How this Network Came into Being
This story begins in India where, in 1991, following the World Council of Churches General Assembly in Canberra, Australia, I went to spend a study sabbatical in various Hindu ashrams, Buddhist monasteries, and at the Henry Martyn Institute for Islamic Studies.
Some seventeen years earlier, in 1974, I had begun to meditate. Somewhere within the first two or three years of seeking guidance and direction, someone mentioned to me that yoga was originally designed to help people meditate better, so perhaps I should check it out. I made a mental note of it and resolved to do so when the opportunity presented itself.
It was a long wait, but the opportunity finally came in 1991 at Shantivanam, an ashram in South India at that time directed by the Benedictine pioneer in interreligious dialogue, Fr. Bede Griffiths (d. 1992). There was a yoga class offered each afternoon at the ashram, after which we sat in meditation. Within a week I could feel a qualitative difference in the stillness of my body and mind while meditating.
I wanted to learn more, and throughout the remainder of my stay in India, embarked on a serious study of how yoga worked both physiologically and psychologically. Along the way in the various ashrams and monasteries, I met many others from North America and Western Europe. Inevitably, the conversation would include why we were in India.
My own reason for being there was that, after ten years directing the Canadian Centre for Ecumenism in Montreal, Quebec, and working entirely in the field of inter-church relations, I wanted to broaden my own horizon to include interfaith as well as interchurch dialogue. The way I learn best is to immerse myself in a situation experientially, let the questions arise, and allow the learning to go forward naturally around the questions. So I had come to a country where three other world religions were in significant representation. My goal was to simply experience each up close by participating in its life for as much time as I had.
A Recurring Theme
What I heard most often from other western guests in these places is that they were looking for teachers, someone who could teach them concrete methods and means to take them into a deeper experience of God. Christianity, they said, talked about faith and love, but did not provide the practical disciplines for living. This theme recurred so frequently in these conversations that I began to experience a call in it. I knew that my interlocutors spoke for many seekers in my back-home context as well. I had not anticipated this sense of call; it is simply what happened.
My thoughts began to run in the direction of getting an ecumenical center for spirituality up and going when I returned to North America, a place where we as Christians could bring forth and more effectively teach some of the valued spiritual life practices from our own treasure chests, at the same time as we continued to learn things of value from other religions.
Within two years of my return, the place was providentially provided, and the project—called Unitas (Latin: unity)–was launched. One of my own contributions to the programming was to become certified as a yoga instructor and to begin offering a weekly class called “Prayer of Heart and Body” which combined yoga and meditation in a Christian context.
Also during that time, in direct response to the complaints heard from other westerners in India, I wrote two companion volumes. The first was Disciplines for Christian Living: Interfaith Perspectives (Paulist, 1993), and the second grew out of my weekly class which led first to a weekend and then a week-long retreat and, finally, a book: Prayer of Heart and Body: Meditation and Yoga as Christian Spiritual Practice (Paulist, 1995, now in its 5th printing). A more recent publication, the DVD Yoga Prayer: An Embodied Christian Spiritual Practice (Sounds True, 2005) demonstrates how I continue to work with the yoga postures as a way of praying through the body.
The Prayer of Heart and Body retreats became a staple of our programming at Unitas, and over the next five years (1994-1999), a growing number of participants in these retreats saw possibilities for offering similar sessions in their back-home contexts. They saw that they could assist the many Christian yoga and meditation practitioners they knew to root their practice in the soil of their own faith. So they entered various programs of yoga teacher training certification and began to offer classes in their own towns and cities. Some who made these retreats were already certified instructors who simply returned home with a vision of new possibilities for their work.
Once these instructors had logged two or three years teaching, I began to receive inquiries as to whether it would be possible for us to come together for a few days to deepen different aspects of the teaching. Many also reported a sense of feeling isolated and expressed a desire for mutual support and an opportunity to share with others both the joys and cutting-edge challenges of their work.
