A yoga studio is about as common as a Starbucks in New York City. Every few blocks there is a studio welcoming the busy New Yorker to come in, develop a yoga practice and breathe. As I walk to and from the subway, I see yogis wearing t-shirts that exclaim “Namaste” or “Sleep. Eat. Yoga.”
When I moved to New York to fulfill my call as a Minister of Word and Sacrament, I passed each studio with some skepticism for two reasons. The hue of Christianity I grew up in was culturally Midwest and suspicious of practices of meditation or exercise that were experienced outside of church. Since I am a curious person and am often wondering where God is to be found outside of the church, that wasn’t my biggest reason for skepticism. I mostly wondered if the practice turned one in on oneself (finding the god within) so much that it neglected to move the practitioner outside of oneself to be in community with the greater body. After all, Christian practice is one that moves the practitioner into self-reflection and then back out to the community of God.
John Calvin opens his Institutes of the Christian Religion with the profound statement that “solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.” If yoga could lead one into deeper knowledge of oneself and in turn greater communion with God and the community, then this was something I desired to experience.
After some life-changing events this year, I retired my resistance to yoga and I accepted an invitation from a friend to come and join her at the yoga studio. What I have found is a place of creation. I have been humbled from my prior skepticism.
In fact, I’ve found that yoga can foster community. As I was standing on my mat, bent over at the waist, reaching my hands forward, my instructor said, “Take this breath and reach out to your community. Think of the people who need compassion and offer it to them.” In this way, yoga can be a sanctuary to practice being the compassionate people Christ calls us to be. Faces of people flood my mind as I stretch out my arms, serving as a prayer for those who I know who are struggling. When I step off my mat and return to my daily living, the prayers I prayed to Christ become living realities as I interact with the people I was praying for with more compassion. Yoga is like prayer. I meet Christ on the mat.
I also appreciate the way yoga has taught me to breathe. I enter my class and sit on my mat and begin to slow down my breath and marvel at the gift of being alive in that moment. Or maybe not marvel, but finally become aware of my body and spirit and rest and be made new, even for a moment. Just as God the Creator formed humans out of the dust and breathed God’s own very breath into us, yoga is the practice of returning to God’s breath. Breath is holy.
In Colossians 1 we read that in Jesus all things are held together and made new. In yoga the Holy Spirit is breathing into us and creating a new creation. Behold, God is indeed making all things new. Yoga is a practice to tangibly experience being made new. Not everyone who participates in my yoga studio is Christian. It is not specifically a Christian environment, but it doesn’t need to be in order to serve as a spiritual practice for me. The Holy Spirit famously transcends our carefully constructed boundaries and is on the move to make all things new.
After a few months of building my practice, I have found that yoga helps me to experience the grace of God and renew the presence of the Holy Spirit. Five years later, you will now see me in my clerical collar with my yoga bag strapped to my back. I chuckle at God’s humor and am humbled, for I am a skeptic no more. I find God renewing me and our community through yoga, one breath at a time.