Thursday, March 1, 2018

Is Yoga A Christian Practice?

I have been asked more than once if I consider yoga a Christian practice.  Even @MattWalsh wrote recently we should avoid yoga since it’s a pathway to paganism.  I confess I am astounded when confronted with these concerns. I hadn’t really thought that deeply about the origins of exercise and why (or not) they would be related to my religion. However, the question has come up multiple times since and it’s caused me to ponder the relationship between yoga and my spiritual life.  

Technically, yoga isn’t a Christian practice since yoga is an Eastern tradition unrelated to Christ.  Yoga actually began as a science in India as a method for dealing with disease unrelated to religion.  Does this mean yoga shouldn’t be a Christian practice?  I don’t think so. I personally believe that when God is first and foremost in your thoughts and actions and you act from a place of love, then you are practicing behaviors that are derived from Christian teachings.  St. Peter tells us that love covers a host of sins.  Since my yoga practice is often devoted to God and not myself, and I use the time to clear my head of the nonsense of the world to more deeply devote myself to God in my daily life, I have a hard time believing it is a sin.

Jesus teaches us that “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength (Mark 13:20).  Does this not entail our whole being worshiping with God?  Can this not be done through all our practices, including yoga?  Paul goes on to teach us:  “do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6: 19-20).  It seems to me that the Bible is teaching us that we should worship God in all we do.  Even if it’s yoga.

Regardless of any affiliation to politics, church, creed, or specific theology, the most important thing to me as an individual is how I live my life according to the teachings of Christ.  Hence, I take issue with a narrow minded view that if I practice yoga as a Christian I am opening myself to a path to hell.  That’s like saying people shouldn’t run marathons because it was developed by Greek pagans. Attributing yoga as a “bad practice” is like saying we shouldn’t do strongmen competitions because it was developed by a bunch of drunk Germans trying to figuring out who could lift the heavier keg or tree trunk.  I think many of the same thing could be said about a lot of exercises and religions.  Roman pagans attributed physical feats as gifts from gods. An argument that attributes physical practices as pathways to sin basically tells me I shouldn’t walk, hike, swim, sail, or a host of other activities that make me feel closer to God because I am enjoying God’s nature.  The argument that yoga is a pagan practice fails for me because it does not put God at the beginning of any activity a human engages. 

In addition, this position fails to address the very physical benefits of yoga.  Many, many, many evidenced-based research articles have documented the benefits of yoga with dealing with cancer pain (I’ve been there, and while I may be a cohort of one, my experience is substantiated by the literature); reducing dependence on depression and anxiety medication; helping individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder in a healthy way; reducing the need for hypertension medications in those with high blood pressure and cardiovascular diseases; improving the recovery times following surgery; improved recovery from injuries; and much, much more. Yoga is good for the body.

Whenever I practice yoga, I feel closer to God.  The very acts of the movements center my busy brain on God.  I’ve learned over the years that I am the sort of person that NEEDS yoga.  As a high-energy, passionate, and intense do-er, yoga is the yin to my yang. It provides balance in my life that I most desperately need.  Yoga for me is prayer with my body.  Each pose reminds me of the methods that can be used when walking a prayer labyrinth and techniques used in meditative prayer.  Centering, breath, being in the moment, releasing your worries, are all things we should practice when we pray. These practices tell our body to stop making it about the “me," and focusing on God.

With each breath, I pray to breathe in God’s guidance in my life and with each exhale release those things that are out of my control.  With each rush of my breath, I hear the ocean, like the waves hitting the shore.  It is loud and rushing in my ears, and the rhythm of my diaphragm rising and falling seems to mimic the rise and fall of the water.  With each breath I feel connected to the earth and feel honored to be a part of God’s creation.  As I raise my arms high in tree, I feel as though my whole self is reaching for God in praise.  When I bow down low in humble warrior, I feel as though I am bowing before God, humbled at how little I am without God in my life.  When I hear the leader call the class to shine our hearts forward, I feel as though I am offering my heart to God.  My soul says, “Here I am Lord.”  When I transition to Warrior I or Warrior II, I feel fiercely ready to take on whatever is thrown at me in life.  Whenever I do any balancing poses and fall, I am reminded that I will always fall without my faith.  When I struggle with other poses, I am reminded that it is through hard work and dedication that we achieve success.  It is through the repetition of my practice that I’ve learned my faith and my practice are both disciplines that require work.

