I remember the time, roughly ten years ago or so, when my mom and I would talk about yoga. I had been practicing for eight years. My mom neither challenged me about why I started practicing yoga or discouraged me from continuing to use this tool. She also didn't fully understand what I was doing, which was OK for both of us. She'd ask questions about it. I'd answer the best I could because learning about yoga lasts a lifetime, and yoga's depth is deep. Everything was good and accepting within the learning and teaching of our conversations.
Within this time, there was a period when she began to tell me about the conversations she had with friendly acquaintances from her church who had their opinions of yoga. While listening to their views, she also shared with them that I practiced yoga. Mind you, I didn't know these women, and they didn't know me. They didn't know my faith life nor I theirs. But my mom got an earful from them, which she then relayed to me. Her friends were concerned that I was doing something evil and against the Catholic church. They thought I shouldn't be participating in an exercise that was apart from God. Yoga was bad. These statements didn't bother me. In fact, I found humor in them because I remembered what my husband asked me after I came home from my very first yoga class years ago, "Who are you worshipping?" I also remembered when church people handed me articles to read or tried to convince me through a conversation about why yoga is a violation of the Catholic road.
I knew my mom's friendly acquaintances, and my own, thought I was worshipping someone other than God. There tends to be a misunderstanding among people who are led in the wrong direction to understand and explore yoga. Since my mom told me the topic of yoga was hot at church because the parish school decided to incorporate it into the curriculum, the following words popped up in my mind: Yoga. Church. Opinions. Rules. Close-mindedness. Untruthful information.
Remembering the challenge at my parish about yoga being allowed and accepted, I knew what was coming next. Still, I let my mom tell me anyway. She told me yoga wasn't going to be taught to the school children after all because a parent thought yoga is wrong, and the kids shouldn't be exposed and went to the pastor with concerns. What does one do when not all the sheep are happy? Are all the sheep ever all happy? This decision put an end to and buried the discussion among my mom and her friends. But my mom and I continued to talk about the benefits of yoga. I continued to practice, which she fully supported even if she didn't understand. She had seen a positive shift in me.
I eventually went through my 200-hour certification for the primary purpose of learning the depths of this ancient practice. I intended not to teach, but things fell into place, and I taught both at a studio and to private women's groups for a while. These private groups were my favorite. They took place in spiritual settings, church spaces, and chapels of all denominations with women of faith. These moments were both mysterious and whimsically inspiring. I led church ladies in yoga within settings graced with glorious stained-glass light in the mornings, calming moonlight in the evenings. These women, and I, were searching to connect with our faith, spirit, breath, body, mind, soul, heart, and bringing every ounce of trouble and gratitude that lived within us. In the communal presence of the sacred spaces and holy altars of ourselves, we were faith-filled women who honor the Father and Mother in God, the Brother in Jesus the Son, and our Communion with the Holy Spirit.
Up until this time, no yoga teacher or guru had led or influenced me to worship something or someone other than in whom I believe. No one asked me my faith credentials to see if it was right to practice yoga. I took a workshop once with a well-respected yogi. In his presentation, he talked about St. Francis of Assisi's peace. He encouraged everyone to respect and honor God, for He has given us the gift of life. He also described how we are all vessels of the Divine. I sure felt God in the midst that evening! That night, yoga and my faith found a partnership somewhere in the middle. Not right of center or left of center. There was a wholly meeting together and union in the middle. Moving forward, if I heard be present from the pulpit, I had the instrument to ring in my mind, body, and breath to the here and now. Yoga had become an aid to heighten my faith, not harm it. I wasn't on a collision course. I was on a yoking of one.
So why am I writing about all this today? Because on my mat this morning, some of the encouraging and discouraging memories of yoga came to me. The ultimate yoga practice is to have a personal one where you are alone, in a space that is right for you, practicing in the right way for you at the moment. It can take years of classes to get to this point. Eighteen for me, to be exact. This morning I decided not to participate in an online yoga class. Instead, I had the urge to lead myself from what I know and, more importantly, what I don't know. I rolled out my mat and slowly moved my body, concentrating more on my breath. I turned on a playlist, a yoga genre of songs because I like the music's vibration around me. The lyrics in the third song caught my full attention. The most beautiful version of The Lord's Prayer was evolving from a gorgeous and soothing female voice. I had never heard it before. My heart skipped a beat or three. There I was in my bedroom. Attempting to practice yoga by myself when I usually prefer to be led, I wanted to connect with gratitude for what is, not what isn't, during this obscure time in history. Then here came the Light of the Holy Spirit, beating in my heart, I am with you. In the sanctuary of my home. At the altar of my being. Through the ritual of prayer. With the only One that matters. Through the tenderness of grace.
With many parish centers around me closed and the churches cautious with masses, this was my daily bread. On this day that I have been given.
Moral of this story: yoga is not harmful. It is quite beneficial in learning to live a life of gratitude and helpful during stressful times. But just like anything, we can sometimes be led in the wrong direction—more on that in Part 2.