Friday, June 25, 2010

Holy yoga. ?

Last year, I heard about something called Holy Yoga, exercise sessions started in Arizona. I was pretty interested. My back has been bothering me from hunching over books and computer. Yoga-style stretches would give my back and neck a workout. I backed away, wondering how a mix of Christian meditation and Hindu-originated postures could work together.

Then last week, I bought a $20 Seattle Groupon for 20 sessions of "Hot Yoga," whatever that was. The coupon arrived Tuesday last week, so I started the ordeal. I figured even if I went once and my back could relax, I would almost break even: regular exercise sessions are $17-23.

I'm utterly disinterested in yoga as a component of Hindu religion. Hinduism conflicts with the very foundations of Christianity. I definitely wouldn't recommend yoga exercises for young believers or do them in Asia, where the religious context is irrevocably interlinked. However, at this American gym, hot yoga is an exercise class without religious words or Hindu overtones.

Every day this week and last (with Sunday off), I've unrolled a mat in a gym room with 20-30 sweating others. We do 26 exercises in the same order, day after day, in a room heated to 105-110 degrees. Sometimes the instructor forgets to turn on the fans. (Hot hot hot, is right.)

Every second day, my body cooperates, more or less. My body remembers being flexible and balanced, once upon a time. I can stretch face to knee or lay the back of my head on the mat, elbows overhead, while knees and feet are under my back. But I never can lock one leg and twist myself into a pretzel. I've yet to lean forward on one leg and kick back with the other leg held in the air. Wobble, wobble, try again. Wobble.

But I definitely, unabashedly hate every other day. I can't bend, can't reach, and topple over at the slightest suggestion of standing on one locked knee. The temperature feels like 150o, I'm nauseated, and passing out seems distinctly possible. I lay down flat on my mat with other overheated students. We try to breathe and stay in the room, instead of bolting. The discipline of going to the gym helps keep me working. "Tomorrow will be easier," I tell myself after a really bad day.

I was concerned about the mish-mash of Eastern religious ideals with exercises. Instead, I found that the pauses between poses spotlighted the contrast between Eastern religions and Christianity. "Focus on one spot, think of your breathing, empty your mind to relax," says the instructor. "This focus will help you get through the day - it will help you empty your mind of stress."

But as I'm stretching, my whole being reverberates with the Bible verses and chapters I have read this morning or before sleep last night. My heart swells with amazement as I ponder, "Our Father who art in heaven," or "Christ in you, the hope of glory." The psalms I have memorized sing loudly with my hammering pulse, or I pray the Jesus Prayer: (inhale) "Lord      Jesus      Christ, (exhale) have mercy      on me,      a sinner,"

By the time we're done, my mind is overflowing with the splendor and awe of worship, I've prayed for those working out beside me, and my heart has loudly exulted in the Lord our God. Instead of striving for calm emptiness like those around me, I walk out empowered to face the day's stressors, having delighted in the beauty of God's plan of salvation and the fullness of the Presence.

I am struck each morning by the contrast in philosophy and faith: emptiness or fullness. We get to choose through our core commitment for or against Christ, focusing our minds while our bodies streeettttchhh this way and that. By committing my life to Jesus, I have chosen the fullness of Christ, the hope of the gospel, rather than the empty self-realization of the world.

I'm debating whether to continue. So far, I'm 95% against doing this regularly, just because I don't want to be lured into any other religious practice. This season of reflection and meditation on God's goodness has truly been a gift from the Lord, restoring a flexibility I'd forgotten and healing my aching back. Best of all, I've had time to think about how I love my Savior and how much I appreciate his holiness and his protection. Oh, how I've enjoyed these set-apart hours of devotion, daily time to focus on the beauty of our faith.

But to find him so near in a gym doing yoga stretches? That's a surprise, for sure. "Oh Rosemarie, what next!" my mother would say.

Read more:
*Since my youth, O God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds.
Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your might to all who are to come. Your righteousness reaches to the skies, O God, you who have done great things. Who, O God, is like you? Psalm 71:17-19 NIV

*For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.  For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. John 3:16-17 NKJV

*In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God's glory and
the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. Hebrews 1:1-3 NIV 

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