Triangle Pose and Christian Practice
I have started attending a yoga class with a teacher named Tracye who is part yogi, part motivational speaker/preacher. I’m not sure I always agree with her “Positive thinking can solve everything!” theology, but I sure feel like I can move mountains when I walk out of her class.
Yesterday Tracye gave a nice nugget of wisdom. We were doing triangle pose, and she was reminding us that we could put our hands on our ankles or we could put our hands on blocks or on our shins. There were many variations we could choose from. She said this is true of any pose in yoga. If something doesn’t feel like it’s working, you don’t have to stay there. Just find a different variation that feels right. Then she reminded us that we can apply that same principle to anything in our lives. If something isn’t feeling right, don’t just keep doing it. Find a new variation.
I have noticed that Tracye likes to talk about how what we do and learn in our yoga practice can apply to other aspects of our lives. Whether I am conditioning myself to react to discomfort by remembering to breathe or learning how to do my best without worrying about what other people think of my body and ability, I can easily see how practicing yoga can bleed positively into my daily life.
Some might say that practicing a spiritual discipline like yoga, sitting in a room full of people chanting Om with my eyes closed, is inconsistent with Christianity. And I definitely want to acknowledge that yoga is an ancient practice rich with spiritual and religious tradition, most of which I do not understand and perhaps unfairly co-opt for my own physical and mental well-being in my busy, middle-class Western context. But I have also found that practicing yoga or Buddhist meditation or reading passages from the Quran has never lessened my faith in Christianity. In fact, it has always greatly enhanced my appreciation for and understanding of my own tradition.
This particular week, I am thinking a lot about how my practice of Christian rituals shapes and forms me in my everyday life. If dabbling in yoga does this for me, surely my life-long Christian practice conditions me in some significant ways.
Actually, this idea of practice came up recently in a conversation I had with a friend who does not go to church. I asked him about his relationship with religion (not in a creepy way, but in a genuinely curious way). He told me he simply stopped seeing the need in his life for religion. He could never really believe in the truth claims of the Christianity he grew up with.
This prompted me to share with him that, more and more in my spiritual journey, I too am finding the beliefs and truth claims of Christianity much less compelling than the actual practice of Christianity. More and more, what makes one a Christian in my mind is less whether or not they say they believe in the virgin birth or that Jonah was swallowed by a whale and more whether they have a significant relationship with a Christian community, whether or not they read scripture, pray, take communion, give of their money sacrificially, talk to their friends and family about spirituality, or feel compelled by their faith to act with love, justice, and courage. All of these things are much less about belief and doctrine and more about active practice. It is these practices that truly shape us and form us to live out our Christianity in our daily lives.
I have recently started the practice of praying with my toddler before she goes to bed. We put our hands together and I ask, “For what are we grateful?” Then I name one or two gratitude’s, from a nice day at the park to someone’s successful surgery. Next I ask, “For what do we hope?” Then I name a few prayer requests, perhaps racial change and understanding in our nation or just a good day with the babysitter tomorrow. I end with “This is our prayer, Oh God. Amen.” This is my daughter’s first Christian practice, and I hope it will shape her and condition her simply to notice reasons for thanksgiving in each day as well as issues in her own life and in the world that are still in need of transformation and salvation. I hope that cultivating that awareness in her will shape her and form how she interacts with every day, not just the end of the day.
Although sometimes our practice and our disciplines can seem repetitive and stale from time to time, let us be encouraged that slowly, day by day, week by week, they are changing us and shaping us into the divine and significant creatures that we were created to be.