Will the Yoga Mat Be My Church?

For the longest time, I looked down on yoga as some “fru-fru” artsy -fartsy thing where you lay on a mat, chant and harness your chi. I was always seeking the latest fitness craze and serenity and I weren’t exactly friends. Then I started taking basic yoga classes at my gym, and  became friends with a girl who taught yoga.

Things began to slowly change when I ran the Rock and Roll marathon in 2008. As a supplement to the rigors of long distance running, I tried yoga and reformer Pilates, and began to see glimpses of why is was so popular. In seeking different studios, I struggled with the idea that yoga is both a physical AND spiritual practice. I wanted to grunt, sweat, feel my pulse race, muscles sore- I didn’t need bells ringing, chanting or incense burning.

Fast forward several years, and death, cancer, marriage, moving, college (and eventual graduation), and a job change put a serious dent in my attempts to dedicate any time to my physical well being, let alone nurturing my soul. There was this voice in the back of my head imploring me to seek balance, be physically and mentally in tune with the world. Being the ADHD-crazy brain that I was, quieting my scattered, noisy brain had always been difficult, but I kept looking for ways to tap into the mental aspects of exercise.

Cue the introduction of two people who have sparked a new found curiosity into the practice of yoga: a fellow student in my graduate program who is doing research on yoga and related injuries. She is a dedicated student, teacher, writer, lecturer and all around really nice woman. You can follow her by visiting her website -Jules Mitchell Yoga. I love how she is brings the science of biomechanics and injury prevention into the practice of yoga, as well as putting a more scientific, research oriented, academic spin on things.  The other person is a feminist scholar and researcher in my department. I wrote a lot about her in the Spring, as I really loved her Sports in US Culture class.  Kerrie is doing some great things with yoga research too, as well as some activism with a group called  Off the Mat. Check out her contributions to yoga and efforts to abolish sex trafficking in India by visiting her blog.

These two women have sparked a new flame of interest in the meshing of the mind and the body in the practice of yoga.  So this summer, I have begun what I call an adventure into learning about yoga from all aspects. I promised myself that I would be open-minded to the idea of chanting, finding my Third Eye, and working on improving the ability to do a headstand AND have a clear mind.

I consider myself like a newborn baby right now, absorbing philosophies, names for poses, the poses themselves and trying to connect into my mind. After a month, I am seeing the puzzle pieces and can see how things fit together- mind, body, spirit. I have dedicated this practice to myself, and given myself one full year to explore this whole yoga thing. So far I am loving it. Every time I am on the mat, I dedicate my practice to my girlfriend. I send her good thoughts and healing vibes in hopes that the cancer that has invaded her uterus will leave, and allow her the ability to bear children.

I hated church growing up, and still dislike church, organized religion, the Bible…. it just hasn’t sat well with me my whole life. What I have allowed myself in my new yoga practice is the belief that good thoughts and good energy can make a difference. So call them prayers if you will, but I liken my time on the mat as a time to worship.  Worship my body and its wondrous capabilities. Worship my brain for its powers, but more importantly, I make the time to dedicate my practice to someone or something that I want to send good thoughts and energy to. This is the imbalance that I think I was experiencing, so my hope is that not only will I be able to do the amazing things this woman does, but bridge that gap that I lack between the physical and the spiritual.  I look at this woman in envy because she embodies the attributes I seek: strong, flexible, sexy, peaceful, confidant. 

I love the idea that for this, I don’t need to go to church every Sunday, I just unroll my mat.

Namaste!

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