I am a person who needs people. My family, my close friends, I need them like I need air. They are why I wake up every single morning. They are why I do this life thing. They are why any of this is worth, well, any of this. And I need to be needed by people — to know that my presence is of value, that I make a difference, that these connections are meaningful. I ever so much need my people. Lots of love for my people. Lots of love for humanity. All of it.
And on the flip side of that,
I am also a person who needs space. Lots of it. Space to breathe, to be, to struggle, to think, to not think, for quiet, for peace, for so many things — because sometimes I get completely overwhelmed by humanity. All of it. And in those moments, I need lots and lots of space. And this noisy world gives me so very little. Writing gives me that space in my head — to compartmentalize things and thoughts — to break things down — and even if I can’t ever make sense of the mess inside — for some reason, thought transformed to written word gives the mess a certain sense of clarity, a soundness in my universe that they were lacking just floating around aimlessly in my brain.
And yoga, well, yoga gives me this same space physically — as my body carries out the movements planted on the mat and the ones risked into the sky. But it also gives space to my soul. Tremendous space. And without this carved holy space, the connection made between body and soul, yoga would be reduced to a bunch of stretches…
So these thoughts have been bouncing around my head for the past few weeks, and this cold, dreary, most uninspired day is probably not the most opportune time to elucidate them–but it’s what I have. I so covet those writers who can actually write when their thoughts come. I tell myself they have hired help and lack full-time jobs, just to make myself feel better. That’s not yoga peace now, is it?
I was so struck by a blog concerning yoga and haven’t been able to get it out of my mind since. It was essentially speaking to taking the spirituality out of yoga to accommodate everyone–taking the holiness out of it. And while I completely understand where the author was coming from (he cites his strict upbringing in Catholicism and the unpleasant memories that brought up for him, and if he had walked into a yoga studio with any religious implications, he would have walked right out), and I found myself more and more saddened by this as I thought about it as the days went on–on and off the mat. Because, for me, when one strips yoga of its spiritual connections — you strip yoga of well — being yoga. What you are left with is purely exercise. And while exercise is perfectly wonderful and great for you, yoga is SO much more.
I should fess up right now and admit I’m one of those enthusiast that believes that yoga could, in fact, be the saving grace for us all. I believe it should be taught in schools–starting with our preschool kids. It could be a huge relief to our children struggling with ADHD, autism, depression, aggression, eating disorders, and a host of other behavioral disorders. And while the religious aspect would have to be removed — that whole mixing of the church and state thing today is totally taboo (unless we could treat our children AND religion with respect, but that’s an entirely different blog post) — but the meditation thing could be so brought IN! Think of the self-esteem that could be raised with self praising mantras of encouragement! Think of the bully problems that would vanish when we learn and are taught to respect and regard and honor each other’s light in one another — each shining ember just as valuable as the next! Namaste to you and Namaste to me! Yes, yes, and yes. Yes, I am that crazy girl. And yes, I teach my own boys yoga. They’ve embraced it from little guys and just happen to love it. They’ve also made up some of their own poses and renamed traditional ones. One could also conclude it grows the imagination.