In 1999 my community, the Paulists, called me to New York City to open and develop a Paulist North American Office for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations. I arrived there in January 2000. One of the reasons New York City had been chosen as the site for this new office was its proximity to Mount Paul, our retreat center in Oak Ridge, NJ, just an hour outside of Manhattan.
Oak Ridge I: July 21-26, 2001
In my invitation to the growing network of yoga instructors to come together for five days at Oak Ridge, I proposed that we undertake to offer the various program components ourselves and serve as resource people for one another. Participants were invited to prepare either a presentation on a question of interest or to lead one of our yoga sessions. We would keep costs low by eliminating honorariums and hold the fee to whatever would cover room and board. A yoga teacher from Connecticut, Karen McGee, accepted to handle the administrative aspects gratis. Clearly, this gathering was going to be “by the people, for the people, and of the people” interested.
Eighteen yoga teachers and practitioners from across the U.S. and Canada dovetailed their summer schedules to participate. Among them were two Catholic priests, two Protestant ministers, three psychotherapists, a medical doctor, a spiritual director, a retreat center program director. Roughly half had graduate degrees in theology. If the absence of published Christian reflection on yoga is any indication, it may have been the first time in the North American context that a group committed to both yoga and meditation came together for several days to reflect on their experience precisely as Christians. The common denominator was that every one had made a Prayer of Heart and Body retreat, so I knew them, but they did not yet know one another except where they’d been on the same retreat. A network did not yet exist.
In addition to early morning and mid-afternoon yoga practice sessions followed by meditation, those who carried a particular subject with passion or interest were invited to make a presentation in one of our twice-daily reflection sessions, and elicit the wisdom of the group in discussion. A sampling of subject titles: “Christology and Yoga”; “Bodies, Breath, and Bible”; “Praying with Movement”; “Meditation, Mind, and Mantra”; “Connecting the Inward and the Outward Journeys.”
It was a rich feast, involving reflection upon the incarnational and relational nature of Christian theology; the challenge of integrating both the inward (individual, psychological, contemplative) and outward (social, political and ecological) journey; the joys and difficulties experienced by Prayer of Heart and Body practitioners; and the obstacles faced by those who are trying to introduce yoga and meditation into explicitly Christian contexts. Some of the presentations begged to be shared more widely, and I invited the presenters to write up their talks toward a possible edited volume that might enable us to reach a larger forum.
In one of our reflection sessions, each participant was invited to write down the words s/he uses in responding to questions like: “What is ‘Christian yoga’?” “How can yoga be Christian?” “How does yoga contribute to a Christian’s faith development?” The rich tapestry of responses revealed that this was a young and fresh conversation, full of promise, with lots of room in it for further growth and development.
In our closing session we spoke of how we might stay in touch with one another and keep the dialogue going via the internet. One of the participants proceeded to reserve a few possible domain names for a website, but neither a list-serve nor a website resulted. What seemed most doable given the basis of volunteerism on which everything moved forward was for participants to simply continue their personal contacts with one another.
Oak Ridge II: August 2-7, 2003
In January 2003 I sent out a letter of invitation to come together again. By this time, the list of invitees had grown through my ongoing retreats and programs as well as through the recommendations by previous participants of those whom they had met. I decided to drop participation in a Prayer of Heart and Body retreat as a criteria for invitation. There was a risk in this of ending up with a too-disparate group with no common universe of reference where meditation and yoga were concerned, but the risk was engaged out of a sense of respect for how the Holy Spirit works in many marvelous ways.
Twenty-three people from nine states (MD, WDC, AL, GA, NY, NJ, MA, CT, PA) and three Canadian provinces (AB, QC, ON), and Switzerland came together for Oak Ridge II. Karen McGee again rendered vital service as our volunteer administrator.
The theme of “embodiment”, already introduced at Oak Ridge I, emerged more strongly and with sharper definition. Embodiment in our discussions refers to how the fruits of spiritual life practices such as hatha yoga and meditation find application relative to other “bodies”–like the civic body (e.g., in work for the poor), or through active membership in the body of believers in one’s local church community, or in care for the environment, our earth body. This is clearly an expanded framework of reflection, especially for those coming with just their own personal yoga or meditation practice and relationship with God in mind.
