I am a yoga junkie.
I said it.
Picture me at my first class—in a sea of women in black, stretchy pants.
I had never been more uncomfortable in my life.
It took years of Cherie gently prodding for me to see a counselor.
And it had taken her far longer to bring me to this moment.
Over the years, when she suggested I consider coming to a class with her, I maintained a gracious and benevolent veneer.
But internally, my response went something like this:
Yoga!? Are you kidding me?!? What a waste of time. Especially when I could get a REAL workout. Besides, at best, all those women will think I’m a pervert. At worst, they might think I’m a predator. No, thanks!
Years later, I finally yielded my pride, cynicism, paranoia, and unbelief long enough to slip into the back of a yoga class in the gym of our local YMCA, wading awkwardly past foam rollers and spongy blocks and overly strong perfume, under what I suspected to be offended and incriminating gazes. The only other man in the class was an old guy in the front row with a head band and very short shorts, quite possibly from his high school track team in ‘74.
And it was in that space that Heaven came to earth for me, and something profoundly Good happened in my soul.
That was over a decade ago, and I still can’t find adequate words to describe the conversion.
After an hour of holding my breath and feebly attempting to stretch muscles that had long since fossilized, I found myself in what these yogis apparently call “final relaxation.” Pretty standard in nearly any yoga class, but unknown to me, the hour of mindful movement builds up to a closing time of rest and surrender—lying supine in total stillness on the floor, breathing and receiving.
And it was the first moment in my adult life that I gave myself full permission to simply receive.
The best way I can describe it is that I was utterly disoriented… by Love.
With each inhale, I could feel the Ruach—the very breath of God (Genesis 1:2)—breathing both dormant and dead places back to life. I was among the desiccated bones of the defeated army in the book of Ezekiel, and God’s breath was uniting bone to bone and then enlivening muscle and sinew and skin. Dry bones, enfleshed, then raised to newness of life.
Somehow, the hour of integrating my body with my mind and spirit, the hard physical work, the awkward but consistent attempts to breathe deeply, and then the final surrendering ushered in the deep waters of the Kingdom that unlocked in my masculine soul a door long obscured into a room long abandoned.
The driven and intense man I was opened the door for the needy, isolated boy within to receive nurture in a way I can describe in no other terms.
Here, in the back of a gym at the YMCA, breath was entering me, immersing me in the reality of the triune God, and making me whole through nurturing, engulfing love.
It undid me, and I’ve never been the same since.
It would be weeks of regular practice before I glimpsed the layers of benefit yoga could offer me, especially that stretching and strengthening my core would potently increase my capacity in other pursuits I love, like chasing wild with my bow or climbing single track high along Colorado’s Front Range.
It would be months before I painstakingly learned to breathe more deeply, slowing down and inhaling fully with holy awareness of the very life of God.
It would be years before I began to understand how to be kind to myself, how to “try easy” and embrace the wisdom of Kingdom rhythms, accepting that there is a time to go full throttle and there is a time to back off.
It would be a decade before I understood how much God was desiring to harness this spiritual practice in my life to mother me, to heal my self-hatred, and to apprentice me in the Kingdom-art of receiving love and so much more.
It would be beyond a decade before I would slowly become the kind of person who regularly tastes the depth and breadth of the Kingdom of God and the deep integration of my soul through the consistent practice of Kingdom-centered yoga.
If we shall know it by its fruit, I’m compelled to name the significance of the fruit I have experienced through Kingdom-centered yoga.
Not as a prescription, but rather as an example laden with possibility.
Of all the spiritual disciplines I pursue, Kingdom-centered yoga is one of the top in regard to bearing the most prolific deepest fruit in my masculine journey. Who would’ve thought? Not me, that’s for sure. Looking back, I had put such limits on who God could be and what He could do even through an hour of intentional movement and deep breathing.
Now, if you are hesitant about or uninterested in this practice, that is fine.
But I would like to simply ask you these questions.
- Where is it you are practicing regularly to receive? To receive love, mercy, kindness; to receive nurturing from the heart of the Trinity? For most of us, to say that receiving love doesn’t come easily is like saying the Pope doesn’t date much. It is actually deeply challenging to become the kind of person who can receive with an open and true heart, liberated from either habitual protest or the compulsion to try to merit the gift after it is bestowed.
