Yoga Theology: Wrestling With Our Limbs

I'd like to offer a huge thanks to United Methodist Communications for sharing "Why A Clergywoman Teaches and Practices Yoga." That post has received nearly 3000 hits, and it's even featured on the new website for The United Methodist Church. Thank you so much for spreading the word on how faith and yoga can work together to draw us closer to God. To view the denomination's new website and media kit, click here.

Now it's time for some yoga theology.....

"What are you doing?"

I sat on the yoga mat with one leg extended in front of me, the other leg bent. I was hugging the bent leg into my chest while trying to touch the toes of my other foot. I looked up, my hair falling in my face, shadowing the overhead light. The teacher walked in front of the light, a mix of concern and perplex on his face.

"A twist?" I wasn't sure if my response were more of a statement or a question.

"Come out of the pose."

Spoken with urgency, such questions and comments might drive perfectionists and people pleasers away from a yoga class. We feel that we've done something "wrong," and correction can feel more painful than a twisted ankle. Others of us welcome the opportunity to improve. Still others resent change and forge forward, ignoring the teacher's instructions.

As a yoga student for 14 years, I've felt all of these emotions at some time. As a teacher for seven years, I've seen all of these reactions, and more, among students. The yoga mat is a vulnerable space because none of our bodies are perfect. Even a strong, fit person may struggle with breath control. A limber person who can get into various "pretzels" may have weak abdominal strength. When we come on the yoga mat, we will likely encounter our strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes a physical weakness on the yoga mat points to a needed change in our spiritual lives as well.

On this particular day of the bent knee / toe reach / twist pose that I must have invented, "What are you doing?" and "Come out of it" were indications that I was inching toward injury. I sat up immediately and laughed. I crossed my ankles into an Easy Pose and asked the teacher to elaborate on what had happened.

"You're wrestling with your limbs. You're trying to force yourself into the pose."

I was fighting with myself. I was creating an unnecessary struggle. Here I was in a space meant for relaxation, strength, balance, and better health, and I was unknowingly turning it into a place of competition.

How often do we wrestle with ourselves while God tries to woo us into peace?

"24 But Jacob stayed apart by himself, and a man wrestled with him until dawn broke. 25 When the man saw that he couldn’t defeat Jacob, he grabbed Jacob’s thigh and tore a muscle in Jacob’s thigh as he wrestled with him. 26 The man said, “Let me go because the dawn is breaking. But Jacob said, “I won’t let you go until you bless me.” (Genesis 32:24-26, Common English Bible)

What a rich story of our human condition. While some people believe the mysterious man with Jacob was an angel and others believe it was God, the story is the birthplace of our phrase, "wrestling with God." We reconnect with Jacob by the river, with the age-old story that no matter how strong we are, He is stronger. We do go through times where we struggle with our belief in God, where we can only pray with the question of "Why?" But there are other times when we create our own wrestling matches with ourselves and with the One who desires to hold us--not fight us.

We don't want to let go of the struggle, yet he is asking us to do so. And only we can stop wrestling with our own limbs. Sometimes we need each other to point out our strains, as this teacher did for me. Other times, we have to listen to the Holy Spirit speak in our individual hearts, to take inventory, to search our hearts for where we're trying to keep control that belongs to God.

What battle are you creating today? Is it necessary?

God did not give us our limbs for a wrestling match; He gave them to us to serve. Come back into Easy Pose with me. Breathe. Let go. And embrace the blessing God bestows on Jacob and all of us.

all good things to each of you,
Pastor Darian