I wasn’t allowed to be a Girl Scout. I wasn’t allowed to take my Harry Potter books to church to read while Papa worked in his office and Nana practiced the organ. I wasn’t allowed to dress up as a ghost, witch, devil, or anything else scary. I wasn’t allowed to do yoga.
Because they pray together. Because people might think you’re learning witchcraft. Because someone might see and they might talk. Because it’s a heathen religion.
In most ways, I was less sheltered before my just pre-teen move from Arizona to Chicagoland. I had friends who worshiped differently – Muslim, Jewish, and a broad spectrum of Christian – and teachers who taught us all about the world.
But all I knew about yoga was that it looked cool to me, but Papa had said it was bad.
So imagine my surprise when I found yoga DVDs in the home of one of the devoted conservative Lutheran members in my new Illinois community. I touched them, wary, as though something awful could happen just from that. My friend’s mom noticed my interest; “Oh, it’s really good for my back!” I was puzzled. But, I figured, the stretching part wasn’t terrible, probably, as long as you didn’t chant, for goodness’s sake. Because, for some reason, although I’d learned in public school that the movement and the words were all just pieces of yoga, I’d figured that it was the chanting that got you into idolatry territory. I suppose because it’s similar to singing and singing is, for me, the most spiritual part of worship.
I went through years of being a bit confused about what I was supposed to do about yoga and my interest in it with this prohibition lingering over my head, like a weight that would drop if I dared to try.
Once, I closed the bedroom door and did one of the Wai Lana Yoga segments when no one was home. The instructor was on a beautiful beach. Waves crashed. I loved one laying down position and slept like that for a while at night.
But that was it.
When I was given that word to describe my reactions – “anxiety” – my college therapist urged me to take advantage of the yoga classes on campus. I did attempt some stretches in my room a few times, but that was it. By this time, I was over my trepidation concerning the sinfulness of yoga and had moved on to bigger and more pressing concerns. Merely thinking about a yoga class, with people, with people who knew more than I did, with peers who’d see me “fail” – and I had one major concern: What if I fart?
I’ll take a moment to let you laugh, but know that is a major concern for someone who gets embarrassed really easily and who was really embracing healthy eating and lots of fiber. The fear was real.
I never went.
When I had my mini-melt down in December, I thought of my college therapist. I often hear her voice of calm and reasonable encouragement when I’m feeling down. And you know what she said? She said to take some fucking yoga already.
I started really easy. I did a bedtime yoga YouTube video. The next night, I did a longer one. Then the big leap – I went to class. In the meantime, I’d gotten back in touch with my old life coach and she’d reminded me to try a restorative yoga class. I did that first one. And, as nice as it was, I didn’t love it. My instructor decided to cancel it due to lack of interest and I went to a gentle yoga class the next week. It’s easy, but it’s relaxing and really makes me connect my breath to my movement, which I find really soothing for whatever reason. I also feel like I get just the tiniest bit of a strength workout in and that boosts my mood, in addition.
So, now I’m a chick who does yoga. I wear yoga people clothes. Night time breathing exercises and stretches, depending on my level of tiredness/anxiety. I try to get to a class once a week, but last week I missed.
Self care is not selfish. (Thanks to my friend Rebekah for giving me that mantra.)
I’m a big fan of Nadia Bolz-Weber, though I haven’t gotten one of her books. I read pieces she writes, follow her on Facebook and Instagram, and try to listen to at least one sermon a week from her church, House for All Sinners and Saints (HFASS – which, by the by, her associate has been referring to as “half-ass” lately). One of the final pushes for me to go to yoga was one she preached November 6, 2016, entitled, “A Sermon on Grief and Babies and the Breath of God.”
“And still other traditions would have it that God should never be named at all, which is why God is called Yahweh in parts of the Hebrew Bible. In Hebrew, it is a four-letter name for God which is too holy to be spoken, which is why instead in our Bibles, it’s simply replaced with ‘the LORD.’ But some rabbis I hear, some of them teach that ‘Yahweh’ is not really a word at all; it is literally breath itself. ‘Yah-‘ exhale ‘-weh’ inhale. Yah – weh. Which would make sense since the closest translation of its meaning is ‘the one who causes to become. God is the one who causes to become.”
It’s a terrific sermon and I found myself utterly moved by all of it, but that thing about breath has stuck with me for weeks now; it’s one of those revolutionary tidbits that’s so simple, but transforms everything.
Not only is every breath a gift, every breath is God. God lives in me and around me. God lives in you and around you. God lives in and around the people we’re taught to believe are so different. They breathe. They, too, have been caused to become.
So, yeah, I do yoga. I chant, I breathe, and I move slowly and intentionally. It’s good for me in every way.