I lived decades believing that life was all or nothing. There is a set of rules you have to live by and if you fail, well then you fail life. I was left feeling hopeless and helpless. I was constantly feeling left out and misunderstood and I couldn't figure out why everyone else had it all together except for me. I waisted a lot of time searching for something that does not exist. So before we go any further I want to make one thing very clear.
This is not the 100% club. No one has it all figured out.
I grew up in a middle-class family with loving parents who took me to church and did their best to teach me how to love God and love people. However, somewhere along the way, I believed the delusion that once you became a Christian, everything was magically perfect. No more worries or fears, nothing bad ever happened to you again and when someone tried to hurt you, fire would fall out of the sky and kill them immediately. (metaphorically speaking of course) So when I walked the aisle and said the magical incantation that would save me from hell, I was surprised to find that life the next day was rather ordinary. I was 8.
It wasn't until the summer I graduated from high school in 1996, that I really began to question who God was. I knew this church thing was not working. I knew that life was still hard. And I knew that something had to change. Growing up in the church had taught me a few things, but not prepared me for anything except not to drink, cuss, or have sex before marriage. Oh, and don't do drugs either, that' bad. So I started a list of things I knew about God and things I knew about me. I knew God was real. I knew he was the creator of all things. I knew I was created by him but I didn't know why. I looked around the church for anyone who could help me figure these things out and we all seemed to be just as lost. I looked around my college campus to see if anyone could help me out and found no help there either. For the first time, I started to pray. I mean really pray, not the little childlike prayers for a good day and sweet dreams, but the desperate prayers of a woman crying out for answers kinda prayers. And he answered.
[Let me stop here for a moment and make this clear. I am by no means saying there were not men and women who desperately tried to support or pour truth into me, what I am saying is that I didn't hear or understand them. The things of God are made clear by the work of his spirit in his time. This is the journey it took for me to know God.]
The next few years I spent digging into anything I could get my hands on about the life of Jesus. I read through scripture. I read through commentaries. I went through so many bible studies. And all those things were helpful and a part of my journey and I'm truly thankful for that time. But I was still missing something. Then one day while reading my bible something stood out to me. It was the word DISCIPLE. I'd heard it so many times but what did it really mean?
DISCIPLE: one who passionately devotes their life to learning and living out the philosophy of a teacher
At 25, I was married and working full time for my church, leading Bible studies, mentoring a group of high school girls and again desperately seeking to know God. One day after work I walked down the hall, changed out of work clothes and into gym clothes, and into my first yoga class. I didn't know it, but everything I had ever learned about God was about to change. For the next hour, I awkwardly moved by body through unfamiliar poses while my soul sifted through an array of emotions I'll never be able to fully verbalize. And as I lay vulnerable and out of breath during savasana, God spoke. And my mat became holy ground.
That's it. That's all He said that day. And over the last 13 years, He has slowly and in his timing has unpacked exactly what that means.
The word yoga, from the Sanskrit word yuj means to yoke or bind and is often interpreted as "union" or a method of discipline. Yoga has always been handed down from teacher to student. To learn yoga means that you become a disciple, you passionately devote yourself to learning and living out the philosophy of your teacher.
"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."
Matthew 11: 28-30
No one knows exactly when yoga began, but it certainly predates written history. Stone carvings depicting figures in yoga positions have been found in archeological sites in the Indus Valley dating back 5,000 years or more. There is a common misconception that yoga is rooted in Hinduism; on the contrary, Hinduism's religious structures evolved much later and incorporated some of the practices of yoga. Other religions throughout the world have also incorporated practices and ideas related to yoga. Much like prayer and fasting, yoga is a spiritual discipline practiced by many religions. It can not be owned by only one.
As far as we know, a scholar named Patanjali, sometime around the 5th century A.D. was the first person to write down the theories and practices of yoga in a book called Yoga Sutras and Yoga Aphorisms. The system he wrote is known as Ashtanga Yoga or the eight limbs of yoga. Some refer to it as Classical Yoga. The eight limbs serve as a prescription for moral and ethical conduct and self-discipline; they direct attention toward one's health, and they help us to acknowledge the spiritual aspects of our nature.
The 8 Limbs of Yoga
1. Yama: restraint
- Ahimsa: nonviolence
- Satya: truthfulness
- Asteya: non-stealing
- Brahmacharya: continence
- Aparigraha: non-covetousness
2. Niyama: observance
- Saucha: cleanliness/purity
- Samtosa: contentment
- Tapas: spiritual austerities
- Svadhyaya: the study of the sacred scriptures and of oneself
- Isvara Pranidhana: surrender to God
3. Asana: seat: care for the temple
4. Pranayama: breath control/restraint
5. Pratyahara: withdrawal
6. Dharana: concentration
7. Dhyana: meditation
8. Samadhi: awaken: surrendering to and abiding in the sovereignty of God
"So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for
“‘In him we live and move and have our being’;
as even some of your own poets have said,
“‘For we are indeed his offspring.'
Laying on that mat, so many years ago, exhausted and out of breath the creator God of all the universe whispered into my soul, "Follow Me." It was an invitation to stop. To stop trying to do this on my own. That's not the way I was designed. I had to stop relying on my own breath and strength, but to learn to move to the rhythm of his breath alive and active in me. To take his yoke on my shoulders and learn from him. And it's there that I found my rest.
Over the next several posts I'll break this down a little more. I'll invite you into what God has been teaching me and how using the discipline of yoga has shown me the heart of God. The heart of creator God who longs for you to know Him too.