It had been a long time since I had gone to my mat. How ridiculous to have abandoned this practice, I scolded myself. After all, for nearly a decade, yoga was a major part of my life as part time instructor and full time student. Always learning, always seeking to know more, that was me.
I rolled out my seventeen year old mat and was at once embarrassed and sad. Those undeniable spots of wear and tear attested to the many long hours on it. The suppleness of the material, the areas dangerously thin, were reminders of its place in my world. Once.
In the same way, formal religion – in some kind of structure called "church" -- had once been a major part of my life. It really didn’t matter anymore that the faith of my childhood was shaped by Southern Baptists and the faith of adulthood was among Episcopals; whatever the denomination, it was church. The place one showed up on Sundays. The place where one worshiped and sang praises. The place where one taught Sunday School and served on the Vestry. The place one supported and found support. It was the one place in my life that had all the answers.
Until it didn’t.
So today, I’m in a church, looking around a room filled with some fifty other people, young and old, black, white, brown, men, women, all different shapes, and different sizes. They are positioning themselves on their mats, moving to simple sitting, in meditation. The scene could have been in any of a number of larger yoga studios with the exception of the Altar situated at the end of the room. It is a small narrow table, covered with a linen cloth with the cups of bread and wine upon it, waiting to be shared.
Down the middle of the room, tiny votive candles formed a long aisle between the mats, now three deep on each side. The candles battery powered wicks flickered in the softly lit room. A faint smell of incense momentarily emerged when the leader tapped the side of the brass singing prayer bowl. Three times, three rings announce the service, YogaMass, had begun.
There was something deeply humbling about watching the unfolding of the service from my sitting position and seeing the leaders, a male and female priest, talking to us from the same floor level.
The female priest starts and takes us through the beginning asana, helping us calm our breath and guiding us through gentle stretching before bringing us to standing and Sun salutations. The opening session was intense enough to be felt throughout all the muscles of the body, forgiving enough to be attempted by anyone at whatever level they were capable. Some from chairs, most from their mats, we all participated.
No judgements. No adjustments. No long instructions. Simple commands that could be followed by seasoned yogi and novice student, we moved our bodies. Music encouraged us, ancient instruments, a single drum perched between the legs of its player and a long sitar caressed loving by another, create haunting sounds of times long forgotten.
We stood for the reading of the Gospel, we sat for the sermon that was more a discussion and an invitation to ponder a message filled with human longing for belonging.
Together we read a brief affirmation but there was no recital of dogma, no announced allegiance to structured beliefs.
“This is my body.”
We listened to the words as the table was being prepared.
I was acutely aware of my own body. The stretches had challenged muscles seldom tested anymore. My hips felt opened, ribs lifted, core muscles were nicely tensed; those parts of my body that were never touched by my daily walks. Parts that first rebelled in their stiffness were now alert and ready for more.
The asana had opened other spaces in my being, spaces that rigidly held in emotions too intense to be allowed freedom. I knew this feeling, this old familiar feeling of the body inviting the heart to feel and be healed. That feeling always threatened to bring tears and today it made me ache with bittersweet memories. I knew this feeling well, it was one of being fully human yet knowing something sacred, something divine, also lived in my essence.
“This is my body.” The priest invites us to the table.
Together we rise to form a single line and walk down the candle lit aisle to the communion table. I am struck by the sight of bare feet, one pair behind the other, all lined up. Feet of every size and shape, big thick rough ones and tiny petite smooth ones, some with polished toenails others plain. Bare feet pad softly up the aisle to take communion. I’ve never approached the Altar in bare feet, never approached communion feeling so undressed or so vulnerable.
Once we return to our mats, the drummer leads us in a guided meditation. He asks us to imagine Jesus--in our hearts--also seated in simple sitting position. The young man’s voice takes us far beyond our bodies, far beyond this room and places us deep in the middle of the universe—one filled with love.
The service ended and with a deep reverence I rolled up my mat, smiling at its fragile places and frayed edge. The years away from my mat, and from the Church, fade into distant memory.
And my body and soul dared to be awakened again.
YogaMass bridges yogic principles and practices with Christian spirituality and worship as a path for bringing the whole self—body, mind, soul, and spirit—to the experience of spiritual awakening. YogaMass is offered monthly at Grace Episcopal Church, Houston Texas. For more information: http://www.yogamass.com
Recently published and now available on Amazon: YogaMass, Embodying Christ Consciousness, written by founder and co-creator of YogaMass, Rev. Gena Davis.