A few years ago there was a new space opened downtown, just two blocks from where I work. It was a space for community – for people to gather and talk and do life together. They had coffee and sold local items and over the noon hour every Wednesday there was a yoga class. I had been to yoga a handful of times in my life prior to being invited to this class so I was mildly interested, but I mostly showed up to support my friend who helped organize it. I didn’t know it then but Wednesdays at noon over the next year would begin to change my whole life.
I was in a hard place and that's just a nicer way to say that my sinful choices left me sad and alone. I was struggling with discontentment and wanting change but doing nothing to go after it. You know this – I’ve told you this over and over again. They are the dark years. In fact, I’ve labeled those journals “The Missed Years” because I really feel like I missed so much life I could have been living. I had headaches almost every day. I constantly wondered if I was going to die for one reason or another – none of them logical, of course. I just had these rolling thoughts about how God must not be giving me what I wanted because I was going to die soon and who needs a husband if you’re going to die, you know? So this was the internal war I battled while on the outside I was “fine.”
So my friend invited me to go to yoga and after the first class I wasn't sure I wanted to continue. I only had an hour break for lunch and in that little window of time I had to change for class, run over with my mat and my big duffel bag, leave a little early so I could change back to my work clothes, and go back to my desk feeling a little sweaty and really rushed. Needless to say, I didn't know if it was worth the hassle. But I kept going. In fact, I hardly missed a week. I started to realize that despite the rush I always felt good when I left class. I felt like my skin was glowing (and not just from sweat), my body had worked hard and stretched its limits, and my mind felt clearer and more free. I felt like that hour of my life was a safe-haven with no distractions, no thoughts of impending doom, nothing holding me back.
Kelsey was our instructor and let me tell you what she told us. She said we need to root down in order to rise up and that’s what we were doing in our yoga practice - rooting down to who we were and where we were - taking time to be quiet and reflect - so we could rise up and face whatever we needed to out in the world. She always told us to release whatever wasn’t serving us anymore. Do you need to hear that today? Let go of what no longer serves you. Maybe this is a relationship. Maybe this is a job. Maybe this is an extracurricular activity. Maybe it is a pervading thought. Don't take this selfishly in that everything and everyone in your life should serve you. My mom was always quick to remind us, "You're here to serve, not be served." And that's true. But I think we allow things into our lives and let them drop anchor in our hearts - things like anger and bitterness, or we make bad decisions and keep beating ourselves up or we stay in cycles of shame and defeat, or we make commitments that end up running us ragged and then we resent them. I have always felt bad for letting things go but I was reading "Love Does" by Bob Goff and he reminds often that we need more practice letting things go and I agree. You’re free to quit things if you want to quit them. Don’t overwork yourself with things that don’t ultimately matter. My inner soul chaos was shouting for that kind of freedom. And every week when we laid down in savasana and closed our eyes, I felt like I could really connect with where my mind was and what my heart was truly feeling. What thoughts are taking up too much of your brain space? What do you need to get rid of? How can you de-clutter your heart today?
We're bombarded with information every single day. Our phones are constantly telling us what's going on and what we're missing and what we should be doing instead of what we're actually doing. We're always connected. But that hour each week gave me a reason to disconnect - to unplug and stop worrying. I could release all the inner turmoil I felt. My cramped desk posture was released into long, stretching motions that let me get the most length from my lanky arms and legs. I felt like I had more space in my body and I know that sounds weird but if you’ve ever left a yoga class, you know what I’m talking about – you have more space in all your joints and limbs.
Maybe this is causing some anxiety for some of you. “Isn’t she a Christian? Do Christians do yoga?” I don’t know what the controversy is/was around Christians and yoga but if it’s anything like Christians and dancing used to be, then get your life together and stop worrying about that. Christians have had an awful lot of dumb stuff attached to their legalistic hearts and that will always be a battle but if you think God doesn’t like a joyful noise and dancing, then I guess you haven’t spent too much time in Psalms. I think it’s all about where your heart is at and yoga can be an intentional time of reflection and gratitude and you know what, God calls us to both of those things. Spend your last few minutes of savasana praying if you want to – that’s what I did. I spoke praises to God for the gift of the class, the gift of Kelsey, the gift of being able to even move my body in those kinds of ways because there’s something really beautiful about the balance and strength it takes to complete a yoga practice.
Kelsey told us all each week, “Your practice is enough,” and for a girl really struggling with some worth issues at the time, gosh, her words were like salve to a wound. Yoga isn't about comparison. It doesn't matter what the person next to you can do or what positions they can hold, and that was like water to my thirsty soul that just constantly compared itself to others in every aspect of life. Yoga gave me something that was mine – my own practice, my own limits. I used to hold myself to all sorts of ridiculous standards and timelines. I felt behind at everything in life and like everyone was moving on without me. They were, to some extent, but my attitude was a big reason for where I found myself. My yoga practice, and being under Kelsey’s graceful instruction, left me understanding gratitude in a new way. My daily headaches were gone. My body felt longer and leaner. My head was more clear – no longer drowning in toxic shame.
Another thing our teacher used to say was, “Honor where you are,” and that was something I had never considered. I didn’t have to meet anyone else’s expectations or standards. I could listen to my own body and what it could do and be thankful for just that. There were no outside influences. No one pushing me further than I wanted to go. It made my body and my mind feel stronger - confident - and I needed more confidence in this insecure little heart. It didn’t happen overnight. It happened over the course of the next year, slowly but surely. I felt more capable. More alive. I had something that was my own, and maybe that seems silly but for a girl who was giving herself away to everyone at a moment’s notice, this thing that was mine felt really good.
What happened when I came to my mat gradually started to translate to who I was off the mat as well. My gratitude overflowed into other areas of my life. I let go of some things – some relationships, some thoughts that weren’t serving me, and to be honest, they never did in the first place. How often we let negative thoughts invade our space and take over our days. Do you ever make a mistake and automatically think something like, "You idiot," or "You're so dumb." Instead of these phrases, I've tried to catch myself and remind, “You’re not dumb. It was just a mistake.” It sounds kind of ridiculous but, you guys, how often we beat ourselves up for ridiculous reasons and we don’t even realize it. Be gentle with yourself. Be patient. Yoga taught me that also.
The change in my heart and my life isn't solely because I went to yoga. God was simultaneously chipping away at my hard heart in ways that only became evident over time. Looking back I can see it. I can see how each week, opening my heart to positivity and hope, letting the silence fill my bones, stretching my body and being thankful, taking the time to come to the mat, I can see how my heart changed through all of it. I don't know if this is an endorsement for yoga or for self-care or for unplugging and taking some time to be silent, but I think it's all three. When you allow space for change, for growth, for God to move, be certain that it will come, that he will stir your heart, and you will be changed.
Show up. Let Go.
Be Still. Know.
Kelsey always reminded us of those things so I'm reminding you. It's amazing what can happen when you just take some time to be still.