- Where are you learning to be still, to habitually dwell in the present moment in awareness of the enveloping life and presence of God? Where are you practicing taking in the breath of Heaven as your most sustaining source?
- Where are you learning to accept God’s acceptance of who you are, just as you are, not because of your gifting or productivity, but simply because He believes you are worthy of love and belonging in your essence?
- Where are you maturing to understand wellness in its depth and breadth rather than simply chasing fitness as another place of achievement and outcomes-based living?
- Where is it that you are growing in your soul’s experience of “bursting with joy and feeling ten feet tall” from regularly receiving God’s intimate and feminine nourishment that God suggests is available to all of His people? (See Isaiah 66 in The Message.)
- Where is your soul regularly in a safe space to further the integration of all the younger parts of you?
- Where are you deepening in your union with God and your ability to listen in contemplative connection, receiving His words of affection as the fuel for obedience and casting off performance-based living?
- Where are you tending to your body and soul in a regular practice that is bringing ever-deepening sexual intimacy to your marriage bed?
- Where are you regularly facing your addictions with grace, kindness, and a growing capacity and desire to address them with courage and cunning?
- Where are you growing in the belief that self-care is not selfish, but rather it is heroic stewardship? How do you practice prioritizing union with God in order that the overflow of His life can be what you bring to this world?
- Where are you engaging pockets of shame and fear and, in love, resolving to receive healing and see their influence ever diminish in your life?
- Where do you participate in contemplative liturgy that is not dependent upon you but flows to you from generations of elders who have traveled the ancient path, reaching back to the Christian mystical Fathers and Mothers of our faith in the first few centuries and beyond?
- Where are you regularly having exposed and dismantled the deep agreements you have made with the limits you have placed on who God can be, what He can do, and how He can do it in your body, soul and spirit, heart, mind, and will?
There are many ways these important questions and needs can be met and answered.
And for me, a regular practice of Kingdom-centered yoga over a decade has been one of the most powerful.
Let me just pause and borrow some credibility from Bud Light and Jesus.
I can’t help but recall the brilliant Bud Light commercial from a recent Super Bowl. You might remember: scene after scene of sold-out fans doing the most odd sort of things, living out their bizarre superstitions in the hopes of vaulting their team to victory. Wearing their random but oh-so-lucky shirts, rubbing the rabbit’s foot dyed in their team’s colors, chanting with their Bud Lights raised in homage, stacking their beer cans in the shape of their team’s emblem to frame the spread of nacho supremes and chicken wings.
Sure enough, their team wins. Then comes this brilliant line:
It’s only weird if it doesn’t work.
While depicting colossal superstition, there is a ironic resonance in this commercial with Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels. Jesus has a remarkably simple test to discern, particularly over time, the active presence of God and His Kingdom.
“You will recognize them from their fruit.” Matthew 7:20
God is too wild to be tamed and hemmed in by our painful limits and feeble constraints. And as Jesus Himself points out, religious bullies through the ages have been brilliant at straining gnats and swallowing camels (Matthew 23:24). Therefore, we often can’t know if something is beneficial or harmful by habitual assumption. But we can know with confidence the nature of something if we test its fruit.
Test the fruit. If the fruit is the fruit that Jesus points to in the Gospels, then we must have come into proximity of some portion of His Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
This is not intended to be a carte blanche endorsement of yoga.
It is an invitation to find your deeper way with God and to become, even more, a student and a son.
It’s about actively experimenting with and cultivating regular spiritual practices that nourish, strengthen, and integrate our souls, increase our experience of God, and restore us as men.
There are great sages who have gone before us and offer a rich introduction to regular spiritual practices as a primary means to access the resources of the Kingdom.
I’d suggest you start with Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline.
These texts provide clear explanations on the life of the disciplines.
Ultimately, as Foster suggests, in exploring the spiritual practices, these guidelines will prove to be immensely helpful.
- It always begins with consent to being a student of Jesus.
- Heroism as a posture simply does not fit with disciplines.
- There is no complete list.
- It is experimental.
- The posture of “practical not picky” is immensely helpful.
- We must not be overly concerned about how others do them.
- If you practice enough, in time Jesus will show you what’s best for you…
The key is a heart-centered decision to become like Jesus from the inside out. Systematically and progressively rearranging our affairs to that end, under the guidance of God and His Word.
The core question is this: How much of your current life is defined by the daily practice of activities which help you to mature in Kingdom living?
