Yoga Theology: Breaking the Bondage

The more I learn about yoga, the more I un-learn.

When I walked into my first yoga class fourteen years ago, the teacher, whom I’ll call “Lotus,” showed us how to breathe properly. She told us where to place our feet for each pose and when to squeeze our shoulder blades together. She explained what “savasana” meant (literally, the Sanskrit term means “corpse pose,” but I like to think of it as a well-deserved power nap).

A few months later, I went to a different studio in a different town with a different teacher we’ll call, “Butterfly.” She instructed us to stand with feet hip-width apart in mountain pose. The other instructor had said to place our feet close together. Butterfly told us we couldn’t drink water during class. Lotus had handed out water during class. Butterfly said that it was fine to fall asleep during “savasana.” Lotus preached that we must “maintain our awareness even in the relaxation of savasana.”

Huh?

As different as Lotus and Butterfly were, they had one thing in common: each believed that her way of teaching was the only way. I’m not saying that they were closed-minded. They offered some excellent instructions. They taught me about connecting breath and movement. I kept going back to their classes because I wanted to learn more. Both of them had completed extensive teacher training, and I believe that their students’ well being was chief concern.

I also learned from them the easy danger of bondage.

Sometimes yoga classes lack an important component: flexibility. How ironic that one of yoga’s greatest benefits is absent from the practice. I say this not with fingers pointing at Butterfly and Lotus but with fingers pointing back at myself as an instructor, too. It’s easy to teach a class with tightly wound rules. It’s easy to be a know-it-all. It’s easy to become bound in a certain structure or system.

When we slip into the bondage of only moving or breathing a certain way, we lose the freedom that yoga has to offer. Some bodies are not able to move a particular way, and adjustments are necessary. Some illnesses prevent us from breathing through the nose, and we have to make concessions to breathe through the mouth.

The same entrapment happens in our churches if we’re not careful.

We become convinced that our traditions are the best. The translation of the Bible that we use is the only one to study. The Spirit only breathes upon us during a certain hour on Sunday morning. We build an Egypt in the Promised Land, and pride is not always the culprit. Perhaps familiarity is just as much the contractor of those walls.

The Lord is our God. He is the one who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage. He has done these mighty signs in our sight. *

People often practice yoga because they want to loosen muscles that feel bound. People often come to church because they want to experience freedom from life’s burdens.

How can we avoid our past bondages?

How can we celebrate the freedom of deliverance?

Whether in yoga class or in church or in the everyday-ness of life, we could all benefit from pausing to remember how far we’ve come. The Israelites longed for the house of bondage when they ceased to give thanks. They felt drawn to the confines of the past when they pulled away from the mighty One who had done great things in their sight.

Let us choose this day whom we will serve: the house of bondage or the house of the Lord? When we choose the house of the Lord, we may not always agree on where to place our feet or how deeply to breathe. But we can rest in the reassurance that God is the instructor who has made us free.

all good things to each of you,
Pastor Darian

* Joshua 24:17 (Common English Bible)