A few weeks ago I told you a story about finally being able to process how I am feeling in this crazy time. Processing is good and necessary and being able to voice how you feel and put a name to it is crucial. However, just because I know how I feel, it does not always mean I know how to change it.
This week I want to tell you another personal story that helped me and that I hope will help you take positive steps towards positive change.
Gym Class at Home!
This story is about my son’s gym homework while not at school and quarantined at home. Kaleb had to complete an hour of physical activity a day for school. Needless to say, we did not do a great job for the first few weeks and his grade reflected that. We came to the conclusion that we could all use some physical activity. But since it had not been overly nice out, we decided to find workouts on YouTube and do gym class altogether.
The motivation to not allow my son to fail was just what I needed to get me going. In the end, an hour of working out for a kid who had been sitting around all quarantine (and parents too) was a bit much. That is when I decided to add yoga. Once I found the right motivation it seemed like nothing could stop me. I discovered that yoga allowed me to start taking what I learned, and the emotions I processed through, and begin to change the negatives to positives.
Hold On a Minute!
But wait! Yoga? Isn’t that a different religion? Are you converting? No, do not worry, I have not lost my mind and I am not converting to Hinduism. Hear me out.
In this article, we will take a quick look at what Yoga is and then as some benefits it offers.
The Benefits of Yoga to the Christian Soul:
- Center on Christ: Yoga centers on self but we have a more reliable center.
- Meditation: Gasp! That is right, Christians should meditate.
- Self-Discovery: To know who God created you to be and live fully in that.
- Physical Health: Our bodies are a temple, let’s take care of them.
Interested? Read more below
Photo Credit: Jared Rice Upsplash Images
Yoga for Christians? A Gym Class Revelation
By: Kendra Hamby
Let’s take a second and look at what Yoga is. Yoga was developed several thousand years ago in India as a way to connect oneself to “the divine.” A spiritual practice designed to help all aspects of our being—physical, mental, and spiritual. That being said, Yoga itself is not a religion, and if you can learn to take the spiritual things they are saying and translate them to what you believe (assuming you have a good grasp on Biblical truth), you can really get a lot out of it.
Yoga may be centered in another culture and religion but the practices and disciplines are things that Christians can benefit and learn from.
Center on Christ
Yoga instructors often ask you to “center yourself.” They want you to connect to the “highest” part of who you are and focus on that. To focus on you and your connection to the earth and to nature. So, we take that and center on Christ instead. The act of breathing, taking time to sit in a moment undistracted by the world, to focus on quieting yourself, is super healthy. There is a lot to gain from shutting off all the voices inside you and just being.
This “centering” or finding peace and stillness does not have to be overly spiritual. While you absolutely can focus on things like acknowledging the vastness of who God is, or worshipping, or being thankful, you can also just be still. We are very busy any more with work, chores, hobbies, and even church. We spend so much time in the world and not a lot of time in the presence of God. Just sit in his presence, put off the worries of the day and your to-do list, and just be with God. (Psalm 46:10)
Meditation and prayer are not that far removed from each other. In reality, our prayer should often look more like mediation than it does. We rush through it and say a lot of words, but we forget the listening part. Prayer should be a two-sided conversation, but we tend to make it one-sided.
Meditation focuses on the aspect of the conversation that we in America often forget, listening and waiting.
If all we ever do in prayer is come to the foot of the cross, lay down all our crap from the day, unload our prayer list, and never take the time to listen to what God has to say, it will be a good beginning but we miss out on the relationship part of this whole thing. The relationship is where the growth is. God did not save us to just listen to us whine and leave us as he found us. Christ died for us so that we could have a relationship with the Father.
He died so that when we come to him, he can take those things we leave and turn them into something beautiful. If all we do is word vomit, we never get the redemption.
In the end, you are not even really leaving anything with him if you do not wait for the peace of the Lord. If we do not listen for his voice, we usually end up picking all the crap back up and carrying it around some more. Yoga creates space for meditation, for listening.
Let me quickly interrupt our chat. If you would like to talk to someone about questions or struggles this article surfaced for you, go to the Two Rivers Counseling Center’s website, and look around. When you are ready, click the “Get Counseling” link. Or go directly to the “Get Counseling” request form. If you are not local to upstate New York and cannot come to my office, we can always make a virtual appointment by using social media to connect face-to-face. Now back to our discussion.
Not only can we learn something about our prayer life, but we can learn about ourselves. I spend a lot of time in my own head, but it is usually voices of fear and anxiety that I hear. When I do yoga and I am focusing on my breaths and relaxing my body, I start breathing the truth of God in and breathing out the lies of the enemy. I am not emptying my mind in some dangerous Hindu practice. I am practicing Spiritual breathing. I am implementing the Biblical “put off” and “put on” formula.