What are you doing that is connecting your soul to the primary means by which God is bringing the wholehearted integration of you as a man?
In The Great Omission, Dallas poses this very honest and exposing question:
If we take as fact that we have been given the keys to the Kingdom in all of its abundance, why is it that we are not thriving?
He goes on to conclude that we have not yet adequately learned how to use the keys of the Kingdom. He suggests that the key to the keys is to practice regular ways of seeking to “live and act in union with the flow of God’s Kingdom.” He reminds us that Grace is God acting in our life, enabling us to do what we cannot do on our own. By direct effort, I cannot heal my own soul. But I can intentionally participate in activities that connect me with the life of God and provide healing for my soul. Even if we had never fallen into sin, we would still need Grace, God’s action on our behalf. Grace is opposed to earning, not effort, and we are invited to actively become the kind of people “who burn grace like a 747 burns jet fuel.”
It takes humility.
It takes risk.
It takes sincere curiosity of the inner life.
It takes being led as an apprentice into unchartered territory.
Now for the record, I have yet to wear black stretchy pants to a yoga class. Last time I wore my wife’s black stretchy pants, I was also wearing a Britney Spears wig and doing a not-so-impressive keg stand.
But remember, it’s only weird if it doesn’t work.
Hopefully I’ll see you in class.
Father, yet again parts of me are exposed for all the limits I have placed on who You can be, what You can do, and how You can do it in my life. I open my heart afresh to You. I ask that You would break every agreement I have made that limits who You want to be in my life, what You want to do, and how You want to do it. I open my heart to You and to no other to be the lamp unto my feet and the light unto my path. Show me what You have for us together. I choose to risk. I choose the narrow road. I choose to be honest with my limitation, my need, my brokenness, and my propensity to avoid the places where I need Your rescue and Your restoration the most.
I trust that You are pursuing me today, inviting me into more, if I am willing to be Your apprentice. I confess I need to invite You into the areas I could simply label “not working” in the life of my soul. I ask for Your forgiveness for how I have given myself over to defeat and hopelessness in these places. I receive the words from C.S. Lewis who reminds me that all of us who seek to grow with God and His Kingdom are “always and forever beginners.” I choose to believe You have more for me in these places.
I want to live a fully consecrated life. I want to wade into the depth and breadth of both the time-tested spiritual practices and the ones You are shaping uniquely for me and our story. I want to cultivate the keys to access the abundance of Your Kingdom and mature in oneness as You have invited it to be so.
Guard and guide me.
Be my strength.
And my motive.
I choose You.
I choose to be led by the Spirit of God as a son of God. Amen.
For someone with far more credibility and miles than I, you might enjoy Dan Allender’s journey into the spiritual practice of yoga.
Final Note: There are all kinds of funky and potentially spiritually oppressive things out there under the banner of yoga. (Just like there are oppressive things in the world that sometimes masquerade under the banners of Jesus, Christianity, and church.) I’m trusting you don’t receive this blog as some benediction of all things “yoga” as a category. Our faith ultimately comes down to a walk with God and a response to His movement in our lives, through both wisdom and revelation. “You shall know them by their fruits,” Jesus said. Walk with God, stay close to His heart, ask Him to protect you from evil and lead you into everlasting life. You will hear His voice. You will be led by the Spirit of God as sons of God. We are offered a wise and discerning heart for a reason.
Over my years of practicing the spiritual discipline of yoga, I have participated in classes at more than 20 yoga studios. The Kingdom of God, like in churches, is woven into all sorts of tapestries, people, contexts, and expressions. When the student is ready, the teacher appears. When the son is ready, the Father appears (2 Cor 6:18). The Gospel in our culture has been deeply westernized and significantly stripped of the integration of the body from the spiritual life of our faith. Unwelcomed by many churches and evangelical communities, it is not surprising that many Kingdom-hearted teachers find secular studios as the best context available for them to offer the Gospel through Kingdom-centered yoga. You shall know them by their fruits. If you look for the best fruit, you’ll find the great trees. If you find bad fruit, bless them and keep on walking down the narrow road.
Want to go deeper?
The Body Keeps the Score, Bessel van der Kolk
Prayer of Heart and Body, Thomas Ryan
Celebration of the Discipline, Richard Foster
The Great Omission, Dallas Willard
An Introduction by Amy Day