Sunday, April 29, 2012

Yoga Instructor

Last week, my yoga instructor told us at the beginning of class:
When you move into a posture that makes you want to jump off your mat and run out of the room screaming, but instead of running, you just stay with it and breathe, that's when your yoga practice really begins.

It was an amazing way to start class, because I could really relate to the notion of moving into a posture that makes me want to run away screaming. Those moments are usually when I give up, when I drop to my knees panting and take a drink of water. But here was my instructor telling me that if I stop at just that moment, I'm not even really giving myself a chance to start practicing yoga.

Her words really opened up a new realization for me. Everything leading up to that moment -- all the other postures, the breathing, the concentration -- is preparation. When the moment comes that I want to flee or give up, that's the moment I've been waiting and preparing for. That's when I get to experience what yoga is all about.

It changed my whole attitude toward my practice. I found myself actually looking forward to that moment in my practice I usually dread, because that would be the moment when yoga could actually happen.

Later in the class, she had us do an inversion, a variation of a shoulder stand I had found extremely difficult to maintain. She encouraged us stay in this posture for several minutes, and this time, instead of giving up thirty seconds into the posture as I would have on previous occasions, I stayed with it for several minutes, allowing that inversion to transform the way I look at the world long after it had finally ended.


In my American Religious Histories class this semester, I feel kind of like my yoga instructor must feel. I've had numerous students throughout the quarter tell me that my class has been one of the most challenging classes they've ever taken, that it's really stretched them. Different students have found different parts of the class challenging. Some struggled with the section on Evangelicalism. Some struggled with the section on Mormonism. This past week, a student told me that she had really wrestled with the readings on Islam.

My approach to the course is to teach each unit in such a way that my students can come to understand why adherents of the religion I'm teaching would want to embrace that religion. In order to do that, I have had to engage with the different religions I teach in an intimate way, to find what it is about each religion that speaks to me, that engages me, that teaches me.

When I ask students to engage imaginatively with a religion that is alien to them, when I ask them to try to see what it is in that religion that might appeal to someone else, what might make somebody a believer in that religion, I am in essence telling my students to assume a new posture, to take an inversion, to look at the world upside down from the way they're used to looking at the world. When they do that, sometimes they feel discomfort.

But if they stick with it, that's when "yoga" begins.


The word "yoga" comes from a Sanskrit word that's related to the English word for "yoke," as in, "Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls" (Matthew 11:29). The word "yoga" also means "union." The goal of yoga is to "yoke" or "bind" or "unite" ourselves with the divine; though in the process, we are also uniting or integrating different aspects of the self, finding harmony or union between the physical and the spiritual, between the higher and the lower selves, the inner and outer selves, between what we truly are on the inside with that which we wish to project outward to others.

So it is amazing to me to learn that the process of integration, of unification, of uniting with the Divine can be achieved by assuming a difficult posture, and sticking with it and breathing, and allowing it to teach us what it has to teach us. I have experienced the truth of this in my yoga class, in my religious history class, and in the Church.

Instead of dreading and running away from the discomfort we all experience around the issue of homosexuality in the Church, we can see this challenge as an opportunity for yoga to really begin, as an opportunity to begin to achieve true union within ourselves, with others, and ultimately with God.

Heterosexual Saints may have to face discomfort as they deal with the fact that gay Saints have a different experience of the world than they do; that our experiences don't fit with what they assume about sexuality and sexual morality and about God's creation in us.

Gay Saints have to deal with their own discomfort upon realizing that their experience is different from what they were raised to think "normal" experience is supposed to be. And then, as they come to terms with this, as they "come out" and begin to integrate their personalities -- as they make their souls by integrating the physical, emotional and spiritual aspects of themselves -- they have to deal with the discomfort of their fellow, heterosexual Saints.

Yoga does not begin until we stick with each other. If we drive out those we feel uncomfortable with, we fail. If we flee, if we run away, we fail. We succeed when we stick it out. When we breathe, when we listen, when we learn what being in relationship with others can teach us, especially when those others make us uncomfortable.


Holly said...

Terrific post! Love the application of yoga to Mormonism.

JonJon said...

Love the comparisons to yoga and I love the last paragraph.