Mr. Walsh, I will concede that yoga isn’t really a Christian practice, but neither is walking, or reading, or cooking, or raising children, or singing, or any thing we do daily unless we weave God through all those things.  Christian practices are anything where we take the teachings of God, and honor God with all that we do.  I believe we can do this whether it’s yoga, or karate, or walking, or running, or any sort of activity.  I’d like to think that when we love God in all we do, we are making our faith a part of all that we do.

~~ Anna

Acknowledgements:  Many Thanks to My Yogi friends for providing pictures for today’s blog.

Jimi Parker is a born again Christian coming to the faith 15 years ago.  She lives in Kansas and has practiced and taught yoga for 4 years, and is continuing her studies to become a yoga therapist. Yoga has taught Jimi that the least invasive healing comes through Faith, and moving meditation that is yoga.  Jimi finds God in her quiet time on the mat.

Beth Hughes is a life-long Episcopalian, Aspirant to Holy Orders, Member of the Order of the Daughters of the King, and Yoga Therapist who has practiced yoga for more than 10 years.  Not only has yoga drawn her closer to God, but it's helped her prep for and recover more rapidly following back surgery. You can learn more about Beth at

Friday, May 12, 2017

101 Reasons I am a Terrible Military Spouse

There aren’t really 101 reasons I am not a very good military wife, but a recent blog optimization article said that titles of articles with numbers in them are more likely to be read.  I wanted you to read what I have to say, ergo, 101 reasons (or whatever the real number is) reasons I’m a terrible military wife. :)

I don’t write that to put myself down, but a recent YouTube parody called “I have a Mom Crush” got me thinking about all the things we assume about our fellow friends, family, colleagues, and social circles that probably aren’t all that right. Sometimes, we need to be willing to let it all hang out there honestly, so that people in your same situation, with your same fears and anxieties can relate.  When people relate, they don’t feel alone.  When people are not alone, they are a lot less likely to make destructive or harmful decisions.  This is why the Army (or military or community) family is so vital to the success of our society. Finding connections between people isn’t just the hallmark of success amongst the military.  When we can find connections between people anywhere, in any situation, it’s good for communities.  When we are together, we ARE stronger—no matter how cliche that sounds. It’s just that social media is set up to show the best sides of ourselves, so we tend to assume that other people don’t have problems that could relate to our own struggles.  We don’t share the pictures of ugly cries, or the snot bubbles of frustration, anxiety, and anger experienced by everyone.  It’s easy to capture of a profile picture of joy.  It’s a lot more difficult to capture one that expresses us when we are really at our lowest...and then post it so others know they aren’t alone.  Plus, ugly pictures make people uncomfortable.  Trying to empathize in 140 characters can sometimes push people out of their comfort zones.  Others feel that sort of reality is private and others think there is just too much TMI on the internet anyway.  The problem is that more and more people are seeking to use social media as their communities, and yet it's very difficult to be authentic in the online world.

Professional Head Shots make everyone look perfect.
Thanks to my secret life as a writer (it’s probably not so secret, but I like to pretend that it’s my alter ego), I have the opportunity to come into contact with a lot of people that can take a look at my gorgeous head shot and bio and sum me up in five minutes. People have said to me: “I don’t know how you do all you do” (I don’t really do either, I just do it); “You have it all together” (I don’t really, it’s just a controlled level of crazy that makes you think it’s normal); “You’ve done so much” (I’ve done stuff where I’ve applied my passion, there are other parts of my life that I’m terrible at: kids crafts for example); “You are so beautiful, I don’t know how you could possibly understand” (What you see in the mirror and what I see in the mirror are probably two different things); “You make moving look so easy” (That’s because I kill myself trying to control everything and I fail all the time); and a bunch of other stuff that just turns into a long list of platitudes, but rarely captures the nitty gritty of truth. My head shot and me are two different things.  It’s just one glimpse of me.  Same thing with my profile pictures, or what you see about me from the outside.

