20 January 2015

yoga and me: an attempt to be more thoughtful

Recently, in an effort to improve my overall fitness level and to get out of the house and spend time with adults, I signed up for yoga classes. This is perhaps not an unusual choice for a stay-at-home parent with a toddler, but it is the sort of thing that the me of ten years ago would never have done. And the people I spent time with then would probably have  been a tad concerned about me if I had done so.

While I never actively identified as an evangelical Christian, I did spend a lot of time in those circles, particularly in high school and in much of university. Some of my attitudes were definitely evangelical (for a while, I was anti-marriage equality. Then I grew up a bit and changed my mind) and others were not (growing up Lutheran meant that I was always nearer to the side of transubstantiation when the topic of Communion arose). For a time, I was one of those Christians who thought that good Christians didn't do yoga because it would spiritually contaminate you. Or something.

I didn't really know much about yoga, but I knew that it had its roots in Eastern spiritual practices, so that had to be problematic for a Christian. Right? Even if you ignored the spiritual history of yoga and just did it for exercise, you could never completely separate it from its origins, so I couldn't, in good conscience, practice yoga. With the typical arrogance of a teenager who thinks she is right about everything, and who was immersed in a branch of Christianity that places a lot of emphasis on doing the right things in the right way, I decided that I would never do yoga. I even told my fitness instructor in a class at university that I was a little dubious about yoga and wasn't sure if I wanted to do the segment on it. The poor teacher, having heard more than one of her conservative Christian students tell her that (it was a Christian university, that was most of the student population), found a work-around. A Christian yoga video, with all the positions renamed after stuff in the Bible, with verses to go with them.

That's when I discovered that I objected more to Christianized yoga than yoga itself. When you're in the gym of a Christian university doing "the Tent" instead of the Downward Dog because you're all so confused about whether it's okay for a Christian to do yoga, I think you have a problem.

Over the Christmas holidays, I read a book about Kundalini yoga. I'm still a little dubious about the stuff with the chakras, but the exercises, the breathing, the learning to focus and relax, those are all things that I don't have a problem with. And when I remember to do at least some of the exercises, I do feel better.

I did follow the book up with another on yoga and science, one that discusses the merits of and the problems with yoga, with a focus on safety. As flexibility, general fitness, and stress/anxiety relief are primarily what I'm looking for in this venture, I think I'm on fairly solid ground.

So off I went to yoga class last night, a little apprehensive about attending a class where I knew no one, and a little nervous about the difficulty level. And it went well. At the end, lying on the floor, relaxing and breathing, I found my mind travelling back in time, eleven years ago, to the summer where I alternated between being entirely at peace with everything and being completely stressed out about what I was supposed to do with my life. The times of peace came when my friends and I took time to sit down, pray, and let things go where they would. I usually ended up lying on the floor during those sessions, completely relaxed. I remembered how centred I felt then, how focused on the immediate, rather than the future, and I felt very much the same yesterday, lying on the floor of a yoga studio after nearly an hour and a half of stretching and breathing exercises.

Meditation has a long tradition in many religions. I still find it strange that many North American Christians find it alarming. There is much we have lost in the centuries since the Reformation transformed Christianity, not least of which is this: Wisdom is found in many places, and God is in all.

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