Yoga Theology: Back to the Mat

During the season of Advent, I walked away from my yoga mat.

Busyness was not to blame for the departure. Neither was laziness. I simply did not want to be on the mat.

My head kept telling me, "Come on, you know how good it is for you to stretch and breathe. You studied and learned all the benefits of yoga in teacher training. You've written so many blog posts about how yoga draws you closer to God. Get back to the mat!"

Yet my heart kept telling me, "I don't want to."

So, I listened to my heart. I trusted that this was simply a season when I would encounter God in new ways. And I did--through photography and movies and lectio divina and music and people and so much more. The season was full of moments of experiencing God's presence, the same presence I'd felt on the mat.

The door to my yoga room remained open at all times, but for weeks I walked past it. Perhaps I was burned out from eight years of teaching multiple classes a week. Perhaps I needed a new mat not covered in dog hair. Perhaps I needed to join a studio. I kept asking myself, "Why am I walking away from something that I have cherished for so long?"

Then the ninth day of the Christmas season arrived: a long, stormy, and stressful day.  As night fell, I sat on the sofa, answering texts and emails. I stood up after an hour of sitting among electronic devices, and a dull ache crept across my hip.

When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him.
— Genesis 32:25, New Revised Standard Version

I knew the way to ease this pain, and there was no argument between my heart and head. I climbed the stairs to the yoga room. I put a CD of Gregorian chants in the boombox (yes, I still own a boombox. It even has a cassette player!).  I settled into child's pose on the mat. I breathed. I moved into poses that released the tightness in my hips. When I rose to leave, I was still a bit out of joint. But my mind told my heart, and my heart told my mind, that all was well. And the peace of an approaching Epiphany filled me with peace.

We often cast a negative light on doubt and struggling with our faith and wrestling with God. Yet when we wrestle as Jacob did by the river so many years ago, we encounter pains that change us. After his night-long struggle with "the man," and the blessing that followed, Jacob became Israel. He changed in a way he never would have without the struggle.

I still don't know exactly why I left the yoga mat and all of its benefits. All I know is that my time away made the return all the more mysteriously powerful. The comfort I experienced on that dark, ninth day of Christmas was all the more evident after the season of discomfort.

View From the Yoga Mat Feast of the Epiphany, 2017

View From the Yoga Mat

Feast of the Epiphany, 2017

Questioning, wrestling, struggling, doubting, and being torn between heart and head are not seasons to fear in our lives. Rather, they are often the times that God is doing an invisible, mighty work in us. Let us not dismiss these seasons in one another's lives. Let's help one another through them with love and support and most importantly, a non-judgmental, listening ear. 

As we journey into the season after the Epiphany, may the healing light of the Christ child draw us closer to the One who never leaves us. May we be changed by the One who does not change. May we embrace the struggles as well as the certainties of the One who blesses us with each new day.

all good things to each of you,

Pastor Darian

I owe a huge thanks to Whitney Simpson, fellow yoga teacher and writer for The 2017 Upper Room Disciplines this past week, whose reflections contributed greatly to the peace I experienced on the mat. Please visit Whitney's website to learn more about her ministry. And here's some great theology on wrestling from Mumford & Sons.