Monday, November 12, 2018
Stretch the prayers: yoga and my prayer life
Surprised by how spontaneously prayerful I found yoga to be once I really entered the practice. I had resisted it for years. The images of fit people balancing were certainly serene and attractive, but I still resisted. I had long let go of anything that could mess up my floppy joints with bouncing and high impact moves, but nothing had really replaced it. I knew enough to know that the roots of the practice were distinctly religious and religious of another religion that deserves respect. So even when it was offered all the time in the parish where I served, I never made my way to the mat.
Then idiopathic impactful illness took over my life, and a physician suggested I try yoga. Desperation and desire for greater well being and an authority making a recommendation - that got me started. I soon noticed that learning the practice reminded me of childhood dance lessons - which were pleasant memories to be reenacting. The time and attention to body and posture and breathing and balance cleared the constant clutter from my mind. I knew rather quickly that this was more than stretching; and that pushed my careful resistance of the Om chant for a good long while. (Until I learned that it might be connected to the primordial linguistic family tree of Alleluia - which is good enough for me.) What came as a total surprise was how spontaneously prayerful yoga practice is. I find myself in genuine prayer without trying or planning or reading. The issues and people and hopes and concerns just glow with me there, and not in any guided way. I once heard that what is happening in your life is what is happening on the mat (imbalance, struggle, tightness, distraction). And it is from there that I pray.
As a professional Christian it can be hard to find places to just be a prayerful person. That may sound strange - but you cannot lead worship and not spend moments counting heads and thinking about what comes next and wondering why a light fixture is dim. To receive the ministrations of other leaders, to be in a place of connection and intention and not also be the maestro and not be in the middle of colleagues - that is a rare blessing. When I am on the mat at a studio I am placing myself in the leadership of other leaders. This isn't my band so I simply get to be present. I do have a rule of life and ways of prayer that I follow in my life on my own, but we are not called to be humans in isolation. We are made to be people in the community, being in the company of others is part of that prayerful gift. Studios where the practice is a show and a chatter session I haven't returned to. Studios, where we come and lightly greet and prepare, are much more my ambivert style.
It used to be said that we Episcopalians practice pew aerobics. I think we practice pew yoga. The ways in which we posture ourselves are part of setting an intention, of communicating with ourselves and others what we intend with our heart. How do our postures and guestures lead to spontaneous prayer? What would our churches be like if we worked as hard at lifelong learning as we do in a yoga session? Does the idea of what is happening in your life is happening in your pew carry meaning for you?