Participants have engaged with this theme in varying degrees and ways, recognizing in it a distinctly holistic emphasis that Christian faith via the Incarnation brings to the whole notion of embodied spiritual practices. A measure of how it has stamped our reflection is found in the book that largely issued from the Oak Ridge I and II discussions and contains chapters written by several participants: Reclaiming the Body in Christian Spirituality (Paulist, 2005).
The Oak Ridge II gathering gave clear indication that people in different parts of the continent were working with yoga and meditation in various ways, and making an effort in doing so to be consistent with the logic of Christian faith. Our conversations in plenary sessions made it increasingly clear: we have no desire to “christianize” yoga. There is only a strong desire to live a holistic Christian spirituality, as well as a conviction based on experience that yoga and meditation can make a positive contribution to this.
We recognized that “Christian yoga” is a descriptive phrase that raises more questions than it answers, and runs the risk of creating the impression that we are co-opting yoga and retro-fitting it in Christian terms, failing to respect its own integrity on its own terms. To avoid such an impression, many in our network choose not to describe their teaching and classes as “Christian yoga”, while others, recognizing its liability, continue to use it for lack of something better. The terminological ambiguities make clear that a concise language is not there yet enabling Christians who practice yoga to convey to others that what they are doing is integral to their life of faith and not outside of it.
The informal, low-key association of Christian teachers and practitioners of yoga that took shape in the Oak Ridge I retreat continued to evolve in the second gathering as a forum for ongoing networking with one another in our reflections around these and other questions.
Oak Ridge III: May 24-29, 2005
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.
7.15 Fr Tom Visioning The present is big with the future!
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.
Another on “Yoga and Christianity in the Life and Teaching of Jean Marie Dechanet, OSB,” brought the pioneer of Christian engagement with yoga front and center with a slide presentation and “staged interview” by Dana Moore and Sr. Cecilia Schullo drawn from Dechanet’s writings and records of an actual interview with him. As this French Benedictine monk, the father of Chistian yoga, is little known and read among the various Christian networks forming teachers in the North American context, we have posted his biography and slide show on YouTube and our website. We feel that drawing attention to his story and writings and making them more available represents a significant contribution to a field of work that continues to expand and develop.
In addition, a variety of other sessions and workshops took creative approaches to various devotional practices such as “Chanting the Psalms as a Meditation Practice”; “The Heart Language of the Psalms”; “Healing Oils of the Bible”; “Creating Prayer Flags”; “Yoga and Writing”; and “Being at Home with Your Whole Self to Be the Body of Christ.”
The facilities at Graymoor offer a variety of chapels and sacred spaces, and we made good use of them all, including the outdoor labyrinth, where we offered morning prayer one day as the sun rose above the ridge of mountains across the valley. In addition to our morning and evening prayer, the schedule contained twice-daily sessions of hatha yoga followed by a 20 minute quiet meditation, with each class being led by a different teacher. One of the joys for all the teachers present is to be able day after day to simply come in, get on your mat, and be led by another teacher!
At the end of the retreat in a session on Looking Ahead, appreciation for both the network and this biennial rendezvous found expression in different ways. One was the creation of a communication network on Facebook that will enable the teachers to maintain contact with one another throughout the year. Another was the willing emergence of new leadership as Dayna Gelinas, who has generously served in the key administrative role for the past three retreats, handed the baton on to Sally Grillo, while Renee Aukeman Prymus and Karen Kozlowski expressed their readiness to update this website.
Throughout the retreat, the Spirit was alive and active in our midst, and there were moments when the density of the sacred energy of faith and love and fellowship were palpably present and felt by all, as witnessed to by the exchanges of emails among participants in the weeks following.
Oak Ridge VII at Graymoor: July 29 – August 3, 2014
Twenty-six teachers from ten states, Saskatchewan, and Ontario, reveled in having five days together on a mountaintop. About a third of the group were first-timers, and our introductory circle was lively and rich with each one sharing how s/he got into yoga and learned about this network of teachers.
