How I found Jesus on a Yoga Mat
In this series of introductory 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 journey with yoga has been a long and winding path.
The first experience of yoga that I can remember was not postural, but as communion, or intimacy with God, out on the waters of the Gulf of Mexico as a child. I recall moments of stillness, awe and wonder, where everything faded to the background and I encountered a Holy Presence so close that it was hard to tell where it began and I ended. This is my understanding of yoga, to be yoked with God, to experience communion with the Holy Presence.
I encountered these moments of “yoga” at various times over the years.
When I was thirteen, my dad died. In moments of deep sadness, when I had cried out all of my tears, I would feel a Holy Presence wrap around me like a loving embrace, and I would instantly have an unexplainable sense of peace. There were other, not so sad times, like when I encountered beauty, a flock of black birds, for example, flashing against the blue winter sky, or while listening to beautiful piece of music. In these moments of yoga, I would be absorbed in a sense of Holy Wonder and was compelled to stop, to get still, and to marinate in the Sacredness of the moment.
Fast forward to college, where I took my first official asana-based, postural “yoga” class. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was able to tap into these “Holy Moments” during my yoga practice. This was different from any other physical exercise that I had experienced. I believe this is because the intention of a yoga practice reaches beyond merely the physical realm and into the mental and spiritual aspects of our well-being also. Through a yoga practice, my body, enlivened by breath and movement, and my mind, cleared of all distraction, allowed my spirit to awaken to the Holy Presence within me and around me. I was hooked. I came to understand and appreciate yoga as the practice of integrating oneself, body, mind, and spirit while awakening to the presence of the Divine.
Now, I was not raised in the church. I had no language to describe these Holy moments. My family was nominally Christian. While we faithfully set up the manger at Christmas and dutifully attended church on Easter, my understanding of the Biblical narrative was shaky at best. I knew that God loved me, and that Jesus was his son. It turns out that those were two pretty good starting points to grow on!
It is safe to say that I understood more about yoga as a spiritual practice than I did about Christianity and its spiritual theology.
As a seeker throughout college and into my twenties, I explored many different spiritual practices and theologies. While I found beauty and Truth in almost every tradition, I found the story of the Biblical God to be the highest good. The God of the Bible was not a distant God, who required works or sacrifices from us in order to be accepted by him.
The God of the Bible was relational, intimate, and desired to live with and in his people. The God of the Bible loves sacrificially and unconditionally. He has done everything necessary, performed all works and made every sacrifice, in order for us to enjoy relationship with him. As I learned more about the God of the Bible, I could not help but see the converging Truth between a yoga practice and the Biblical narrative. All of my experiences of yoga made sense in the Christian worldview. To illustrate, some basics include:
We are created as spiritual beings
All humans have been given significant spiritual capacities, because we were created in the image of God. The practice of yoga helps us to remember that we are more than just physical or mental beings, We are spiritual beings with God given capacities for a spiritual life.
The body is sacred
Our bodies are sacred because they are God’s handiwork and he has woven us together through his intricate design for works that he has prepared in advance for us to do. Our bodies are sacred because God chooses to dwell in them. A yoga practice can help us to steward the good gift of our bodies, caring for God’s temple. Yoga postures can serve as tools to help us to explore the architecture of the body and marvel at God’s intricate design of our musculature, organs, and framework.
The Divine Presence within
Through Jesus, the Divine Holy Spirit lives in me, who moves me to live a transformed life, a Divine life, modeled perfectly by Jesus Christ. Yoga teaches that we can have a direct experience of the Divine. The Christian theology teaches that Jesus Christ has given us this very gift, God dwelling in his people, through the Holy Spirit. Yoga teaches us how to get still, set distractions aside, and seek communion with the Holy Spirit dwelling within us.
Personally, I have spent much time in study and prayer over my yoga practice as a follower of Christ. I have sought the counsel of my pastor, my elders, my accountability group, and my husband. I have not glossed over the controversy that surrounds Christians practicing yoga. I have put my practice of yoga on the altar of God. I believe that God has given yoga back to me for the purposes enjoying sweet communion with the Holy Spirit, deepening my relationship with Jesus, and showing me what it means to truly ABIDE in Christ.
Having been part of the Christian community now for over 20 years, I find yoga to be a spiritual practice that fulfills a deep longing within Church culture in the west. Yoga invites the whole person: body, mind, soul, and spirit into a process of awakening to the Divine Presence. It teaches us the art of abiding, how to walk in both the Spirit and the flesh and reminds us that we are amphibious beings, having dual citizenship in both heaven and on earth.
I believe that God has given me the ability to understand and speak both the languages of yoga philosophy and Christian theology. I am passionate about sharing the love of Jesus in yoga classes, teacher trainings, and mentoring programs and equipping others to understand, practice, and teach yoga from a Christian worldview. It is my greatest privilege to help others to enter their own inner sanctuaries and awaken to the Divine Presence dwelling within.
photos by Open Door Photography