Like most of my generation, I have more than one job. Coffee Shop Barista/Artist, Graphic Designer/Musician…I am a yoga teacher and a pastor in a Lutheran church, and my greatest challenge and opportunity is to figure out how each of my passions relate to each other – and how they don’t.
I take both my roles seriously – there is a lot of power in preaching in a church, and there is a lot of power in teaching yoga. I don’t say this from a place of ego, but from the understanding that my students and listeners are giving me their minds and their bodies for the time we are together.
I learned how important yoga was to me when I was working as a hospital chaplain. After spending my days talking with folks before heart surgery or praying after a loved one’s passing, I would come home stressed out and compassioned out. That’s when yoga stopped being about fitness and became a practice.
I came to need yoga. My time on the mat each day was what kept me going for the next round of patients – the rejuvenation, revitalization, and revolution of my life happened in my practice. Yoga helps me be centered, be present, and be peaceful. I had an incredible variety of teachers who cared for me and supported me, and I would not be who I am today without them.
In both of my roles, I am always very careful that I am never teaching people beliefs, but rather fostering believing. That is to say, I am hoping to create the possibilities for meaningful experiences that matter. And I am very careful to be expansive, to be inclusive, to be open. I don’t think it is my job to tell you what you need to believe, and so whether it’s from the pulpit or the mat, I am always mindful of where I direct your attention and what I offer.
I won’t bring my Bible into the yoga studio, and I won’t bring the Yoga Sutra into the pulpit. I have personally decided to commit to the veracity of each, and to let them each stand alone.
Because really, they don’t need each other.
Yoga has long been a spiritual practice, and what most of us refer to as ‘yoga’ today is only one facet of this rich tradition. Our physical practice is called yoga asana – the poses of the body, which were originally very limited in number, intended to strengthen the body and spine so that a yogi could sit for long periods of meditation. There are as many types of yoga as there are yogis – just as there are as many types of Christianity as there are Christians; and in both cases, it’s always best to tread lightly when speaking from a tradition that is not your own. I will say that whatever your background, it’s important to find meaningful, challenging, enriching spiritual practices, and yoga, done mindfully and with that intention, can be such a practice.
In general, I am a little bit weary of combining two completely distinct cultures, because one usually ends up suffering. So when I see people blending Yoga with other non-yogic practices I get a little wary. Whether it’s yoga and free-weights for the fitness folks or Christian Yoga I get nervous. I trust (and hope) that these are being taught with the best of intentions, but it’s not territory that I feel comfortable wading into.
Because I also want to respect the fact that each tradition is incredibly multifaceted and evolving. Just as there are great Christian theologians in lots of different subjects working today, so too are there amazing yoga philosophers reimagining the various and continuous tradition of yoga for our contemporary world (like this incredible guy)
Think of it like this: Imagine that halfway through a football the game, a the coach handed the quarterback a baseball bat. And when the quarterback gave him a questioning look and asked “What am I supposed to do with this?” the coach shrugged and shouted, “Just play with it! A Sport is a Sport!”
You see, baseball and football are both wonderful sports. And while they have much in common – both impart physical fitness, teamwork, coordination, sportsmanship – they are different. They have different settings and elements.
And these differences are important. Adding a baseball bat to the gridiron, or tackling to base running, does not improve either game.
Each of these sports are robust enough. One is not ameliorated by blending it with the other.
My choice to keep them separate comes from a deep (deep) respect for each tradition. While it disheartens me to see people in each group afraid of the other: Christians who think that yoga is ‘dangerous’ or ‘idolatrous,’ or yogis who think that Christianity is weird, hurtful, or hateful, I don’t think the solution is to harmonize them into a single practice and risk losing both.
And it is with that spirit I choose to teach both yoga and Christianity squarely within each practice, with as much integrity as possible.
I am the same person in both roles – I do not to contradict or divide myself. Both support me and inspire me and help me live my best life. I need both of these practices to fully express myself and my calling in this world. While I teach them separately, it is the same passion that drives me.
Whether I’m a participant or a leader, whether it’s yoga or worship, I hope the same thing happens in each practice: it is a time for Connection, Reflection, and Intention. You come to connect with what brings you life, what brings you peace, what brings you joy. You strengthen and explore and fall in love again with that deep connection. Then you reflect on how your life is going, how you’re doing, how things are in this present moment. You take the time to reflect on yourself, and on your connection to your source. And finally, you become more intentional, you find a mantra, a take away, a determination. From what you saw in your reflection and experienced from your connection, you leave with an intention for how to live your life renewed.
This can also happen on a canoe trip or meditation, a walk around a lake or in prayer.
Wherever it’s happening, I think each experience deserves to be understood on its own terms.