The truth is:  I’m just like you.  A mom, wife, woman, just trying to do her best.  I also happen to be a military wife, military brat, and military-grandbrat (the military runs deep in my family).  I love military life, but let’s face it, it has its moments where we are called to embrace the suck.  My friend Sara tells me at my whiney moments to “Ruck Up.”  The rucksack is the military backpack soldiers carry their gear.  To “Ruck up” is to put your back pack on and keep moving.  In the civilian world it equates to “put on your big girl panties and get on with it.”  Much of life is rucking it up.  While it’s all good and well to have a boo-hoo, sometimes you need a friend that listens and then says “Ruck Up.”  Let’s move on, part of life is embracing the chaos and crazy as your own.  I can whine through it all, but it’s a lot more doable  when I acknowledge the uncontrollability in my life and choose to make it my own, instead of letting it make me.  I am pretty good at rucking it up in the middle of the chaos.  It’s the moments before the backpack goes on my back and the moments before I get to take it off that trip me up. I call these the bookend moments.

Living out of boxes.
I can excel at a deployment; a transatlantic or transpacific move; the regular change in my life; getting to know people and hosting things; but I suck at either end of it.  I loathe the bookends.  I am a mess waiting for assignments.  The anticipation kills me.  In fact, anticipation in general kills me.  I’ve been known to read the end of a book just to make sure that everything turns out okay.  I loathe the time leading up to a deployment and waiting for the last good bye.  I loathe the last couple of weeks waiting for my soldier to come home. I stress when I am planning a party and worrying about making sure everything is okay. I want everyone to be happy. Packing up my house, or waiting for my precious stuff to arrive make me hum with stress. I’ll confess, my soldier has come home more than once to walk through the door and I bust out in tears, throwing my hands in the air, and dramatically proclaiming, “I just can’t do this anymore!”  True story.  Luckily, we’ve done this for awhile now that that my dude knows to give me a hug, pour me a glass of wine, and take my to-do list out of my hands for awhile.
Take the "to-do" list and pass me a glass of wine, and no one gets hurt.

We’re heading into a big move right now and the truth is that it’s hard.  I am running around with my house half packed in boxes and storage bins, trying to mitigate the damage that my movers look at as junk, but are precious memories to me.  I am trying to figure out how to feed my family healthy food and not eat out all the time, when my kitchen will be packed up for somewhere between 6-12 weeks. You think the Freshman 15 is bad?  Try the PCS 20.  I’m trying to figure out how to work through it all.  I’m worried about where my kids will go to school and if they’ll be happy. I feel guilt when they are pulled from their friends, although I know their passport and adventures rival many of their peers.  I both want to see my friends, and am loathe that each time we get together is yet another good bye.  I worry about our families when we travel far away, and I often pray that no one dies while we are overseas.  I often wish I was strong like that other military spouse I just saw post about her PCS binder or her teacher gifts worthy of Pinterest or the one that is weathering her 6th deployment. We all have things we wish we could do like someone else, but you know, you’ve got qualities too that someone else wishes they have.  The diversity of our abilities is what makes the world pretty awesome.

Polish Pottery will get broken.
As my mom tells me, no matter how many broken pieces of furniture I try to prevent, no matter how many lost boxes I try to label, and no matter how many ducks I try to put in a row, something will happen.  And whether I worry myself to death (which I probably will continue to do—Type A here), the move will happen, the party will be thrown, the deployment will end at some point, the teacher will be thanked, and we’ll do it all again because military life is nothing if it’s not cyclical. You can’t control everything.  You can’t be everything.  You have things that you are good at, just like me.  And you have things you could work on, just like me.  And you’ll have things you never achieve, just like me.  It doesn’t mean you are a bad person, or a bad military wife, or a bad any-type-of-spouse.  You are you, and I am me.

So, if you look at another spouse, military or not, and think you’ve got that “Mom Crush” or that she (or he) have it all together, remember that the way you see another person isn’t always the way they see themselves.  I’ve got 101 ideas why I think I’m bad at what I do and 101 wishes I could do our life like someone else, but I’ve also got 101 reasons why I love our life and the way we do it is just right.  Be yourself and find someone willing to be authentic with you too and you’ll succeed at anything, even when you think you aren’t.