The time of the year was not great—encompassing the Memorial Day weekend—but thirty-four people organized their personal, family, and professional calendars to come anyway. Those who gathered–almost twice the number at Oak Ridge I—gave clear indication of how the network is growing. Whereas the previous two retreats had brought together people largely from the East coast states in addition to three Canadian provinces, this time California, Texas, Michigan, Minnesota, and Bermuda were represented as well. There was also a considerable number who wanted to come but weren’t able to. Bernadette Latin handled administration and logistics with efficiency and grace.
The evaluations repeatedly expressed appreciation for the morning prayer and evening prayer rituals in the chapel; the laying on of hands in blessing of the presenter/leader before and after each session; the variety of subjects addressed and of teachers and styles in both yoga and discussion sessions; the balance of meeting time and free time; the beauty of the lake and woodland trails; the food and the friendship.
As one respondent wrote: “I love basking in the presence of people who ask the same questions and think about the same things that I do. Some of the questions being:
How do I take this “off the mat”?
To what extent can we embrace the roots of yoga without compromising our faith?
How do we present this to the Christian community?
How can I communicate the gospel and God’s love in my teaching?
How best to be a Christian presence in the yoga community?”
These were the kinds of questions addressed in the plenary sessions on “Yoga and a Sacramental Perspective on Life”; “Embodying the Practice in Our Living”; “The Yamas, Niyamas, and the Spiritual Life”; “Yoga and the Beatitudes”; “Different Methods and Forms of Meditation”; “How Do We Respond to the Resistance and Misunderstanding Encountered?”
A new and appreciated addition to the programming was workshops on a variety of topics, such as:
Lectio Divina: an ancient form of praying with the Scriptures
Restorative Yoga as a form of meditation and healing
What can a Christian expect from asana and meditation?
Praying with our senses
Passage meditation: an invitation to drink deeply of Scripture and of the saints’ great prayers
Least likely to meditate: confessions of a career multi-tasker
The recurring focus on meditation in the workshops highlights an important emphasis in all three Oak Ridge retreats: the reconnection of yoga to meditation in Western practice. The history and development of yoga makes clear that it was originally designed to help people enter into a conscious experience of communion with God in meditation. In other words, these two consciousness disciplines were originally Siamese twins with bodies joined together at birth, but in the practice of many they have been separated and live independent lives, sometimes never seeming to meet at all. Such a restoration of the fullness of yogic practice would be a gain for practitioners of every stripe, and contribute to the health and balance of these disciplines themselves.
A clear and significant fruit for the wider world emanating from Oak Ridge III is the creation of this website: Christians Practicing Yoga. With this new instrument of communication, the network can connect continents and grow by quantum leaps. We are all indebted to participant Keri Mangis who stepped forward and made it possible.
Participants at this third gathering also discussed the possibility of a national conference.
For synopses of the publications mentioned in this article with links to where they can be obtained, see http://www.tomryancsp.org/books.htm
OAK RIDGE IV: JULY 22-27, 2008
After every-other-year retreats in 2001, 2003, and 2005, we did not organize one for 2007 because one of our network members in the Midwest felt ready to take a run at organizing a national conference in 2007 and we didn’t want to put people in a position of having to choose one or the other. In the end, the national conference project proved premature, so we scheduled Oak Ridge IV for 2008.
The network continues to grow. This time 40 people came together from 18 states, three provinces of Canada, and the island of Bermuda. Dayna Gelinas from Georgia made it all possible by handling the administrative end of things, including coordinating travel—an increasing challenge as the web of participants expands.
Feedback from earlier retreats enabled us to strike a more pleasing balance than ever between time in formal, structured activities, and time for rest and relaxed, informal sharing amongst ourselves, whether sitting on the raft in the middle of the lake, or “walk ‘n talks” on the woodland trails.
Each day’s “flow” pattern: early morning yoga and meditation; quiet breakfast followed by some personal time; communal morning prayer; mid-morning plenary presentation; some free time following lunch; a variety of mid-afternoon workshops to choose from; late afternoon yoga and meditation; an evening plenary presentation; a review of the day in small groups; and night prayer. Every other day, the workshops were replaced by a longer period of personal time in the afternoon. Participants who wanted to offer something like restorative yoga during that time were welcome to do so for the benefit of those interested.
