Yoga: Be Still and Breathe

Preface:

I love to cook healthy.  I hate to exercise.

The Story:

One of my best buds, whom we’ll call Starbuck (re: the fictional kick-bootay pilot) has been telling me for two years that yoga is about breathing, stillness, listening to your body, and God.  Honestly, until Monday night, I don’t know that I really got it.  I’ve always thought yoga was about exercise, because that’s the context in which I’ve always pursued it: exercise where I don’t have to wind myself and sweat a lot.  I was first introduced to yoga many years after I’d hung up my tutu of 11+ years, and I was like, “Oooh!  Ballet for grown ups!  Awesome!”  But I’ve mostly only done yoga via DVD or at the gym, which hasn’t provided much instruction on the meditative and spiritual elements of yoga.

When I have done yoga, I’ve enjoyed it, but it’s never really stuck, and I’ve never really pursued it with passion.  I would say, it’s like, my exercise of choice whenever I choose exercise, which is rarely.

A miracle of miracles happened the other night, though, when I finally trekked out to Movement Arts, a yoga studio in this beautiful red barn near our small town. I’ve been thinking about going to a class there for five years, seriously considering it for 2 years. I was finally pushed over the edge to go after reading an article written to kids of parents with heart disease that said, “If heart disease is in your family, you have no excuse.  You need to be exercising 3x a week.  That’s that.”  Grr…grumble, grumble.   Then I read this post from a YD friend who’s a personal trainer.  Oh yeah, and my health insurance sent me a letter for my explanation of benefits that included this fun fact:  “Do your parents have heart disease?  If so, your risk of developing heart disease is higher.  A study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that a woman’s risk is 43% greater if her mother has heart disease and 17% greater if her father has it.”

AHHHHHHHHHHH!  For real, like, everyone in my family gets heart disease.  Well, not everyone, but lots of us.  So, on Monday, against all odds.  I went to yoga.  Yup, it was fear of heart disease, not so much desire for wellness that finally got me off my butt and to the yoga studio.

The secondary reason I’ve also been wanting to pursue yoga is because my neck still likes to revolt against that time a sudden turn of events in a car caused it to bend in all sorts of interesting directions.  (Friend — you know who you are — I love you and please try not to be sad about my neck anymore.  This story has a happy ending.) I’ve tried to take care of my whiplash, but chiropractic care has yet to be permanently helpful, and based on what I know about chiropractic care, it’s not permanently helpful anyways.  Several people, including Starbuck, have recommended yoga as a permanent solution, and Starbuck even pointed me today towards the owner of her yoga studio who says that beginning yoga was the end of her neck pain.  Honestly, if God giving me a pain in the neck is the catalyst for what I’m about to share with you about yoga, it’s a pain in the neck well worth it…because…

This Monday, for 75 minutes, I went to yoga class, breathed in and out, and my mind was still.  For 75 minutes, there was nothing but silence, my breathing, the voice of the yogini, and me listening to my body.  That’s it.  Was I exercising?  Yes, I know I was because at several points during the class my legs and abs were shaking violently from the exertion.  But the main thing is that my mind was still.  I think it was the most energizing single thing I’d experienced in at least 3.37 years.  (This is an intentionally hyperbolic statement.  We all really know the most energizing single thing I’ve experienced in the last 3.37 years is meeting husband on a bridge in Austin, but hyperbole is such a fantastic way to dramatize communication, n’est-ce pas?  I just really want you to know that the elation resulting from the previously-stated 75 minutes of brain-stillness was mind-blowing.)

Even though yoga and I have been hanging out for 3 years, it’s like I barely knew her.  It’s like, I could have hopped on a magic carpet with yoga and started singing, “A Whole New World: soaring, tumbling, freewheeling through an endless diamond sky.” On the way home, I was thinking about my life: the duties, the dishes, the commute.  And I was thinking about how much self-love and self-discipline it will take to give myself permission to take 2 hours every week for nothing but the sound of my breath, the movement of my body, and the silence…the silence through which the still-small voice of God can whisper truth into my ear.

If someone tries to tell you yoga is just exercise, it’s not.
If someone tries to tell you that yoga for Christians is yoga with the spirituality removed, it is not.

I don’t 100% know what it is yet, but I know I want more of it in my life…at least the doctor recommended 3x per week anyways.

Epilogue:

If you’re interested in discussing a Christian’s approach to yoga, I’m not really prepared to discuss that yet…this is really just a reflection on what yoga’s doing for me right now.  I do think, however, if you choose to do yoga, you should proceed with caution and do thoughtful research before you just plunge in.

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One response to “Yoga: Be Still and Breathe

  1. Yay yoga!

    The best resource out there (including books you can buy) for Christians interested in practicing yoga is this website: http://www.christianspracticingyoga.com – although a more thoroughly theologically dense resource is _Prayer of Heart and Body: Meditation and Yoga as Christian Spiritual Practice_ by Thomas Ryan (related to that website).

    I have no qualms with Christians exploring yoga. My one caveat is one I would tell anyone: be sure you’re comfortable with the instructor and the class you’re attending. You want to practice at a level that’s good for your body and your mind. There are as many yoga classes out there as Christian denominations, so if you don’t like the first yoga class you attend, it’s probably not representative of yoga as a whole.

    You’re absolutely right: yoga is not just exercise. It’s not a religion either.

    I’d write on, but then there would be nothing left to put in the book I’m writing about the subject. 🙂

    Oh – and yoga is like one of THE best activities ever for preventative care, especially for things like heart issues. So. There you go.

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