This may sound crazy, but for well over two years now I’ve nearly continuously been filled with peace and joy. When people ask me how I’m doing, I honestly respond: “I’m doing fantastic!” I do NOT say this to toot my own horn; instead because it’s been a gift, one I’d love to share. It’s a blessing from yoga and ultimately, I believe, God. In fact, I’d go so far as to say I’ve experienced God more in yoga (and related practices) than church, and bet you could too!
Now, let me first start by saying I adore church, I think it’s fantastic and has many great and life-giving aspects to it. Second, I think you totally can (I have) encounter the Divine there, I’m just saying I think the practice of yoga better facilitates these mystical experiences than “church” does. Third, by “mystical” I simply mean any time we have direct contact with our Source, and btw, I think this is way simpler, more regular, and better than much of society or religion does.
Fourth, by “church” I mean the gatherings and practices of the church body. In other words, I’m talking about the services that usually happen on Sunday mornings. Fifth, on that topic, I believe “church” more accurately refers to a group of people who gather together to connect with each other and God, so as to give and receive love more abundantly … which means yoga can often truthfully be church. That said (I almost started this with “sixth” 🙂 from here on out, unless I specify, whenever I say “church” I’m referring to the usual Sunday service type of deal. Sixth 🙂 (in fairness, I’d actually gotten a few paragraphs down before I realized I should add this), by “yoga” I don’t just mean the poses we do on mats. While I do think this part of the practice is great for and accessible to everyone, I’m more talking about any mindful, breath-oriented, and body-mind-spirit integrating spiritual practice. Lastly (I thought of this after I wrote the whole thing 🙂 you don’t need an hour or even 30 minutes to get the yoga affect. Five minutes will do. My meditation practice I’m about to talk about was simple and often just 5’ish minutes.
About three years ago, for a good season I began practicing meditation outside of my yoga practice (I see yoga as a meditative practice in and of itself). I explored several forms of this, and varied between guided and unguided. As I recall, what I ended up practicing most frequently and often was simply sitting by myself and repeating a mantra in time with my breath. My favorite was to inhale “I am” and exhale “loved.”
At this point I’d like to give a disclaimer of sorts: Yoga is NOT a magic wand. What I mean is, I don’t know about you, but I want gifts, changes, blessings, transformation, etc. right away!!! I want to snap my fingers and have my grief go away. I want to clap my hands and be able to do handstands. Speaking of handstands, here’s my point. For over three years now I’ve been working on getting into handstand without a wall or person for an assist … basically daily. I’m OH so CLOSE … and STILL not quite there. My point is yoga didn’t instantly lead me to God encounters; instead it was a process. As they say, the best things in life take time … and they’re also free! (even if they don’t add the last bit 🙂
I would add that the more regular and consistent you are in your “yoga”, whatever it looks like for you, the more frequent and regular blissful and heavenly moments of Light will become. I’ve practiced yoga regularly for several years now, and see this routine as what’s led me consistently to God (note, most of the time this happens in savasana). The consistency is what keeps my joy, peace, and love tanks habitually full, as I mentioned at the beginning.
Toward the end of my season of meditation I had a game-changing experience. To set this up, I’d better pause first. Part of the point of meditation, yoga, walking to a mantra, running to a mantra, sitting in nature and gazing at something beautiful, etc. is to quiet the mind and lengthen the space between thoughts. When it comes to a mantra, this means that oftentimes eventually the mantra will fade away as our thoughts silence and we’re able to just be.
If you don’t know or haven’t experienced what I’m talking about simply try this: (1) Find a comfortable, tall, and open seat. (2) Close your eyes. (3) Begin slowly and mindfully breathing deeply. (4) Feel the expansion of your body with your inhales and contraction with exhales. (5) Feel your feet on the floor and how your torso lengthens on inhales. (6) Now slowly breath in “I am”, and breath out “loved.” (7) Keep doing this over and over for 5 or so minutes, if the mind wanders, no worries, just bring it back to your mantra and breath. As you do this your mind will quiet and you’ll experience more space between your thoughts. It’s also possible the mantra will fade into silence, if only for a breath or two or three.
In this magical space (and I do mean MAGICAL) we uncover our true self, we find an abundance of peace/joy/love, and we experience God.
With that said, one morning I was practicing the “I am loved” mantra when it faded away to stillness … and the wildest thing happened. As I understand it, Christ communicated to me all people and creation are and will be fantastic. All of us and all creation (as in ALL REALITY) is sublime, as Love has got all our backs. It was a life-altering moment of peace and bliss.
Now, while I’m not saying we’ll all have experiences as dramatic as mine, I do think yoga and related practices lead to God moments. At yoga studios after classes students will regularly be “zenned out” or “yoga stoned.” In other words, their minds have been de-cluttered and they’ve encountered the Divine, which results in peace, joy, and a sense of wholeness flooding their spirit. Note, I name this a God, Christ, Divine, Source, Creator, Love, etc. experience, but you don’t need to. Call it whatever resonates with you, and regardless, whatever/whoever it is, I think we can agree it’s really, really GOOD.
