Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Yoga Class

"And your body to the iiiiiinfinite....."

My yoga instructor has a bad case of Yoga Teacher Voice. She seems like a very nice lady, but every time she drones her instructions in her flat, drawn-out, modulated-down voice, I wonder if she speaks this way in other areas of her life.

Job interviews? Dates?

"Sooooo, teeeeel meeee.....what do you doooooo?"

In spite of this, I'm enjoying the class. I used to practice yoga more often when I was pregnant both times and a bit afterward, but slowly running began to take more of my time. It's been interesting to return to it now with all the miles under my belt after so long a break. In some ways I'm stronger, in some ways my body yields more easily, and in other ways I'm more tense and inflexible.

This particular practice is more flow-based, so we are moving through poses as the instructor gives us direction. Downward Dog into some sort of twist, into a standing pose, into Tree Pose. I'm finding it much more enjoyable and less static than holding Warrior for interminable minutes, and the breathing comes easier.

As the instructor tells us to "let our bodies be our teacher," I find my mind wandering over to Pope Benedict's criticism of yoga, that it can devolve into a "cult of the body." At the time I heard it, I thought it was kind of an eye-roller. After all, I was exercising, not worshipping. It's easy to look at the old dude observing all the young whipper-snappers doing this devil-worshipping yoga and think it's rather silly. But his words were underlying a larger truth, one that my mind groped towards as my body moved from pose to pose.

Anything can become an idol, a religion, if we allow it to stop there and not travel through it to God. Bodies, after all, are valuable teachers. But they ultimately are designed to point to the Teacher Himself. It also highlights that almost anything that is good and beneficial, if not ordained toward God, can become detrimental. G.K. Chesterton wrote that "the modern world is full of the old Christian virtues gone mad." We love, but without a full understanding that love is sacrifice as well. We hope, but without looking closely at what we are building our hope upon.

Taking care of ourselves is good. We are told that our bodies are temples for the Holy Spirit. But they are icons, not idols. Icons provide a roadmap for God, a tangible way to experience Him in a way our limited human-ness can understand. Idols cause us to exploit our limited human-ness and make things into gods. In our innate desire to search out God, we make gods instead of search for one.

So, I get what Benny XVI was saying. He looks at the world and sees people stopping at the body instead of going through it, and calls us on it. It has gotten me thinking, especially during Lent, about all the things I am tempted to see as an end rather than a means. When I am busy and parenting and stressed it's easy to get caught up in the utilitarian nature of the things I am doing, just getting from point A to point B without making a mess.

But everything, every day, can be examined and found to point to God in some small way, even the messes. And part of what I am called to do is find those ways.

And avoid developing Yoga Instructor Voice. Definitely that, too.

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