Albany area resident and Catholic writer par excellence, Mary DeTurris Poust has written about her Catholicism and her yoga practice. (The first link is to Patheos, but you can also read it at Mary’s own blog or at OSV Daily Take.) This is always a controversial pairing with many saying that yoga is antithetical to Catholic teachings; some even call it outright dangerous. In both response and support, I am writing my own yoga story, from my very Catholic perspective.
I will be completely honest by saying that I had many physical and mental issues that stem from childhood sexual abuse. God has blessed me richly with healing and grace. That said, I suffered from many physical issues and stress for many years.
As it happened, extremely overweight and unhappy at the time, 9/11 struck and I was in NYC. While 5 miles north of the imminent danger, I suffered a resurgence of PTSD. God knows I prayed and prayed and cried out for healing. I was in therapy at the time, but somehow yoga kept calling to me, but I was afraid to go. Then one day, I mustered up the courage and went to a local studio.
My life was never the same after that.
It never occurred to me that yoga was antithetical to my Catholic faith. In fact, if anything, it reminded me what is important about organized religion and my own faith practice. Take Mass for example – I attend weekly, daily when I can. People ask me if I go because I am afraid of hell! Hardly! Liturgy is essential because my faith is not enlivened and practiced alone!
Yoga is similar – I can watch all the yoga DVDs in the world, but nothing takes the place of a class in a studio. It is about community, presence and service as I came to understand it.
Yoga helped to heal me deeply and in many ways and I experienced in and through the context of my Catholicism, not separate from it. Idol worship? Evil? Hardly – all is seen and experienced through Christ for me.
Allow me to relay two anecdotes about my old yoga practice, most of which happened at The Birchwood Center in Nyack, NY. One took place on the 1st anniversary of 9/11. As I sat in the studio, looking out over the Hudson, the same Hudson that the WTC apparently used as a navigational tool, I made some transition from fear and rage and pain into some peace. The blue of the sky, the peace of the clouds could not be taken from me. I was transformed. Was it some false God? Or was it the presence of Christ as I was in a place where grace flooded in?
The second took place some years later, probably 2007. My life had experienced numerous changes and transitions and healing. That said, I still had (and have) my moments. One day I just couldn’t sink into my yoga; it was a hard class for me to surrender to. At the end of class, we were in savasana, or corpse pose, that pose of rest and repose.
My favorite yoga instructor was Charlene Bradin. I’ve taken so many yoga classes, so many from great teachers, but Charlene stands alone in my mind; she is remarkable. In any case, as we were quiet, Charlene would bring bolsters to anyone who wanted to place them under their knees. As she placed mine, she touched my leg to adjust it ever-so-slightly. It was at that moment I began to weep. Her touch was so healing and helped me to release a wave of something that I needed to let go of. Let go, Let God as the saying goes. That small touch was grace unleashed for me that day.
For me the ultimate thing is that our catholicity invites us to be fully in the world with our faith. Most things can be integrated. No I am not talking about relativism, but I am talking about how to be and remain fully rooted in the incarnate world as a Roman Catholic. Which also means I can take a yoga class and not be a party to evil or idol worship! Yoga is about surrender, community, service and love. None of these things go against my faith and in fact support it.
Yoga has healed me and my faith is the most healing balm, the love of Christ. The two are not incompatible for me.
What say you?