When our minds get clear and our hearts centered, it seems this strong sense of Light and Love fills our souls (or perhaps we get in tune with what’s already there). We get this peaceful sense that all is well, all will be well, and all manner of things will be well (to quote Julian of Norwich).
I think Richard Rohr has some amazing words that pretty much sum up the magical affects of yoga on our hearts, souls, and minds. Over time these Christ connections literally transform our entire selves. As Rohr writes:
“If you asked me what it is I know, I would be hard pressed to tell you. All I know is that there is a deep ‘okayness’ to life—despite all the contradictions—which has become even more evident in the silence. Even when much is terrible, seemingly contradictory, unjust, and inconsistent, somehow sadness and joy are able to coexist at the same time. The negative value of things no longer cancels out the positive nor does the positive deny the negative.
If your prayer [and I’d say yoga is an embodied prayer] goes deep, your whole view of the world will change from fear and reaction to deep and positive connection.”
Rohr says this, and my experience echoes it because when we clear our minds and go inward, we encounter God. We connect to and are able to draw from a positive source, Love itself. I think the great irony is that the inner work of yoga leads us beyond ourselves. As we journey inward, not only do we find the Divine, we work through our own inner darknesses, which helps us realize how so very much like EVERYONE ELSE you and I are, which then helps us love and care for more and more people. We realize there really is no difference or separation between you and I and everyone else.
I mentioned earlier that by “yoga” I don’t just mean yoga, so let me unpack that a bit. I’m really talking about any practice that incorporates the body, mind, and spirit in a way that connects/reconnects them all to one another. Usually, and I think ideally, some sort of mindful breathing is also a part of this. Finally, some sort of practice (be it breathing and/or movement and/or mantra and/or something else) is used to center and de-clutter the thoughts, which allows us to live more and more in the calm space between thoughts. As Meghan Currie, one of my teachers, said: “Can you mindfully and purposefully breathe and think at the same time?” I don’t think so.
Like I said, I think yoga is for everybody and every body … and I totally get it if you’re not interested right now. 🙂 There’s other ways to get the same affect (i.e. God moments) I’m talking about. You can walk to a mantra, timing your steps and/or breath with words (I’ve done this and find it incredibly soothing and centering). You can run the same way. You can hike and/or sit in nature and gaze at something beautiful in an intentional and mindful way that brings you radically into the present moment. Notice and explore every detail of its wonder. There’s a wide variety of guided and unguided meditation you can use. There are labyrinth walks. There is contemplative prayer. The list goes on, there’s a mindfulness practice for everyone.
When it comes to touching the Divine and receiving the Spirit’s blessing of joy, peace, and love that floods your soul, I think the key part with whatever practice you choose is having a good chunk of time where you have nothing to do, achieve, or be; a period when you simply are … period. A time where you do your best to let any thoughts/feelings you have float on by without attaching to them. The more you do this, the more you’ll get a sense of wholeness, a dose of peace, a feeling of joy, a gift of peace, and a grounding in Love. Laying or sitting in these quiet spaces, I’d also describe this as having a strong sense of Light entering and filling my body.
The more regularly (please note I’m emphasizing frequency, NOT duration. Five minutes is PLENTY) you do this, the more Divine joy, peace, and love you’ll carry with you throughout your regular life!
I’d like to pause for a quick note before I land this plane. Years into my journey, some days I have great experiences, some days okay, some days very little, and some days none. It’s ALL good. My point here is don’t beat yourself up when you don’t encounter God or “think” you receive peace or whatever. Also, don’t expect it to happen every time, let it be a process and take whatever gift today gives. Finally, as I mentioned above you don’t need a ton of time to do this, five minutes will do, maybe it’s on your walk to work, or walking the dog, or the five minutes before bed, or whatever/whenever works best for you! 🙂
I’d like to close by noting yoga means “union”. In other words, a purpose of yoga is to unite us within ourselves, to the Divine, AND with others. What I’m getting at is yoga isn’t truly yoga, blessings aren’t truly blessings, joy isn’t fully joy, peace isn’t fully peace, and meeting God isn’t truly meeting God, UNLESS we take the love off our “mat” and into the world. As Jack Jezreel writes: “We are called to be both activists and mystics, missionaries of love and contemplatives, great lovers and deep thinkers. … Personal transformation and social transformation are one piece,” because “[if] we choose to avoid engagement and community with those who suffer, we will certainly live an incomplete life, including an incomplete spiritual life.”
Yoga gives us an amazing gift; an incredible encounter. It installs a rich and deep well of peace, joy, and love. I call this Divine. While you may name it something else, I think we can all agree the world needs more peace, joy, and love, so let’s receive more so we can bless others with it! May my little blog help you receive LOTS more Light and Love.
Please share your stories of how you encounter and experience the Divine and receive the heavenly gifts of love, joy, and peace!
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Grace and peace,