I do yoga every now and again to help out with my shoulder and knee issues. I enjoy working out and keeping in shape, but I’m now at the age where being 6”8 is catching up with me in my knees, shoulders, and blood pressure. Instead of ceasing all manner of working out, I changed my routine to adapt to my current situation. Before I made the transition, I had already incorporated a few yogic poses in my work out with planks, Hindu push-ups, and Hindu squats. After I experience painful issues, I ended the push-ups and squats, and focused on planks and cardio. Planks are a wonderful exercise targeting every muscle of the body especially when I turn my palms down on the floor. I rarely did yoga because I couldn’t do the poses correctly and my inflexibility made my sessions unpleasant. I never went to an instructor, but, through watching youtube on my tv, I was able to pull up basic yoga poses from generous instructors. Before I did yoga, I dismissed it as a soft exercise that could not help me achieve my workout goals. When I did the basic approach, I sweated buckets and my heart rate broke my chest with 150 beats per minute after fifteen minutes. I bowed my head in deference, and recanted my disrespect.
Before I sat down at a desk in Dr. Meyer’s Asian Religions class, I only knew of yoga as an Eastern exercise practiced by white women in $800 lululemon yoga pants. One of the books we used for this class was Huston Smith’s The World’s Religions: Our Great Wisdom Traditions. This book is a book worth having in your library and read until the pages fall off the binding. Smith was a devout Methodist who saw the validity of different religious traditions, and incorporated what he learned into his own Christian practice. Smith’s chapter on Hinduism opened my eyes to a different perspective on ontology, and various spiritual paths through Yoga. Yoga involves physical positions such as downward dog into upward dog, but is not limited to the physical. Yoga, to put it glibly, is a spiritual tool to go beyond yourself and experience the divine according to your individual needs. One form of yoga centers around logic and rational thinking, and another form include physical poses, but one is not better than the other. Think of Brahmin or, God, if you will, as sugar. You can either examine the sugar, you can taste the sugar, or you can become the sugar. There is no incorrect way to your approach of sugar, but there are specific tools to specific approaches.
Eastern religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism speak to me in a way that Christianity does not speak to me, but that has to do with my baggage with the latter. That does not mean one is right and the other is wrong, but I’m not going to listen to someone speaking the truth after they have beat me to the ground. The other reason for my affinity for Eastern religions is they speak to my inner mystic. That’s how I relate to my spirituality. I “see” the divine moving in and out like breath moving in and out of lungs. There is a pulse to life that I can feel when I sit still, close my eyes, and focus on my breath. Mysticism exists in Christianity, but, what I’ve observed, is treated with suspicion, disregarded, or buried. I’ve read extensively on Christian history and the writings from those spiritual heroes such as Meister Eckhart in the 14th century. Meister Eckhart once prayed, “I pray God, I would be quit of God that I may see God.” What he’s saying is he wants to experience God without his own preconceptions and religious boxes getting in his way. That’s some Zen lunacy Eckhart is laying down for those who have plucked up the courage to leave the buildings and hear God’s voice unencumbered by the dead weight of a priest’s droning chant.
At the time I was at school, I took advantage of the free counseling on campus, and discovered a friend in my sessions. My counselor incorporated Buddhism and Buddhist teaching into our talks, and his eyes lit up when I brought up yoga. He’s very much into martial arts and body weight resistance for his exercising, and told me what he learned from one of his teachers, “Without meditation, yoga is simply stretching.” I took those words to heart, and they gave me a different way to relate to my own exercises. Exercise is good for the body, but if the act is limited to just the body that will eventually die and decompose, then the fruits will be shallow and limited. But when spiritual practice is integrated with the physical then the body becomes a tool to dissolve the ego, and lose yourself in the divine. There is nothing right or wrong with treating yoga as a physical exercise. There are many health benefits to practicing yoga, but treating yoga only as a physical exercise you will also miss out on the spiritual benefits.
Tonight, while I did my basic yoga to the throat chants of Tibetan monks, I focused on my body and my breath. The inflexibility is still there, and my joints are quite stiff. Instead of becoming frustrated, I looked upon my limitations as echoes of my heart’s condition. I have become stiff and inflexible with my hatred and fear I learned from my family and my Christian experience. Do not misunderstand, I do not blame my family or the Christian religion for how I am today, or hold either responsible for my struggles. During those early years, I was alone, and made a choice to survive by retreating into my head while disconnecting from my heart. For a time that disconnect helped me get through some bone shattering trauma, but eventually, I left that environment. Adapting to the outside world has been difficult, and I’ve much to unlearn. Hiding is easy, but facing your past and your rotting broken heart so you can heal is difficult and takes a warrior’s courage. I listened to my heart speaking through my clumsy transitions and sharp pains in my shoulder and knees. I said nothing, but embraced the supplications with my breath.
My yoga practice takes between ten and fifteen minutes, but after I finish, I am able to get into a half-lotus position to do a brief meditation. According to teachers, lotus or half-lotus is a comfortable sitting position, and more so when I’m sitting on my linoleum floor. The hardness bites into my ankles and I am incapable of being inside my breath. Where I am in my spiritual practice it takes me at least fifty breaths to go into full concentration so who I am can be liquid flowing between myself and God, whom I refer to in the feminine rather than the accepted masculine approach. Neither one is the “right” way to address the divine, but the use of the masculine is a reflection of the patriarchal hegemony and misogyny in our culture. Where I am with my sexuality, I am uncomfortable in addressing God with such oppressive language, and is a constant reminder of the violence I received. Changing the language and my relationship to pain, I can do the healing work allowing my heart and body to flow like a gentle stream.