Why A Clergywoman Teaches & Practices Yoga

Wearing only one sock, I shook my yoga bag and knelt under a folding chair in search of the sock's mate. I asked myself how I managed to lose only one sock and not both at yoga class.

"How long have you been doing yoga?"

I bumped my head on the chair and crawled out. The cold floor startled my bare foot as I stood to face Rachel, the young lady whose question halted my hunt.

"I started taking classes in college. Thirteen years ago." Until I said the number out loud, I hadn't realized how many downward-facing dogs I've done in my life.

"Wow," she said, hugging her yoga mat. "What got you into yoga?"

My mouth opened to respond, but my mind was blank. I did not know what to say. What got me into yoga was no longer the reason I still go to yoga.

"I heard it was a good form of exercise," I said. "I didn't play sports, and I'm not competitive, so I was always looking for other ways to exercise. And I heard it was good for stress relief." I stopped talking even though I wanted to say more.

"That's really cool," she said. "I just started doing yoga...." We went on to talk about how much we enjoyed the class we'd just had. We formally introduced ourselves to each other and said good-night to the other students. As I drove away from the class, I kept thinking about Rachel's question. It's pretty easy to answer "what got me into yoga." The longer story is why I still practice, and now teach, yoga. It's a story that has little to do with exercise and stress relief.

Blogs, articles, ope-ed pieces, and interviews abound regarding whether or not Christians should practice yoga. Before I attended my first class, I had largely been in the "not" category. I associated yoga with Buddhism, Hinduism, and New Age philosophy. I was scared that somehow yoga might be a "sin." These are concerns that I still sometimes hear. I truly understand people's hesitations-- because I, too, have felt them. Thirteen years after that first class, I believe not only that it's okay for Christians to practice yoga but also that yoga can help us grow closer to God.This week, I wanted to add my clergywoman's/yoga teacher's voice to the conversation around why it's more than "okay" for Christians to practice yoga. If you would like to read more musings on this topic, check the archives for "yoga theology." The following list, which is not exhaustive, is highly influenced by the training and certification I received as a Yahweh Yoga teacher. More information on this teaching school can be found at www.yahwehyoga.com. As always, the opinions expressed here are mine and mine alone.

1. The yoga mat is a "secret place" where I pray to God.
In his Sermon on the Mount, one of Jesus' teachings is around how to pray: "Whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in the secret place. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you" (Matthew 6:6, New Revised Standard Version). Many yoga classes allow times for quiet, meditation, and rest at the beginning and end of class. These bookends are wonderful opportunities to pray. There's only room for one person on the physical yoga mat, so why not make it the "room" where the Person who created us can meet with us? When I attend a yoga class that is not explicitly "Christian," I focus on Jesus Christ and a Scripture verse such as this one.

2. Yoga makes me a better clergywoman. Ministry makes me a better yoga teacher.
The physical practice of yoga requires patience, endurance, and humility--all marks of a disciple of Jesus Christ. Some days I can touch my toes; other days, I can't. As I grow more compassionate towards myself, I develop more compassion for others. Yoga classes help me to take better care of myself by working on stretching tight muscles, balancing, and building strength. All of these lessons help me to approach leading a church with care, concern, and compassion. As I listen to the spiritual needs of parishioners, I learn how to meet the needs of yoga students, too.

3. I experience God's healing power through yoga.
In my opinion, the heart of the Church's mission should be to heal. How can I be a part of bringing healing to the Body of Christ if I am not whole in my own being? To broaden that question, how can we help one another through trials if we haven't tended to our own hurts and pains? Yoga provides a time and space to be with God as well as to take care of ourselves emotionally and physically. With his help, healing is possible on and beyond the mat.

4. Yoga opens doors that the traditional Church sometimes closes.
Due to the wounds that churches have caused, both intentionally and unintentionally, people turn away not just from the Church but from God. Congregations are always looking for opportunities to reach those who are not in a community of faith. I've found yoga to be a means of reconnecting people with the Church and nurturing the faith of those who are already in a Church. Sometimes there's as much ministry taking place in the conversations after a yoga class as in the hand-shaking line at the end of a church service. In Ephesians 4:3, Paul asks the church to pray specifically "that God will open to us a door for the word, that we may declare the mystery of Christ" (New Revised Standard Version). God uses a variety of portals to minister his grace and to comfort with his Word. Yoga can be one of those doors.

We grow and change as we practice yoga. We also grow and change as we live in relationship with God. Our answers to questions may change. Some questions may leave us as puzzled as we are when a sock goes missing under a chair. Are we willing to let God change us through those questions?

all good things to each of you,
Pastor Darian