On the Mat: What yoga has taught me about the Christian life
For many years I liked the idea of yoga, but every time I tried it I felt bored and unproductive. I tried to be “serious” about yoga a few times because I thought it was cool. But yoga, much like my vegetarian phase, fell by the wayside. Then in the later months of my pregnancy with Isabella, as all my favorite forms of exercise became uncomfortable and then impossible, I increasingly turned to my prenatal yoga DVD. Through regular practice I discovered joy in slowing down and fully experiencing the present moment.
Now yoga has become a regular part of my life; I’m unrolling my mat 3 or 4 times a week and finding something new and wonderful on it every time.
I began to practice yoga regularly because of the physical benefits I believed I would experience. While I’ve gained strength, flexibility, and balance, I’ve found the intangible benefits to be even greater. Many of the principles I’m learning on the mat are applicable to my mental and emotional health and, more importantly, to my spiritual life.
Focus brings Stability
In any standing posture (or any posture you find challenging) you find a drishti
, a point to focus on. I’m always amazed at how the simple act of fixing my eyes on that weird notch in the floor, instead of allowing them to wander around or examine my form in the mirror, suddenly allows me to stand firm. When I feel challenged by my circumstances, I look at Jesus, right into His eyes, and I find assurance. I am established even in difficulty.
Push your Edge
I’m feeling good headed into Warrior 3, stretching my arms gracefully in front and extending my leg behind, sure that I’m the picture of elegance and majesty, and wishing someone were here to take a photo so they could slap it on the cover of Yoga Journal. I continue to bend forward, moving into the full pose. And then… I lose my balance. My hands awkwardly and loudly find their way to the floor and my leg flails uselessly behind. In that moment it’s easy to feel shame, but I’ve learned that slipping (or completely falling) out of a pose means one thing: I’ve found my edge. Next time, I can go further.
My Thoughts are Powerful
Sometimes I find more space in a posture not because I tilted my right hip down or lifted my left ribs up or spread my toes… often new understanding and ease comes when I begin to think differently about what I’m doing. Body mechanics are integral in yoga, but I’ve learned that visualizing what my body needs to do is vitally important. Instead of thinking about what’s uncomfortable, I think about being in the perfect position. I have a tendency to think about what’s uncomfortable in my life or what’s missing in my character, but I’ve been provided for, and God sees me perfect. When I align my thinking with the Kingdom, freedom comes.
Rest in the Shaking
If yoga has taught me anything, it’s that balance is tenuous. Keeping your body calm and steady in strange positions requires constant work, little corrections, infinite tiny adjustments in posture. When I first began practicing I hated feeling my body shake… I like to just be awesome at every new thing I do. But the tension between where you’re comfortable and the new challenge is natural. I’m learning to be ok with my trembling muscles, and to keep deepening into that place of tension. Eventually I’ll get there.
I could go on and on. I feel like every time I practice, I learn a new lesson. Sometimes it’s purely practical, and sometimes it’s much deeper, but I’m always humbled and rewarded by my time on the mat.