I’ve seen it change lives and I’ve experienced it change my own. And not just because I’ve done some stretches or exercises — but because I’ve stretched and exercised something besides my body — something of even greater value — my soul. And to take that experience OUT of yoga in the name of inclusivity just baffles me. Sure it may be a little scary and some of us may be a little apprehensive to go there, but there just may be where we all need to go and what this world may be so sorely lacking…
And I so understand having an aversion to religion. I get the writer on this one. And it wasn’t just because I was raised from infancy in a strict religious household like he was–full of all the traditions and rituals. He claims that no one could be anymore Catholic. I get it, brother. Although I was not raised Catholic, we lived and breathed the Bible. We memorized the Word. The letter of the Law. There was no “magic” at our house. Santa, the Easter Bunny, Halloween (even the blessed tooth fairy) — that was all pagan, heathen stuff the rest of the world was going to hell for. We went to Christian schools till we came to Iowa (which I will tell you are just as big of a mess as the public ones — just smaller class sizes, my friends). Church was life and the only social life we had. And for me, it was where I saw the monsters come to pray. All dressed up, all spotless, all big and perfect monsters — who could beat or rape their wife and children at home — but come to pray and praise God on Sundays and be revered by the church as disciples of God. Monsters who had affairs within the church, but it was all hushed up because divorce was just NOT done. Oh dear goodness no. Monsters who spent a great deal of money to look the part of blessed, because poor people must have done something wrong in the eyes of God to be so undeserving. Monsters who judged. Monsters who pointed fingers. Monsters who yelled and screamed about the fires of hell. Monsters who spoke in tongues — a secret language only they knew because the Holy Spirit deemed them so Holy. Monsters who came to pray then went home to create a hell for all of those around them and would twist and bend the Bible to make that hell seem holy. Yes, I get you, brother.
But through all of that, through over twenty years of living that, somehow — deep down inside, I knew that was never my Jesus. And I also came to understand through all of that growing up in my home and in the church that there was such a cataclysmic distinction between this thing people called religion and this relationship I call spirituality. What I mean to say is, it’s one thing to know your Bible, and it’s quite another to know your God. And my God, my Jesus? Well, he was with me all the while. The church didn’t ever save me, but my Jesus did.
What I also so vividly learned was that the biggest testament and the biggest detriment to non believers about our Jesus is how we live our lives. How WE LIVE them. Not how we TELL OTHER PEOPLE to live them. We’re never going to get people to open their hearts or their ears to us (let alone a Bible) if we don’t love them first. We are walking our faith, friends. Every single day of our lives. “Don’t tell them Jesus loves them, till you’re ready to love them too.” Steve Camp (oldie but a goodie). Not shove their face in a Bible, not shame or shun them, L-O-V-E, love them (one of Jesus’s favorite words).
And that’s what I’ve brought with me to the mat. That spirituality. I didn’t know it, but it followed me there. That’s the awesome thing about yoga–it meets you where you are. And it wasn’t with pure bliss and happiness that I took up my mat. It was more of a “have to” stance. I couldn’t run — my love of forever — because I literally couldn’t breathe anymore — and this, well, this was doctor’s orders… and what evolved was really life changing. Thanks, doc.
You connect to your body by movement, yes. But if you think about it on a deeper level, way past exercise, past just you — yoga is a series of movements that have existed and have been passed on for centuries. That in itself is pretty, well, cool, right? I am already a part of something so much bigger than myself. And as you begin those movements, you are forced to listen to your heart, your breathing, and forced to connect to your inadequacies as well — “man, that looked SO easy” was something that went through my head repeatedly as I was falling over — and so you find the humor as well. I learned to laugh at myself! Humility. It’s a keeper.
And with the humor, you find your strength. Oh my love, you find your strength! As you grow, you will be amazed at what your body CAN do! And this courage, this strength follows you off the mat and into all areas of your life. This is soul growing stuff. Not just muscle growing stuff. You will also gain new perspective. Standing on your head makes you see the world in a totally different way, literally and figuratively. Yoga challenges you to see life through a new set of lenses. Through new eyes. And couldn’t we all use that? New perspective for body and soul. It grows you in every way.
And I have my mantras, while I breathe, and I meditate — whether it be thankful meditations, prayerful ones, or sending out peaceful, loving, meditations out into my day, my sister calls them blessings to the universe (the Buddhist that she is). I will concentrate on a verse, something that is challenging me, on a person that has been on my heart — oh these things matter!!! I can not imagine yoga void of this! I.can.not. This is where your heart grows, your soul stretches. I want my body to be in better shape–yes–but my heart and soul? YES to that too!!!
We are so much more than physical beings. Yoga connected me even more completely to my spirituality. I wasn’t just a body housing a soul. The vessel and spirit were one. It brought my physical and my holy self succinctly together. I don’t feel that ever so more completely than I do on the matt. And it taught me this about myself. I believe I am okay, even if I am a holy mess — simply for the fact that I am just that — holy.