While writing this, my mom sent my sister and I a graphic that I would like to share with you because it helps put a bit more meat and tangibility to this concept. If you are struggling to put your own voice to the breathing, come to this list (credit to Sheridan Voysey). Find one that speaks to you in the place you are in, and sit with it.
The ones that really caught my attention were “Love/Insecurity” and “Peace/Anxiety.” I often find myself living in the tension between these opposites, but adding these concepts to my yoga practice has given me some concrete ways to shift my focus from me and the world to God.
Another thing I do is actively surrender. Whenever the instructor tells me to take a deep breath out I surrender. All my worries, whatever is causing anxiety, whatever thing I’m trying to control, I surrender it to God in those moments.
Practicing Yoga is time in my day where life slows down and I have someone reminding me to breathe out and in and let the stress go. And yes, sometimes when you are anxious you need someone to remind you to stop holding your breath, to release your shoulders, to relax!
Locate the Tension
The Yoga instructor will often ask you to focus on where you are holding tensions and stress and to let that go. I am tense more often than not. Through this practice, I have been able to start noticing when that tension is building so I can release it.
Once you release the stress and get rid of the negative voices you can start listening to the voice of God and the truth about who he made you to be.
“Self-Discovery” as a Christian, is more like God-discovery.
As you discover God and build your relationship you will start to see the world (and yourself) through his eyes. He made you, beautifully and wonderfully, and with purpose. The world often taints and distorts our God-given identity. However, if we will take the time to sit and listen, God will show us the reality.
Another aspect of Yoga that we need to address is “grounding.” Often, they ask you to ground your palms and feel the connection to the earth. While they do find a spiritual aspect to this, it does not have to be that. We can focus on the physical aspect of what they are asking.
If they tell you to “ground through your hands” what they want you to do is plant yourself and place your weight in that area. There are physical benefits to this practice. Like I said previously, Yoga was created for the whole being, including physical. The shapes and positions of Yoga can help your physical body in many ways. General fitness and being active is a given. But you can improve balance, core strength, posture, flexibility, etc.
A Recent Experience
Not only are there general benefits but there are numerous Yoga videos you can search to help with pain in specific areas. For example, I have suffered from neck and shoulder pain for years. Probably a decade ago I injured myself and never fully recovered. I am usually in a low level of pain and every now and again I will do something to aggravate it and intensify the pain. This often results in a limited range of motion for my head, neck, and shoulder. It usually lasts about two to three days before starting to return to normal.
Well, last week, we were working on redoing our bathroom and I spent the evening painting. I woke up in a good deal of pain and unable to fully rotate my head. I went to the Yoga channel I follow, looked up a neck and shoulder routine, and moved through the positions slowly. I did that once in the morning and once in the evening. I woke up the next day almost back to normal, blowing my usual recovery time out of the water.
1Corinthians 6:19-20 Don’t you realize that our bodies are a temple where the Holy Spirit is and that we need to honor God with our bodies. Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, honor God with your bodies.
That requires intentionally taking care of it, or “stewarding” our physical self. That just means being responsible for our temporary earthly “house” that God gave us. While that includes diet; exercise and physical health can be as easy as Yoga!
Wrap It Up
The mental and physical disciplines of Yoga, if taken out of their context and put in a Christian one, can help us center on God. It can teach us the importance of listening and help us discover our God-given identity. And can give us a way to do all of that while taking care of this earthly temple we have been given.
As you navigate this, I encourage you to keep an open line of communication between you and God. My goal in this is not to present you with something that is going to cause confusion. If you are reading this and it is not setting right with you, that is okay, you do what you feel God is allowing.
However, if you are reading this and it has got you excited and you cannot wait to bust out Your mat and get connected to God, then go for it! This is not something we are going to beat each other over the head with but very much a case by case situation.
Do I think that Yoga is not only safe for Christians but highly beneficial? Yes! Do I think that some may still struggle with its origins? I do. There is no condemnation whichever way you fall out on this. If you decide to try Yoga or not whatever you do, do it for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:30-31).
Note: If you search “Christian yoga” on YouTube there are some channels that come up. So, there are resources if you do not feel comfortable watching a Yoga session led by a non-Christian. However, I have not personally watched any of these so I can not vouch for their theological content.
If you feel comfortable with branching out into regular Yoga, I have found that Yoga with Adriene on YouTube is very good. She isn’t overly spiritual and gives space for you to interpret what she is saying however you feel comfortable. I suggest her mainly because she is great at describing what she is doing, for a beginner she makes the practice accessible.
Want to Read More?
Not too long ago we posted an article about managing your emotions during quarantine or crisis that goes along with this one quite well. Read it HERE.
Again, if you would like to talk to someone about questions or struggles this article surfaced for you, go to the Two Rivers Counseling Center’s website, and look around. When you are ready, click the “Get Counseling” link. Or go directly to the “Get Counseling” request form. If you are not local to upstate New York and cannot come to my office, we can always make a virtual appointment by using social media to connect face-to-face.