Over the next three days, we’re featuring some reflections on Yoga and Christianity, written as new contributor Amanda Munroe underwent yoga teacher training.
Pre-training: I’m Exploring Yoga. I’m a Christian: Conflict?
Everyone who knows me – anyone who knows me, even mere acquaintances – find it congruent with my vibe: my Birkenstocks-and-maxi-skirt-wearing (thrifted maxi-skirt-wearing!), vegetarian, bike-riding, peaceful-protesting, spiritually-curious – ukulele-playing for goodness’ sake – self screams yoga.
Which is why it may have seemed noteworthy to my therapist when I explained my mixed emotions of excitement and trepidation about becoming a yoga teacher.
I’m not sure I could have articulated it this way then, but the root of the trepidation was fear of losing my belief in God, conflated with a fear of losing the respect and acceptance of my Christian family (no Christian euphemisms here, I mean my nuclear parents and siblings), my Christian community, my Christian self, my Christian worldview and, eventually and by extension, the foundation of my decision-making skills and impetus for my actions. Parts of me were afraid that I would unwittingly commit heresy while other parts of me were afraid I might wittingly convert!
At this moment of fear I had two options: surrender to an anxiety attack, or return consciousness to my breath to calm the overreaction that my caveperson-era fight-or-flight system induced in response to a potentially life-altering thought. Returning to the breath reminded me of the healing yoga has already delivered.
From The Heart of Yoga by D. K. Desikachar: “our aim in practicing yoga is to bring about a change to the quality of the mind so that we can perceive more: the function of yoga in physical practice like in philosophical approach aims to pursue and discover truth.” This mirrors my lived experience.
Of course the root of my desire to share yoga is more complex than simple eagerness to be more consistent with my peace-promoting lifestyle choices. And to be fair, I don’t really imagine that a substantial change in my generally-evolving worldview would necessarily result in being separated from my family. But I do want to say that it is easy to get caught on non-stop chains of thinking. I know that naming that I can get trapped in chain-reactions of insecurity, even when they are irrational, helps me to understand how much emotions, whether or not they can be rationally explained — animal-instinct, fight-or-flight type reasoning – informs my doubts and my decision-making.
This is what I know today, so far: as a devotional practice that encourages the alignment of intention with action and focuses on integration between mind and body, yoga practice has taught me to trust God more by giving me places and spaces to experiment with trust.
Yoga has helped me access more readily the spiritual dimensions of who I am. I have patterns of spirituality from 29 years of life as a Christian, but too often my devotional practices feel like grasping at stale air, like putting on shoes that don’t give the same support they used too. I think deepening my yoga practice might offer some fresh air, some new arches.
Pre-training: Depth of Field
I heard today that we may be unable to reconcile with an other, until we reconcile what is in contest within our own selves. Insecurities going into the yoga teacher training still tenaciously undermine my hopes for it. I worry I will dishonor yoga or dishonor God. I worry I am a heretic, or will soon become one.
I worry there might not be enough room in my soul for the intensity of two spiritual experiences at once. I have images of swords clashing at my heart center – my heart center looks like crushed red velvet carpet and Jesus and Yoga have Spanish boots and heavy swords.
I have another image of disgruntled siblings elbowing each other because they’ve been forced to sit uncomfortably close in the back of a station wagon with ugly magenta fabric and sticky vinyl tubing right out of Chevy Chase’s Vacation series. They’re stuck there for a long road trip and the sun’s beating down on them at an uncomfortable angle through the window and there’s still 6 hours of Nebraskan cornfields left before they can reach Colorado, even though they can already see the mountains. The seatbelts are too tight and they can’t fall asleep sitting up at that angle and Mom’s the only one who gets to choose the music and it’s David Bowie, which just amplifies the weirdness of the whole thing. You get it, right? The two of them might not want to be together in there. It’s cramped.
Slowly and surely, though, yoga is offering greater depth of field. I’m feeling more space to stretch out. Consistent with my growing understanding of God’s character so far in life, that which what seemed contradictory on the surface, when viewed through the telescope of eternity, veers much more toward compatible coexistence. I think I’ve been putting God in a size too small. Certainly Christianity as I’m experiencing it feels itchy and ill-fitting.
But surely the pursuit of spiritual transformation regardless of method demands the pursuit of truth. By definition, truth exists despite and quite in the face of doubts of its existence. Expressions and interpretations of truth may differ, but the reality that truth exists remains, its truthfulness is not reduced by the diversity of its expressions.
Some say yoga practice is intended to increase awareness of reality, to increase receptivity to truth. Some use the term “receptivity to the grace of God.” I hope it offers this receptivity to me.
In fact I am eager to trust the process. I used to be afraid that trying on the disciplines of a non-Christian religion tempted fate, bordered on heresy. I now feel very different, like refusal of the process would only demonstrate distrust: either distrust in the method or distrust in the idea that truth is in fact true.
I don’t have reason to distrust, based on the evidence so far. Neither God nor yoga practice have failed to deliver on their promises in the 29 years I’ve had in this body.
I am learning that the more I choose to examine all the particularities and contingencies of my embodied self, the more capacity I build to perceive truth’s existence in and implications for my life. To fear that I might, by learning yoga, cut off God’s ability to reveal Godself would undermine the sovereignty and big-T truth that God is. It cannot, must not, be that discovering the depths of the fearful and wonderful big-t Truth would come through censoring experiences or curiosities that consistently reveal more about the grace of God. Censorship is an expression of distrust.
In one of Desikachar’s many definitions, yoga is described as “a movement toward and arrival at a point.” In practice, we help the purusa (what I have gathered to mean something like “the eternal and changeless observer”) to see the finitude of change, like waves in a sea of water.
Maybe I am Peter, yoga is the Sea of Galilee, and my step out of a boat is a step onto a mat. Maybe I will cast my eyes upon the Lord, moving toward and arriving to him at once.