Ali and I sat side by side for a long church season learning about worship, compassion and forgiveness. Then she moved away. During our annual retreat to Santa Barbara some years later she told me about yoga. Not just taking classes or carrying around her own mat – but studying to be a yoga instructor. My best Christian friend was becoming a yogi – reading Sanskrit and Scripture and loving Jesus all the while.
In the serenity of the sun-lit garden I felt a whirl of confusion as I tried to grasp the idea of Christian faith and yoga practice. I’d been taught yoga was demonic, opening the door to foreign philosophies and allowing dark powers access to your soul. Christians said it would lead to horoscopes, incense, dream-catchers or Ouija boards.
I ought to be afraid of yoga. I ought to warn my friend. But instead I listened through my faith-based fear; I wanted to hear what Ali had to say about the connection between her faith and new practice. I leaned into love, not fear, as I asked questions and tried to discern truth.
I discovered that most of our Western theology, our thinking about God, has been kataphatic. We lean heavily on words to describe God. But there is another tradition that is its opposite and embraced by the Eastern churches and faiths – apophatic theology. It is more about encounters with God, not descriptions. The former lends itself to the musing of our mind and the power of our vocabulary, but the later is shaped by what we experience. This is where our bodies come in.
Our bodies can host worship and can be venues for transformation. More than lifting holy hands or waving banners, beyond the ‘temple care’ of proper nutrition and exercise our bodies posses the power to feel compassion, offer instruction and embody change. We can include our physical self in our journey toward Gospel wholeness.
When I hit a wall – these lessons fell into place. Years of church, seminary and reading endowed me with a generous theological bandwidth. You might say I had maxed out my horizontal growth horizon. But my spiritual development started to wane. I needed another approach to open me to vertical growth, to a new level of connection with God I was hungry for. I decided to grab a yoga mat.
I invited my body to participate in my discipleship and development. Four days a week I rolled out my mat, took long breaths, stretched, lunged, balanced and ended in corpse pose (everyone’s favorite). Most times my final resting pose, where you lay still for five minutes or more, tasted like Sabbath. Often tears would drip down and mingle with my sweat. I would sense the Spirit hovering over me, so close and tender. I heard God speak again. My yoga mat became a holy place.
The truth I learned on my mat brought be closer to Jesus and brought more of me to His feet. Now body and mind work in tandem toward transformation as God completes the good work He began in me. Like Ali, I walk with Jesus and have my yoga mat tucked under my arm!