Saying "yes" to the invitation that changed my life

Alice Latham

I was looking for ways to reduce stress when I first began practicing yoga about twelve years ago. I tried a few different classes, but felt I couldn’t do what the other people in the class were doing. The teacher’s voice across the room singled me out, saying, “wider stance.” My timid voice responded “This is as wide as I go.” After class, I rolled up my mat along with my bruised ego, and left. This experience brought to the forefront a very old message: “You’re not good enough.” Little did I know that God was inviting me on a new journey of self-discovery.

I come from a very traditional Catholic background, attending Catholic grade, high school, and college. I thought my spiritual life was just as it should be. I considered myself progressive, receiving regular Spiritual Direction, reading spiritual books, and making yearly retreats. I prayed, read scripture, took classes, and was active in my church. What else could there be?

Through my experience of spiritual direction, I learned to identify how God speaks to me. I can only describe this as a feeling of inner certainty, a realization about something where there is no doubt. About fifteen years ago, I made a directed retreat. It was a fruitful weekend. I felt comfortable and happy; God’s presence all around me. At dinner the second night of the retreat, I noticed how good my body felt. I did not have a headache or body ache. My digestion was unimpaired and comfortable. I felt so physically well that I had to stop and take notice. This feeling of “well being” stayed with me as I resumed my regular schedule. Though the feeling gradually dissipated, it was not forgotten. When I discussed this experience with my spiritual director, her reaction was “Isn’t God wonderful, God wants us to be totally well in our bodies.” At that moment I understood that God’s will for me was that I be fully alive in my body.

Shortly after that my friend Bernadine and I met a man named Bob at a dance. Bob told us he was a Kripalu Yoga Teacher, holding weekly classes at the local Unitarian Church. I told him about my previous experiences, and that I had decided that yoga was not for me. But something in Bob’s gentle manner, coupled with his insistent invitation, convinced both Bernadine and me to attend his class. Saying yes to this invitation changed my life.

Bernadine and I went to class religiously for six months. Bob’s style of teaching was so compassionate, I felt encouraged and accepted. One night after Savasana, I was overwhelmed with a sense of well being. This was stronger than the usual trance-like state I had after relaxation. As Bernadine and I discussed the class, I remembered my experience on that retreat so many years ago – “God’s will is that I be fully alive in my body.” A connection was made between yoga and my ever evolving relationship with God. Whenever I discussed my growing love for yoga with Bernadine, she would say, “If you like it so much, why not consider teaching?” My response was “are you kidding?, I’m not good enough!”

We continued our weekly classes. One night Bob told us Rodney Yee was coming to town and invited us to a special class at a local studio. We decided to go; a big leap for both of us, leaving our nice secure class at the church, and moving into the larger world of yoga. Somehow I wasn’t afraid. We began class sitting cross-legged, my dreaded position, and of course Rodney zoomed in on my raised knees. He began walking around the room giving gentle assists to all the students. When he came to me, he knelt down and with such gentleness said, “Let’s make you more comfortable.” He proceeded to fold a blanket, and told me that if I sat on it, I would be able to lower my knees, and be more relaxed. There was no judgment in his tone, only genuine compassion. In this gathering of yogis, I was good enough.

My spiritual director understood the connection I made between yoga and experiencing God in my body. During one of our sessions, I talked about dryness in my prayer and some agitation with prayer forms that previously had meaning, like visualizing scripture, and the examen. Her advice was “For now, just do yoga.” My practice deepened, and so did my relationship with God. Still, I felt I was on two complementary, yet different paths.

Bernadine and I attended our weekly classes until Bernadine was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. Within months, she was gone. I stopped going to class. For months, a cloud of sadness covered my existence. I mourned the loss of this dear friend and stopped going to class.

Bernadine left me one of her most valued possessions – her books. I had two unopened cartons in the trunk of my car for weeks. Finally decided it was time to see what was inside. I opened the first box, and right on top was a red book entitled Prayer of Heart and Body: Meditation and Yoga as Christian Spiritual Practice by Thomas Ryan. Tears began to flow: tears of joy and recognition that death cannot sever the bonds of love. The angels we had in life will continue to support us after death.

I read the book, and went to Kripalu for Tom’s first Prayer of Heart and Body Retreat in that particular setting. Tom Ryan has given us all the gift of his intelligence, ability to synthesize concepts, pursuit of truth, combined with his abiding faith, and great love. Shortly after that weekend, I enrolled in Kripalu’ 200 hour basic certification program. I began teaching immediately at the Upper Room Spiritual Center in Neptune, New Jersey, where I use various modalities to integrate Christian spirituality into the practice of yoga.

I am currently working toward my 500 hour professional certification through Kripalu. I continue to teach classes at the Upper Room. I have also had the great privilege of working with the Catholic H.S. where I currently live. For the last three years, I have participated in the senior retreat day, where I teach yoga as a means of prayer. Every March, I lead a retreat day for young women from the same school in which we focus on using yoga as a means of prayer, and self acceptance. We honor the divine in our own bodies, as well as those of the other participants.

My heart is filled with gratitude for God, my practice, and all those teachers who have helped me along the way. It is my hope that together we will move forward, embracing the gifts of all traditions and using those gifts to deepen our Christian faith and service.