Do you downward dog?
Or don’t you?
In the past decade, yoga has become mainstream in America. Not necessary authentic yoga like you would see practiced in other parts of the world where it is a much more spiritual or religious experience. Here, mainly, it’s exercise that is done to mellow music or even no music at all. It’s about pushing yourself to your limits and beyond without cringing or making it look like you’re working hard, even though you are. Some people, like myself, do yoga for the muscle toning, detoxifying, stress relieving and mild calming benefits, but some of course take it further in the spiritual sense.
The first time I went to a Bikram (hot) yoga class was three years ago. Jon and I had a mutual friend who we’d been bringing to church. He began tiring of coming to church with us, but said we could join him for his yoga class. Without realizing it, I had agreed to the most physically challenging, torturous ninety minutes of my life.
When I walked through the door of the small, upstairs studio, the smelly 105 degree heat hit me like a nasty yoga semi-truck. As I looked around the room I noticed that everyone was wearing clothing that resembled swimsuits. Women wore two piece coverings and the men simply wore shorts. I had come in a t-shirt and long black yoga pants and I felt like a nun in the middle of the Mojave Desert. I took a seat on my mat and towel and noticed that I didn’t pack any ice in my water bottle. Within twenty minutes I was drinking hot water and praying that God would spare my life.
The next day, I woke up feeling more sore and energized than I’d ever felt before, which is saying a lot since I’d been a seeker of good workouts for years. Every muscle in my body felt relaxed. The tension in my neck was gone. There were muscles deep inside my abdomen and back that I’d never felt before. My posture felt good.
Even though I felt so elated the day after, it took me a couple of years to decide to go back on my own. The benefits came at a torturous price. The Bikram studio was located just across the parking lot from my work, so one day as I watched the people carrying their mats make their way into class, I resolved that it was worth another try. However, soon after, I discovered I was pregnant and decided that hot yoga wasn’t the best idea during pregnancy since it was still new to me. So I spent the second month of my pregnancy going to classes at a different studio that was much less intense and done in a normal room temperature. That hour I did yoga twice a week was some of the only time during my first trimester that I didn’t feel like I was going to toss my cookies, so I appreciated it for that relief and for the exercise.
When Cameron was five months old I decided that I was ready for hot yoga again. After a year of being pregnant and recovering where I had to move slowly, walk and being careful with my body, I was just itching to do something really intense! Also, I’d been going to the chiropractor for a while to help with my neck and back, but I had hit a plateau and wasn’t improving much anymore. I found that Bikram, along with occasional deep tissue massages, helped my neck tension more than anything else I’d ever tried.
I will admit that one time I went to a very weird yoga class at a studio in town. Apparently two classes were being offered in different rooms as the same time and I accidentally ended up in the wrong room. There was the instructor, myself and two others. One guy walked in late wearing a white robe and a white turban. The class consisted of incense and chanting and singing and drums. I tried to leave twice but the instructor made me feel guilty and because I’m a people pleaser I stayed and tried to think about something else so I didn’t cry because I felt so uncomfortable.
Another time, I had a more humorous situation. I sat down next to an eccentric lady in a Bikram class. She leaned over to me and pointed at another woman with a big headband and a serious expression sitting a few feet away from me. She whispered, “That one right there, she is magnificent! Just watch her. Oohhh, I can just feel her energy from here, can’t you? She has such good energy!”
“Nope I actually can’t feel her energy,” I thought to myself. “Now please stop dripping on my mat.”
But yoga is a funny topic. People either fall in love with it and make a lifestyle out of it or they think it’s super weird. When talking to the latter it can be like telling someone from Texas that you’re a vegetarian. There’s a silent, drawn out stare that follows.
For me, I find myself somewhere in the middle. I’m not a yogi and I don’t want to be. I don’t wear hemp shoes and I enjoy wearing make up. I’m not obsessed with practicing it and I don’t think that yoga can get you any closer to God than sucking on your left foot. But I like it. It’s relaxing and a great workout and it’s nice to focus on one thing, uninterrupted for ninety minutes, because that doesn’t happen anywhere else in my life right now.
In the Christian sphere yoga is a funny topic too. I get why. There is a lot of yoga that is misleading and that promises people some sort of spiritual progress. It can promote the self as the ultimate power or presence or promote the earth as something worth worshiping. All of this leads people away from the truth about God that is in Jesus Christ.
But in my experience, the word yoga makes some Christians very uncomfortable. It seems almost superstitious to some, as if just saying the word is going to bring about some kind of dark curse on their lives. For a while I just told Christian friends that I was going to a ‘stretching class’ or an ‘exercise class’ because I didn’t want to feel judged. But after a while I decided to just get real with myself and figured if I was going to go to a yoga class that I should probably just call it what it is.
When I do yoga, I still pray to Jesus. Some of the people around me may be praying to nobody or to something else, but the same is true when I’m in a coffee shop or when I’m shopping.
I don’t write this because I think everyone should do yoga. I don’t really care if you downward dog or if you don’t. I guess I don’t even care if you think I should do yoga or not, although I’m sure I’ll continue it because literally Bikram yoga is the most beneficial exercise I’ve ever done for my body.
I guess I’m just talking about it because it’s such an interesting cultural topic these days, or am I the only one who thinks so? What do you think?