Why Jesus Loves Yoga
I love yoga. It’s a new thing for me. My body hurts for a couple days after a class, but it is so bizarrely life-giving. Allow me to elaborate.
I’ve spent a solid two decades of my life chronically depressed and anxious. It’s a combination of genetic predisposition and the things that life taught me. Several family members share the need for medication that I have, and I grew up as a person with a lot of self hatred and no self esteem. Part of that was religion, but most of that was from bullying. I was a skinny and socially awkward kid. I didn’t take risks and I only did what I was certain I was good at. I didn’t feel good about doing most sports and when I did cross country and track and field I was further bullied. I was even treated pretty poorly by the men on my university team. One, among a number, of nightmares was being addressed as the team’s loser by the captain of the cross country team in front of an entire high school school assembly. Think about being 15 and what that does a 15 year old kid’s confidence.
Because of a combination of body image issues and that good old ill sense of confidence in myself, I spent several years going to the gym regularly. It offered me some release, but it was always an uphill battle. I didn’t love going. I went to make sure my body was in good order, which is not bad in and of itself. however, I needed to feel at least as appealing as my bullies and being that I’m not someone who gains pleasure or a sense of power from other people’s pain, my body had to be in perfect order to satisfy my psyche.
Looking back, my body was great and I still looked at myself in the mirror with hatred and a feeling that I was not good enough.
Yoga. Seven years later here I am in Bangkok. I met some incredibly kind people all who participated in yoga classes. I decided that I would give it a shot.
I’ve been taking the classes for about a month and a half now and it was at last night’s class that something clicked.
I walked into class, prepared my yoga mat, and learned the mat I chose belonged to a student and that there were specific mats that belonged to the studio. I switched mats. The instructor began class. “Inhale. Raise your arms. Head down, hands to the floor. Flat back, low pushup, inhale, upward dog, exhale, downward dog.” I was getting the hang of this finally. We got though most of the class and reach an exercise I had never done. I was already feeling weak. As per usual I was drenched in my own sweat and raining on the mat (I need to take my clothing home in a biohazard bag and hang it to dry before I can put it in the laundry basket). Then the instructor asks us to JUMP into a pose that I would expect only Gumby and Mr. Fantastic could handle. I couldn’t. In fact I couldn’t really do several of the next poses as I am pretty stiff.
At this point I was starting to feel an incredible sense of frustration and failure. Even though you would think a gay male is beyond sexism (we aren’t) my weird masculine pride noted that I was the only man in the class (save the instructor) and the women were neither stopping nor incapable of these feats. I had to remind myself that strength and sex are not indicative of each other and that I shouldn’t feel ashamed. We got back to some exercises I knew. I was crawling where others were jumping. “Back bend, shoulder stand, head stand, rest.”
Here we are. At the end of the class we are at rest, eyes closed, palms to the ceiling, and I’m processing the weird combination of feelings in me. It was a combination of euphoria, anger, self doubt, shame, and peace.
The gospel is here.
Here I am in a safe space. No one is criticizing me. Everyone is fighting and learning at their own pace. Everyone is in community. I looked back over my classes and for the month and a half I have been here people have offered only support and encouragement. People recognized where I was in my development and had nothing to say except “keep going and you will improve.” This was a safe space to challenge myself with other people who were challenging themselves and it wasn’t about competition. Someone might be three years ahead of me but we were challenging ourselves together. We were fighting to become healthier, more whole, and more competent at a skill that we had chosen for ourselves. My shame was my own. No one else was shaming me. I could do away with my shame. They had all seen where I stand and the only reply was “you can.”
It’s the gospel. It’s a safe space where people can grow to reflect love and mercy and to be healed of their ill view of themselves while replacing it with the knowledge that we are capable of moving forward and that we, indeed, can accomplish something both alone and together. It’s whole. It’s life-giving. It’s loving. It’s communal. It’s growth. It’s strength. It’s together. It’s alone. All at once. It’s the body.
As I lay there realizing that this was Jesus heart being lived I felt an immense peace come over me. I have no doubt in my mind that Jesus was doing those vinyasas and chatruangas right along with me.