The first class had me standing as straight as I possibly could stand while reaching my clasped hands as high into the air as was physically possible. At first I thought, “This is yoga? Pfft. I can so do this.” Until I learned that THIS was the entire class – for one. whole. hour.
I should mention 1. I am not flexible. 2. I am not graceful.
Our instructor, taking cue from our/my pained expressions, kept reassuring the class that it was perfectly normal to stumble, it was totally okay to feel like a fish out of water, that grunting and groaning and sweating and shaking were all part of the growth process, but to continue with the effort cause overtime our muscles would strengthen and relax and the movements would become like second nature – we just had to keep practicing.
I would have believed him had he not been looking right at me every time he said, “fish out of water.” Ugh, the class felt like it was never going to end. But, I was determined to be all yoga-y and so class 2, class 3 and class 4 followed in exactly the same manner: painfully slow and completely humbling.
Class 5 brought our instructor bouncing through the door ecstatically frantic about the fact that we were ready to move onto the next movement. We had graduated. We were going to learn something new. I was pumped. I may have flopped the first movement, but I was determined to master movement 2. So with my eyes fixated on a gold medal like an Olympic hopeful, I began to slowly follow every little move he made. I stood as straight as a board, I breathed a deep inhale/exhale, folded my hands in front of me, did a slight bow arching my back like a cat as I reached my fingers down to the floor, deep stretch, then I slowly released my breath as I stood to watch him simultaneously stretch both arms out. Not up. Out! And then he said, “Can you see the difference? Can you feel the difference?”
WHAT !?!?!?!? ARE YOU KIDDING ME !?!?!?!? THIS WAS MOVEMENT TWO !?!?!?!?!
I looked at my friend in desperation and let out a huge sigh of frustration. I made the mental decision right then and there that I was SO done. Yoga was NOT for me!
“But why are up and out the only seemingly important movements?” I asked my instructor after the class had emptied.
“Well because, all other movements stem from the core muscles that are used to stabilize the body through these movements. You’ll find yoga to be super easy once you master these 2 basic moves. Without them, you will have no core control, no back support and no strengthened posture to perform the right technique used in the more complex movements. I know you probably want to give up. It’s hard at first, but trust me, it gets easier overtime.”
Is this not a lot like our spiritual fitness?
We live in a pedal to the metal, survival of the fittest society where dog eats dog, speed is the name of the game and he who can get there first, wins. Who wants to be doing slow moving yoga moves when you can run full speed ahead, throw caution to the wind, and create dust for other people to eat? This is how I approached yoga. But only upon deeper reflection did I realize and appreciate that slow and steady consistency built my strength. Those seemingly unimportant but ever so subtle movements were my ticket to success. Reaching up gave my back muscles the proper elongation they needed just as reaching out gave me a greater ability to support my body mass during those ‘slower-than-cold-molasses’ positions.
It’s funny how us humans have a tendency to treat our faith and our witness the same way.
In the same way I thought I could master yoga in one class, we tend to think we can develop a deep relationship with God after 1 devotional time, or 1 Sunday service, or 1 Bible Study series, or 1 altar experience, or, or, or.
The same goes for our witness. We don’t leave an impression on someone with 1 simple wave. It usually takes a lot of ‘slower-than-cold-molasses’ movements and conversations, or driveway shovelling, or gentle phone calls, or consistent prayer to make a little head-way with that friend, or spouse, or neighbour, or teacher, or, or, or. And when it doesn’t happen quickly, we want to give up.
But reaching up and out in our faith is about steady, committed posture. It’s about positioning our lives in just the right way that nothing could make us teeter. The longer we stay in God’s presence and practice that devoted focus on him, the stronger we become in body, mind and spirit. It’s here where we learn the true heart of God’s style of yoga and it’s here and only here, where we can ever graduate onto movements/years 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 20, with confidence, patience, discernment, understanding, compassion, love, kindness, gentleness and the list goes on.
Nothing else can build strength into our lives and give us clearer focus then when our eyes are reaching up to him and our arms are reaching out for him. And it’s only in the ‘up,’ where we discover God’s heart for ‘out.’
Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.