Monday, October 13, 2014

A Year of Yoga (Recovering from Post-traumatic Church Disorder)

As I walked into Urban Breath Yoga Studio last week, like I do roughly 3-5 times per week now, I realized that this month marks my one year yogiversary.

Last year at this time I randomly stumbled into this yoga studio searching for a little peace of mind and some exercise just in time for the beginning of what they called the "Omtober Challenge". I was intrigued. If you signed up (30 days for $30 as a new student), you got unlimited yoga classes for the month, and if you managed to complete 30 classes during the month of October, you had the opportunity to win a drawing for a free yoga membership. I thought to myself, "what the hell", and signed up without much thought.

And I went to yoga class that day. And then I went the next day, and the next day after that, and although I didn't quite make the 30 day challenge, I came close.
And so I signed up for an ongoing membership and have been going regularly ever since.

What was it about yoga that hooked me?

For anyone recovering from a traumatic church experience or decision to break away from a spiritual community, you may resonate with simultaneously feeling relived to never set foot in a church/synagogue/mosque again while also tragically missing the practice of spiritual connection and community. This was my experience. I grew up in a conservative, evangelical church that was quite oppressive to the female portion of the population and about 3 fries short of a theological happy meal. This was followed by working for and ultimately getting fired from a mega-church-in-disguise for what I will politely call "ethical disagreements" - and all of the emotional bells and whistles associated with that.

Despite these crushing disappointments with the institutional church, I've never lost this deep and consuming faith, an often inexplicable grounding in the divine. I've changed and morphed and questioned and journeyed, but I've always known that I am part of a larger, more encompassing love. And because of my culture and inheritance, this has always been best framed for me through the lens of the Christian tradition. For me, love, joy, and peace have always been embodied in this person of Christ. It's just that Christ, in these church experiences, had become so institutionalized and packaged and glossy that I found myself being asked to give up what Christ was all about in order to be a part of the church. Ironic. Painful. Traumatic. And sadly, I think that I am far from being alone in this experience.

Here's where yoga comes in:

In the midst of working through all of this, yoga became my communion.
When words would not come because they had been replaced with tears, I could breathe.
When I felt silenced, my body could pray.
When I felt excluded from ritual, I could practice.
When I felt stifled, I could stretch.
When I felt beaten down, I could sit.
When I felt outwardly powerless, I could gain strength.

Yoga was one tool that I could use to reengage this faith of mine in a way that dealt with the power of the pain, while helping me move through it in a healthy way. It provided a way to be with God that was holistic and outside of the patriarchal, religious boxes that I had been given.

Richard Rhor says, "I can see why a number of saints spoke of prayer itself as simply receiving the ever-benevolent gaze of God, returning it in kind, mutually gazing, and finally recognizing that it is one single gaze received and bounced back."
This is what yoga has taught me about prayer and faith: how to sit, how to wait, how to heal, how to gaze.
When I felt separated, I could be made one.

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