Yoga brought me back to this, not through stretches, not through the simple act of movement — but through the combined efforts of motion and meditationss and breathing — the connection of body to soul — physical to something so much greater than myself — to the divine that is in me — and what incredible healing can come when that connection is made! When we stop, when we breathe, when we pause to listen to the inside and put to silence the outside — yes, the incredible healing! Yoga taught me how to fill my holes with holiness — and to make the connection to do so. Sometimes when I’m in my bliss state I wonder if Jesus did some form of yoga with the disciples. But that’s probably just silly now, isn’t it?
And I have learned much from my Buddhist friends. I mean, how can you NOT get with the teachings of the Dalai Lama! This is how he breaks down his religion, “My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.” Dalai Lama. And I find their openness to speak on religion so refreshing. They are peaceful in their conversations and inviting. It’s not all fire and brimstone. It’s not all about what you are not. I want more of that for us in Christianity. More peace, more welcome-ness, and more bringing to our brothers and sisters about what we are and what we can be than everything we are lacking. Most of us have the general gist of this. What I also find refreshing is this. When a fellow Christian finds that I am also a Christian, the first question often is, “Oh, so what Church do you go to?”. My Buddhist friends? The first question they often ask me is what is the state of my heart. “Are you at peace? How is your heart?” I find this lovely, and I wish as Christians that we did more of this. How is your heart? Are you at peace? This is what I wish for you. What are your favorite mediations and prayers? I also love my Buddhist friends for their call to action. Their religion is a ‘practice’ and not a bunch of words. It’s a verb. It’s a doing thing. It’s a way of life. We could learn much from them, while sharing with them our Jesus (read “The Heart Of Buddha’s Teaching” by Thich Nhat Hanh, if interested — not an easy read — but a very in-depth one).
We’re not a club based strictly on a bunch of rules (unless you’re still down with the vibe of the Pharisees). It doesn’t matter to me where you hang out on Sunday. It’s what you do with every single minute of your life, really. And I want to share something with you that will give you such amazing peace and fill your heart up with so much love, hope, and joy that you’ll want to twirl and sing from the hills like you’re Julie Andrews in the “Sound Of Music”. Life will still be life, but you’ll have something inside of you — a piece of God — that will allow you to defeat it — because He already has. Really. I know, it’s pretty awesome. And when you can’t fight, sit and be still, friend. He’ll do the fighting for you. And together we can pray and be there for each other in ways that are unparalleled to what our eyes can see. And you, my friend, are a miracle. You are a priceless gem. You are divine. You are loved more than you could EVER imagine — no matter WHAT you have ever done. You want to sing and twirl now, don’t you? Or roll out a mat and do yoga, we can do that too…
My practicing Buddhist friends will also tell me that their Buddha is a lot like my Jesus. He was big on sacrifice and suffering too. I mean, he talks about it a lot. Except for this one thing. He didn’t sacrifice his life for all of their sins. Nailed to a cross, my Jesus died for me. Wiped away everything I have ever done or will ever do, so I can live forever with him. I can’t think of a bigger love. He also can do anything. I mean, the biggest of miracles! Talk about your meditation mantras! Can’t go wrong with miracle mantras. I bring that all to the mat. The struggles of the day meet those meditations and they are never, ever a match for them.
But yoga without spirituality? Nah. It just doesn’t make sense to this yogi girl. I want to be a better person. A better whole person. Holiness and all. But if you’re looking for exercise and stretches, yoga is good for that too. But it’s my hope that you’ll find a little bit more. A little sparkle in your soul. Something a little deeper. Something to stretch your spirit too. Because you are so much more than your yoga pants. You are incredibly divine. So imperfect, but none the less, divine!
Peace, love, and Namaste.
(and much love to y’all who fight your monsters on the mat and meditate the darkness away — know this,
“What makes night within us may leave stars.” Victor Hugo — shine on! ❤ )