Sun Salutations and Worship

By Jane Highley

Yoga and Jesus were two words that rarely fell into the same sentence in my mind. And if they did, it was clearly a mistake or a joke. They were unequivocally and mutually exclusive from each other. Until a few years ago, that is, when I started incorporating yoga as a means to stretch more regularly after long training runs. I followed yoga instructors on YouTube and went to Ashtanga classes at the YMCA. The classes were immensely helpful in strengthening my core and extending my flexibility; the efforts were rewarding. Of course, as a “good” Christian, I thought I was supposed to assume a very suspicious attitude toward yoga, a haughty posture that was the equivalent of a thousand and one eye-rolls. No one ever explained to me why yoga was “evil” and anti-Christian, but I implicitly believed that notion. Plus, it was hard not to have a blithe and dismissive attitude toward an instructor who encourages us, while in a pretzel-like, gut-twisting position, to “use our third eye for balance.” Whaaaa? When did I acquire a third eye? Where is it? But I knew what she meant…I think.

As I grew to like yoga, I also began to appreciate (not just tolerate) the yoga jargon and found surprising parallels to personal worship. For example, most yoga instructors begin each session with some meditative call: “Bring your hands to your heart-center. Now close your eyes. Set an intention for this practice….” Isn’t that unmistakably similar to our call to worship on Sunday morning? Oftentimes, I find that I need the stillness and intentionality of yoga to help me slow down. Everything in yoga that I’ve encountered thus far (which isn’t much) is slow and deliberate. That careful pace helps to avoid injury, but is equally important to establish a deeper awareness of oneself. For me, that slow, meditative opening of my mind to the present moment as I focus on each pose is an invitation to pray. The more difficult the pose, the more discipline I need to stay focused. But my focus – that self-awareness – is on my need for Jesus. Every time I think, “I can’t do that pose,” I rest on Christ’s assured love for me. He loves me when I can’t do something (like a headstand), and he loves me when I can. So even though the intended focus of yoga is on the self, my heart’s posture invariably turns to Jesus. He knows my daily failures and still accepts me completely. His finished work on the cross makes that love possible, even though I can hardly love myself some days. On those days, I unroll my mat and set my intention to hear the Lord’s voice: “Abide in me, and I in you…Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:4-5).