For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a believer in Christ. I grew up going to a Lutheran day care, attending Lutheran worship on Sundays, youth groups during the week, and went to Catholic school for my entire education before college. My hometown is located in the Bible Belt, and is governed by leaders and members of the southern Baptist churches. In college, I still attended Sunday worship at a Lutheran church, and occasionally went to Bible studies. But it wasn’t until I moved to Puerto Rico that I really discovered the depth of my faith.
At first, I found it difficult to assimilate to the Christian community here in Rincon, as all that I was accustomed to was traditional Lutheran services. So I used that as my reason for not attending any worship – the Catholic services were all in Spanish, and there wasn’t a Lutheran service at all. But something was missing, and it was obvious to me. My Sunday mornings felt empty, and my weeks only included casual prayers and talks with God on my drives to school. So Evan and I ventured out to try a non-denominational service at the only English speaking church in Rincon – the Church Without Walls.
We were welcomed by the most inviting and Christ-loving group of people we had ever encountered. Their songs were full of life and energy, they beamed with smiles of joy while greeting and chatting with those around them, the pastor was easy going and did an amazing job relating scripture to our modern day times. But yet, something was still off. And it wasn’t everyone else around me – although I liked the excuse “this is too modern for me, way too much singing” – it was me that needed the change.
So I decided to do yoga teacher training. It was offered in Rincon, and my intentions were to just do the course so that I could understand the practice and do it at home. Seems completely irrelevant to my relationship with God (at the time, I thought so too), but what I got out of it was so much more than I was expecting – and it does relate.
As we started pouring over the yoga sutras, I realized that I had heard these moral ethics before… this was very similar to the teachings of the Bible. Patanjali wrote the sutras around 500 B.C. and Jesus spent his adult life teaching his community about ways to trust the Father, how to treat each other, and that the only way to Heaven was by grace through faith. Patanjali showed us that the yoga lifestyle was focused and driven on seeking samadhi – or the complete devotion and trust in God. Connections.
Ok, I know what you’re thinking – isn’t yoga something that Hindus and Buddhists do? Yes, they practice yoga. Can you guess why? Because the asana practice was established as a physical representation of the spiritual practice that all believers of any religion must do. And by practice, I mean study your faith, pray, accept challenges with trust, treat others with love, be humble, give thanks and praise to your Creator… These themes are overarching and applicable to any spiritual person, not just Christians. So as I went through my intensive 18 day, 200 hour course, I tried to always find the connection between yoga and my faith. How can I use yoga to deepen my relationship with God?
One way was through teaching.
I started a class at the Church Without Walls; I invited all our congregation to come see what yoga is all about – I wanted to change the misconception that this practice was exclusively for those of Eastern religions. In fact, yoga is not a religion at all. Yoga is a science. Yoga is a way of life. Yoga retrains the brain, it centers the soul and it challenges the mind and body. Yoga heals, it encourages, it motivates, it loves, it shares.
As I started teaching this class, people came. Men, women, kids – they gave it a try. One year later, they still come back. It is truly one of my blessings that I count each day. Because these eager and Christ-glorifying yoga students taught me something too: trust & gratitude.
This is where I come back to how my teacher training deepened my relationship with God. In the past year, I discovered what the scripture meant by encouraging Christians to seek the companionship of other Christians, in particular in worship. I look forward to church; no more empty Sunday mornings. I’ve joined a women’s Bible study, and had others pray over my struggles and rejoice in my praises – with complete utter sincerity. I have started a One Year Bible, to spend some time each day in the scripture. I am grateful.
My students challenge me to show them the connections – this motivates me to spend more time in my Bible, and more time on my own mat. My personal practice has grown to include meditation, which I use for prayer. My personal practice is no longer about the exercise, it’s about the need for time alone with myself and my Heavenly Father. My understanding of yoga has taught me discipline, and positivity. It has taught me to be slow to judge and quick to love – something the Bible has taught me for years, but it took the tangibility of yoga to real allow it to sink in.
“Burning zeal in practice, self study and study of the scriptures and surrender to God are the acts of yoga” Sutra II.1“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me'” John 14:6
I use my practice to focus my mind and intentions on Christ. In my classes, I try to offer the same intentions and insights so that others can use yoga as a way to follow Christ. “Get on the mat, stop worrying about the stresses of life around you, just breathe. Feeling centered, set an intention for the practice – maybe you want to pray for someone who could use the same peace and comfort you are finding right now. Offer a word of gratitude and praise to our Creator for this moment where you can truly feel present.” This is what the Eastern religions do too – they take the time on the mat as a time to feel the presence of their God. No more distractions, just your body, mind and soul working together like three intertwined ropes – tying a knot of faith and trust and offering that loop to God to guide you through life.
I could say that I wish I experienced this sooner in life, but to be honest – I know He has a plan, and I know that everything in my past was for a reason. Just like how I say I’m thankful Evan met me at the stage in life when he did, I can say the same thing about this new found faith in Christ. I’m glad I’ve experienced here in Puerto Rico, where I have truly discovered what it means to be a Christian, and to live in the faith. My faith is certainly not perfect – it takes practice, just like yoga. I have my doubts, I have my questions, I have my discouragements. But I can now more easily find the positivity, focus on the good, and finally Let GO, and Let God.