This last week, the following question came across my desk: “Why can’t Christians do yoga?”
I closed my eyes. I shook my head. Then, just as now, I invite us ask a different kind of question: “Can Christians do yoga?” We ask instead.
And the answer is a fierce yes.
Now, I’ll be honest: for the first thirty years of my life, I didn’t participate in a whole lot of yoga. This wasn’t because I believed it was bad, that it would lead me away from Christianity and down a path of Eastern religions like Buddhism or Hinduism. Nor was it because I believed the meditation practices of yoga might slowly start to infiltrate my mind and take my focus off of Christ.
I didn’t do yoga because I wasn’t really interested in it.
Even though a physical therapist once warned me that I’d be an impossibly inflexible old lady if I didn’t start regularly doing yoga or stretches, and even though I had a roommate at the time who was incredibly into the practice of yoga, I was more interested in other forms of exercise.
Give me a long hike in the woods. Offer me forty-five minutes on the Elliptical.
Make me do half an hour on a mat in relative quiet? That didn’t appeal to me in the least.
But then, marriage, and two years later, a baby. Two years after that, another baby.
That second pregnancy nearly did me in, though. By the time I got to the third trimester, I wasn’t sleeping through the night: instead, I’d wake up at two or three in the morning with excruciating back pain. I’d end most nights sleeping on the floor, and later on the couch, because this unexplainable, sleepless back pain continued for another two and a half years.
In that time, my second son was born. Doctors and chiropractors and massage therapists couldn’t explain the pain. Acupuncturists and friends and nurse practitioners couldn’t explain the pain.
Nothing helped me sleep through the night. Nothing relieved the pain made manifest in my back, that only seemed to surface at two o’clock in the morning.
Finally, a couple of months after our second son turned two, we moved to Seattle. If nothing else, the newness of our life in the Pacific Northwest prompted me to do something – anything! – about the pain in my back.
You probably know where this is headed: I started doing yoga.
Yoga was the only thing I could do by that point. My body was unable to do any other kind of exercise. It was unable to move in the way it had been designed to move.
But then, a gift: that which I had long avoided became the only thing I could do. And it was then, in quiet and in stillness and in leaning into this practice and exercise, that I found healing.
I began to sleep through the night again.
I no longer had to take Ibuprofen to fall back asleep.
I eventually no longer had any back pain at all.
It’s not all that different for Amy Julia Becker, author of To Be Made Well. While lying on a yoga mat more than seven years ago, she received “an unexpected and sudden healing from her lower back pain, which is part of what led her to write” a book few people could have written.
That moment opened up a pathway toward a deeper healing that led first to a new awareness of my own woundedness, my own shame and hurt and anger and grief. And then that moment opened up a pathway to my own belovedness. And then to the healing love available to each of us and to all of us and the invitation for me to participate in it.
It’s easy to fear that the practice of yoga will result not only in spiritual unity with God but also with nature (and with what is referred to as the “divine self”) – that practicing yoga is yet another slippery slope away from the confines of Christianity.
But when I read Becker’s words again, I’m reminded of the healing nature of yoga.
What healing love might be available to each one of us through these practices? How might we, as Christians and yoga practitioners, participate in something like this that opens the doors to a new awareness of our own woundedness? Perhaps more than anything, what might it look like to rid ourselves of scarcity mentalities that leave no room for practices – like yoga – to bring about the healing work of Christ?
Yoga, as I’ve found is not a “yes, but,” but it’s a “yes, and.”
And over and over again, we are invited in.