In our two-a-day yoga classes, we had the opportunity to do things we don’t all regularly do or that may even have been new to some teachers among us. Like being invited to hum a sacred word (a method for clearing the mind with the rich reverberations created in the brain) as we were led through a wide range of postures. Or being led in a wonderful “senior yoga” session, with many of the postures executed from a seated position in a chair, and some standing ones like the sun salutation medley and balancing postures engaged in with use of the chair for stability. Or being led at the end of class into a period of quiet sitting to the sound of a huge humming bowl (incredible what a resonant sound is made by continuous whirling of the gong handle around the inner lip of the bowl!). Or being led into a full session of restorative yoga with use of a bolster throughout. In the meditation period following each session, the silence was palpable and deep (and it wasn’t because we were asleep, but because we were at peace).
In our morning plenary sessions, a powerpoint presentation on “Chakras and the Subtle Body—a Christian Perspective” responded to a genuine area of participants’ interest, as reflected in the following discussion period. Similarly, in the discussion at the end of the plenary on “Christian Meditation, Centering Prayer and Mindfulness Practice,” it was clear that we were realizing the objective that triggered these Oak Ridge gatherings fourteen years ago: helping one another become both better practitioners and teachers.
And in between the sessions, people engaged in quality one-on-one conversations, e.g. one person shared over a meal about the two-year Spiritual Transformation program she had just completed, and another in an after-supper walk reflected on her recent eight day Insight Meditation retreat experience.
In one evening plenary we delved into pratyahara, and in another watched a 1.5 hour filmed interview with Thomas Keating on various topics related to centering prayer with one section on world religions and God. Renee Prymus gave a powerpoint presentation on where she’s going with her book project Finding Jesus in Down Dog: Profiles of Christians Practicing Yoga—a book which, when it’s published, will render a real service in providing an overview of all the different Christian yoga movements/teacher training programs as well as the work and influence of some individuals.
Our now traditional last evening “Show and Tell” was an example of what an extraordinary fellowship this is. It’s hard to imagine where a group of adults could get together and share in the manner we did, with poetry and personal stories, music and dance, laughter and tears.
And in our final morning we had a rich exchange in our Strengthening One Another in the Faith round-circle-sharing, followed by our closing liturgy. Meghan, a Presbyterian pastor from Iowa, was so moved by it that she had to excuse herself during the exchange of peace to wipe her tears. Needless to say, another blessed Oak Ridge retreat! Everyone left with a full heart.
Oak Ridge VIII at Graymoor: July 26 - July 31, 2016
Our biggest group and broadest range of states ever—43 people from 22 states and 2 provinces of Canada—with 24 people coming for the first time! The introductory circle on our opening evening was bristling with energy and anticipation of the five days ahead. Though it had been a long travel day for many, attention was keen on the personal witness of those in the circle to their journey with yoga and its integration into their spiritual lives as Christians.
During the week, the sessions covered a range of topics, e.g., integrating Scripture into one’s yoga’s classes and posture flows; the contribution Christian teachers can make to restoring the inherent linkage in classical yoga between asanas and meditation; a report on our website and discussion on “where do we go from here”; yoga in the schools; an update on research being done by one of our members on Jean Marie Dechanet, the French Benedictine monk considered the “father of Christian yoga.”
And the twice-daily periods of yoga practice were characterized by a remarkable diversity of styles in working with the postures and breathing. The growing number of yoga training programs and organizations led by Christians that were represented--Scripture Yoga, YogaFaith, Third Day Yoga, Yoga Devotion, Holy Yoga, Yahweh Yoga, New Day Yoga—led one participant to say, “The emergence of these various schools of yoga is a sign that the Holy Spirit is at work leading us to a more holistic spirituality in our Christian living.”
Leaders and trainees in these various programs were meeting one another for the first time and learning about each other’s characteristic approaches to their practice. The yoga sessions themselves varied from rigorous asana flows to yin yoga with legs up the wall and back on the bolster, to chair yoga, to graceful posture flows with songprayers. The diversity of yoga style and background music reached a new level, with “the novelty prize” for this gathering going to evangelical “praise music”. Our network has widened!
