 2006, when I quit church, the word “deconstruction” wasn’t popular yet. I thought I was the only one whose faith imploded.
Mom took me to a yoga class to get me out of the house, to get me moving in the middle of winter. That yoga class changed both of our lives—giving her a tool for managing her pain with rheumatoid arthritis; giving me a tool for finding my faith.
I am still a Christian today because of my yoga practice, which gave me space for grace.
For instance—in that first class, the instructor invited us into a seated forward fold. When I tried it, my hamstrings were so tight that I couldn’t touch my toes. My inner self-talk berated my body for not being perfect, for being too tight. Then the instructor invited us to respect our hamstrings, to respect our limitations, and to accept where we were at in the pose today.
I had never heard that before—to accept my limitations. I was supposed to be perfect, and I could “do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” I had never ever heard that limitations might be okay and even respected. And I knew instantly that those limitations applied to my spiritual, mental, and emotional bodies as well.
So I kept practicing yoga, kept learning about how to love and honor this body God had made. Yoga—the way it is practiced in North America, anyway—assumes that the body is good. Christianity—the way I had learned it—assumed that the body was bad, filled with temptations of the flesh that must be avoided at all costs.
I met Father Tom Ryan (the founder of this network and author of Prayer of Heart and Body), who reminds me that, of all of the religions, Christianity actually has the highest theology of the body: we believe in the resurrection of the body. We believe that God became incarnate—put on flesh and walked among us. We believe that when God created the world, God called it “good.”
My body, with all its imperfections—tight hamstrings, sensitive freckles, jammed vertebrae, postpartum belly muscles—is good.
Practicing yoga helped me to see that goodness, to trust my body and its imperfections, and invited me into stillness in my body, mind, and soul.
Fr. Tom understands yoga as a practice that prepares the body for meditation. Through his invitation, I began to link meditation with my yoga practice. Once I began to meditate, I also began studying contemplative Christianity and reconstructing my faith. Yoga led me into a more expansive expression of Christianity than I could have ever imagined.