Earlier in the year preceding the retreat, people in the network were canvassed as to what topics they wanted to discuss and/or had an interest in presenting. The result was a good balance between, on the one hand, deepening our theological reflection on some important topics, and, on the other hand, listening to “reports from the field” from those working the edge of new frontiers such as: teaching yoga to prisoners and to trauma survivors; the healing aspects of yoga; culture/privilege and its impact on our work; or the evolving shape of teacher-training programs for Christ-centered yoga.
The topics that elicited a deepening theological reflection also spanned a wide range: the theology of human bodiliness; the convergence of yoga’s ethical code and Christ’s teachings; the chakras and physical/spiritual anatomy; yogic enlightenment and Trinitarian faith; chanting; the nature of the “life force” (pranayama) and faith in Christ/Holy Spirit.
One evening was dedicated to looking together at how we might more effectively network with one another in an ongoing way throughout the year, and optimize use of this website which is being accessed from countries around the world on all continents.
One of the ideas emerging from this discussion was that of regional retreats, organized and led by network participants from that region, in the years between our continental gatherings. The mid-Atlantic group moved quickly to do exactly that, reserving a place for a weekend event in November 2009 (see the Upcoming Events page).
People left feeling energized, connected, and supported. Let the Spirit work!
OAK RIDGE V AT GRAYMOOR: JULY 13-18, 2010
In 2009, the Green Acres Foundation of the state of New Jersey purchased the Oak Ridge property and buildings, all of which became Mount Paul State Park in June 2010. As the transfer was taking place in the summer of 2010, it became necessary for our network of Christian teachers of yoga to find a fitting new location for our bi-annual retreat. We decided to hold it at the Graymoor Spiritual Center in Garrison, NY, which also sits atop a forested mountain. As an indication, however, that the content and style of the gathering would be in continuity with the Oak Ridge retreats, we called it “Oak Ridge V at Graymoor”.
In spite of the worst economic recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s, thirty-five teachers from15 states and two provinces of Canada (GA, NJ, MD, TX, OR, CA, PA, NY, MI, CT, VA, MN, DC, VT, AL, ON, QC) prioritized the time and resources to participate.
The daily schedule of the retreat, honed from the feedback received on evaluations of the previous four, remained virtually the same as at Oak Ridge IV where participants had expressed positive appreciation for the balance between time on the mat and in discussion/reflection sessions, as well as with morning and evening communal prayer and with the opportunity for some quiet, personal time each day. Several times in different contexts, appreciation was expressed for the difference between a “conference” and a “retreat”, with the acknowledgement that these gatherings have found a pleasing way to successfully integrate and hold together in one event components of both.
Some of the themes in plenary sessions and workshops this time around were: “Seva and Christian Service”; “Breathwork in a Christ-centered Context”; “A Christian’s Conversation with Patanjali”; “Yoga and Religion: Addressing the Fears”; “Yoga Ethics and Christ’s Commandments”; “Yoga Sutras and Scripture.” In addition to serious discussion and reflection, the group also demonstrated a marvelous capacity just to have fun together, most notably in what has become a tradition of these gatherings: a “Show and Tell” night, where each one is invited to sing a song, tell a story, play an instrument, share some poetry, lead a circle or line dance, and the like.
Clearly, however, what participants cherished the most was simply the opportunity to connect or reconnect with one another. Thirteen of the 35 were first-timers. Among them were three teachers from the Holy Yoga training school headquartered in Arizona, and the creator of Christian Yoga International in Minnesota. One of the sessions provided a forum for discussion on ways of creating a larger, more inclusive network wherein the teachers would have an enhanced opportunity for sharing of resources and mutual enrichment.
After serving as convener and co-organizer for five retreats over 10 years time, I felt it was time for me to “pass the baton” to new leadership. Kevin Flynn, an Anglican priest and theology professor at St. Paul’s University in Ottawa, generously accepted to serve the network in that role and to carry things forward. He will be working with Dayna Gelinas, who has done a wonderful job of handling the administrative side of things for the last two retreats, and who graciously offered to continue doing so. And one of the representatives of the Holy Yoga network of teachers who has considerable experience working with websites, Andre Daley, offered his services in helping us effect some improvements in this website.
OAK RIDGE VI AT GRAYMOOR: JULY 31-AUGUST 5, 2012
Twenty-four teachers from thirteen states, Ontario, and Quebec, made the pilgrimage to the Spiritual Life Center atop the mountain at Graymoor for what they hoped would be a rich and inspiring week. They were not disappointed!
The morning plenary sessions on “Questions That Keep Coming Up” relative to Christianity and yoga, and on “Sharing the Journey: Finding Common Ground with Other Religions,” stimulated deep and honest sharing.