Open­ing to the Spirit

To­day’s word: Yoga

Sherbrooke Record - - COLUMNIST - By Revs Mead Bald­win, W. Lynn Dil­l­abough, Lee Ann Hogle, and Ca­role Mar­tig­nacco

1

) I was raised in the heart of the Mid­west and can't re­call when the word yoga en­tered my vo­cab­u­lary. It fil­tered into aware­ness slowly, per­haps with all the ex­plo­ration and open­ness to al­ter­na­tive cul­tures of the 70s and 80s. It was vaguely ex­otic, as­so­ci­ated with mys­te­ri­ous Eastern re­li­gions, some­thing to do with re­lax­ation, rhyth­mic breath­ing, chakras, mantras, fo­cus and mind­ful­ness. Images of tor­tur­ous poses only trained Olympic ac­ro­bats could achieve with­out bod­ily in­jury were in­tim­i­dat­ing.

Friends in sem­i­nary ex­tolled the calm­ing ef­fects of yoga and taught me a few ex­er­cises to over­come ner­vous­ness and loosen up be­fore ap­proach­ing the pul­pit. Nonethe­less, I passed up op­por­tu­ni­ties to join them for classes, all the while won­der­ing whether or how, in my most anx­ious mo­ments, yoga or some­thing like it might ac­tu­ally help. I'd known since my teens how to med­i­tate. Af­ter all, I rea­soned - though con­vinced of all the ben­e­fits, I still found lit­tle enough time to ac­tu­ally DO it. As the say­ing goes, if you're too busy for a ten­minute med­i­ta­tion, you should sched­ule at least an hour.

Fast for­ward a few decades, and I now have a daugh­ter who's be­come a cer­ti­fied yoga teacher. I own more than one singing bowl and a mat and cush­ion. I at­tend cour­ses on­line. I do not do ex­ag­ger­ated asanas. My mantras are po­etry frag­ments. I'm learn­ing to be exquisitely gen­tle with my­self: sim­ply stretch and hold, breathe and re­lax, clear the mind. On any given day as ran­dom thoughts per­sist, I've learned to ac­knowl­edge them, let­ting wor­ries pass through, come and go like vis­i­tors. As the teach­ing goes, wel­come them at the front door of the brain and let them out the back door, re­sist­ing any temp­ta­tion to in­vite them for tea. By now it's be­come a sur­vival tech­nique.

Yoga, mean­ing yoke, is an an­cient way of bring­ing one­self into pres­ence, con­nect­ing body, mind and spirit. We Western novices can hardly grasp its depth or rich­ness, but I am grate­ful for even a naïve un­der­stand­ing of this in­fi­nite gift from an­other cul­ture. As for main­tain­ing a begin­ner's mind, I have no choice. My daugh­ter has be­come my teacher. It's the per­fect pose for me.

2

) One of my pas­sions is spend­ing time at church camps with young peo­ple. Plan­ning ac­tiv­i­ties can be tricky be­cause in­ter­ests have changed so much since I was a teenager. Three years ago we had a pro­gram called “Away Team” that was de­signed for young peo­ple not in­ter­ested in be­com­ing coun­selors, who were too old to be se­niors but still wanted to be at camp. We spir­ited them away to a cabin by a lake for four days where we bonded as a group. We climbed the Pin­na­cle, went fish­ing at a nearby pond, played fris­bee golf, cooked our own meals, and roasted marsh­mal­lows over a camp­fire to make s'mores.

A new ac­tiv­ity for many of them was Yoga. My sis­ter-in-law is an in­struc­tor. She brought mats to the church hall and taught the teenagers some ba­sic moves. I must con­fess that I was a bit skep­ti­cal and wor­ried that they might be­come bored. To my to­tal sur­prise they were quite en­grossed with yoga, both the phi­los­o­phy and the ex­er­cises. At week's end one of them even rated it as their favourite ac­tiv­ity. I had never taken yoga be­fore, and I am usu­ally the per­son in a crowd who can't stop mov­ing. Still, there was some­thing mys­ti­cal, ap­peal­ing and even heal­ing about this yoga ex­pe­ri­ence.

Per­haps some of you read­ing this are skep­ti­cal like I was. But be­fore you dis­miss yoga, I urge you to try it. You may find your­self sur­prised, chal­lenged, and in­spired.

3

) It might be an ex­ag­ger­a­tion to say that yoga saved my life. Or maybe not.

There was a time when I had left the church, be­come ag­nos­tic and was caught up in build­ing a ca­reer and buy­ing all the ac­cou­trements of an up and com­ing yup­pie life. Sud­denly my world was up­ended by a failed re­la­tion­ship. I didn’t know where to turn for help, nor was seek­ing out ther­apy or con­fid­ing in a friend a part of my cop­ing skills.

I was floun­der­ing when I spot­ted a sim­ple sign for yoga classes. They of­fered re­lax­ation tech­niques and a way to un­wind af­ter a busy workday. I went for the un­wind­ing, but I got much more. Yoga brought me back to the ba­sics.

Breathe in, breathe out - get through the next mo­ment. Breathe in, breathe out - let all your mus­cles re­lax. Breathe in, breathe out - let go of ev­ery­thing you are hold­ing onto so tightly. By the time I ar­rived home af­ter that first class, I was hap­pier in my skin than I had been in a long while.

Over time I came to re­al­ize the spir­i­tual as­pects of yoga. With­out re­fer­ring to spirit in any way yoga can build a bridge be­tween body and soul, lead­ing us to a greater ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the mir­a­cle of the hu­man body, nur­tur­ing our bro­ken parts, and bring­ing us a sense of well-be­ing. Yoga prac­tice re­minds us that no mat­ter the cri­sis we are go­ing through, our lives are of great value. We are pre­cious. Breathe in, breathe out know your worth.

One word, three voices this time and now, it's your turn to re­flect: Do you prac­tice yoga? If so, what does it do for you?

Rev. Mead Bald­win pas­tors the Water­ville & North Hat­ley pas­toral charge; Rev. Lynn Dil­l­abough is now Rec­tor of St. Paul's in Brockville ON. She con­tin­ues to write for this col­umn as a ded­i­cated col­league with the Eastern Town­ships clergy writ­ing team; Rev. Lee Ann Hogle min­is­ters to the Ayer’s Cliff, Ma­gog & Ge­orgeville United Churches; Rev. Ca­role Mar­tig­nacco is Con­sult­ing Min­is­ter to UU Es­trie-uni­tar­ian Univer­sal­ists in North Hat­ley.

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