Yoga Allows Christians to Quiet Down, Prepare for Meditation
By Bill Nolan
Every Monday evening for the past six weeks, I have left the treasures of Western civilization and headed East. OK, so it is only two blocks from my home and only one of them is east, but go with me here. I have become a sojourner in a new time and space. I have been instructed to configure myself in ways previously thought to be impossible given my physical structure. I have begun the practice of yoga.
Now let me dispel a few misconceptions: There is nothing un-Christian about practicing yoga. My eternal soul is in no danger, at least not from this practice. And there is nothing particularly Christian about practicing yoga, either. Its roots are in Hindu and later Buddhist philosophical and theological thought; the ultimate purpose of yoga is to prepare for meditation—in other words, all movements are preparation for the experience of stillness. Thus, while a benefit of yoga might be increased physical fitness, the goal of yoga is spiritual enlightenment.
The first Monday night I attended class I asked if we had to sit “Indian style.” I thought I was supposed to bend at the knees in order to touch my toes. And every time I was supposed to inhale, I was exhaling and vice-versa. I couldn’t have been doing things more wrong and I was frustrated because everyone else had legs that crossed the way they were supposed to, could reach the floor easily and knew how to breathe correctly. If I hadn’t already paid the non-refundable fee for the eight-week course, my first formal yoga class might also have been my last.
Of course, any spiritual practice that seeks a greater awareness of my body, mind and spirit will take practice, patience and self-discipline. And it can be a frustrating experience because it never goes exactly as I map it out. Too often, my best efforts fall short because perfection—whether that be God’s definitive “yes” in answer to my prayer for happiness or the unmatched quality of my “downward dog” pose—is the only acceptable outcome.
Yoga has taught me much about my quest for spiritual perfection. First, no such perfection exists. That makes letting go of that goal a bit easier. Second, the mere awareness of my physical being is itself a path to enlightenment. I am more aware of my body, of how it moves and bends and takes in and expels oxygen. I am conscious of the rhythmic, if not always artistic, connections between my movements and my stillness and am more aware than ever of the need for balance in both. Third, there is a power and grace that is found in humility. Yoga is a humbling experience, not because it reminds me of what my body cannot do, but because it reminds me that if my soul cannot be silent, I cannot hear the voice of God. If my mind cannot be aware of my breath, my whole being will be out of sync. And if I cannot experience the One that is within me, I will never experience the One in another. Those are the insights from yoga so far. So I just signed up for six more weeks. I have so much more to learn…