At an evening session on Where Do We Go From Here?, there was a call for a baseline, foundational group of topics that are addressed each time, and for some simple guidelines to be provided for workshop presenters. Similarly, there was a request for a little indicator to be given in each yoga class’s description in the schedule letting everyone know what kind of a session it will be-- power yoga, chair yoga, vin yoga, etc. And the hope was expressed that all classes would be accessible to everyone on a physical level, i.e., not too vigorous.
Sally Grillo, who has handled the administrative aspects for the past two Oak Ridge gatherings, will be succeeded by Ame Kitchener who will be assisted by Doreen Corwith Eckert. They will now become members of the Leadership Team with Kevin Flynn, Tom Ryan, and Renee Prymus.
“A prime purpose,” said Sally, “is just to bring Christian yoga teachers together so they know they’re not alone. You are all family to me.” And Kevin added, “This is not an organization. It is a network, a spiritual family.” To which Joanne Spence responded, “This group represents unity. That’s a very rare thing in Christian circles. I come here not just to practice yoga, but to practice unity.”
The closing night’s “Show and Tell” social gathering was a rich feast of poetry, humor, story-telling, song and dance, with everyone up on their feet at the end, waving their arms and moving to the music of “We Are Family!”
Oak Ridge IX @ Villa Maria, July 17-22, 2018
After four retreats at Mount Paul in Oak Ridge, NJ, and four at Graymoor in Garrison, NY, this gathering of Christian teachers of yoga took place in a lovely new location: the Villa Maria Education and Spirituality Center on the border of Ohio and Pennsylvania in Villa Maria, PA. The 26 participants came from the four corners of the U.S.—Florida, New Mexico, Oregon, Massachusetts—and from 8 states in between, plus Canada and Bermuda. A half dozen others had registered but due to unforeseen developments as time drew near were unfortunately not able to make it.
Villa Maria’s 750 acre property included flowers and gardens, hiking trails in the woods, and a huge swimming pool. Among the daily pleasures were the breakfast, lunch and dinner buffets with outdoor dining tables overlooking a garden. The morning and afternoon yoga sessions reflected the diversity and delight of the food counter with a rich variety of style and “taste”: gentle stretches with soft music; a good workout; asanas knit together in a yoga prayer posture flow; sessions woven
throughout with Christian faith, scripture, and prayer—each ending with a 20 minute period of quiet sitting in meditation.
Several of the daily conferences provided valuable historical perspectives in powerpoint presentations. Renee Prymus provided an overview of the history of our Christians Practicing Yoga network and bi-annual retreats. Dana Moore shared his historical research on Jean-Marie Dechanet (1902-1992), a European Christian monk, now known as “the father of Christian yoga,” who was looking for a holistic spirituality to help his body become a better instrument for his spirit. Rev. Kevin Flynn presented the history of Christianity in India, beginning with the apostle Thomas bringing the faith to Kerala and its subsequent development within the Indian cultural context. “As Christians practicing yoga,” he concluded, “we are part of a living tradition, and it is very legitimate for us to be doing this.” Fr. Tom Ryan gave a historical overview of the practice of Christian meditation, and Bobby Karle, SJ, talked about the ways he’s expressing the principles and components of Jesuit
spirituality in Ignatian yoga retreats. And Rev. Thurston Todd Long invited us to reflect on our personal histories under the theme of “The Critical Journey: Stages in the Life of Faith.”
As for the “where do we go from here?” question, it proved to be a benchmark gathering with general accord in the direction of establishing leadership teams, each of which will hold the responsibility for a specific component of the network, e.g. Retreat team. Website. Education. Dechanet research/publication. Mentorship. Non-profit. Underlying this significant development is the assessment that this network, its activities and retreat, are by-the-people and for-the-people. Thus, the importance of shared leadership.
There was also a general consensus that, as it is the bi-annual Oak Ridge retreat that has generated and holds the spirit and the core of this group, we need to keep the retreat firmly in place.