Friday afternoon found me padding across the wooden floor of the Plex multi-purpose room on uncertain bare feet, unrolling a borrowed yoga mat in the back corner by the door. Maybe I unconsciously wanted an easy getaway in case I embarrassed myself. I certainly didn’t want to be anywhere near the mirrors that cover the entire wall of the opposite side of the room. For once in my life I was early, and I sat cross-legged in the middle of my mat and waited, watching the room fill up around me.
My beautiful roommate stood at the front of the room, pulling on her ponytail and chatting with a few girls in Love Your Body T-shirts. This yoga session was sponsored by the Women’s Center
as part of their Love Your Body Week campaign, and my roommate, a recently-certified and Plex-employed yoga instructor, was leading it.
She was nervous, and increasingly so as the room filled with more and more people. I was there for moral support, and as I sat in my t-shirt and running pants, trying to remember the last time I even stretched, I became more and more anxious as well. The girls around me looked like pros. They had the lululemon uniform. They had the mats (my pitiful maroon one had PLEX stamped across it). As they waited, they contorted themselves into positions that seemed laughably impossible.
The next hour passed much more smoothly than I had anticipated. Only a few times did I have to duck my head to hide a smirk as I lost my balance, or just felt remarkably incapable. When the blood rushed to my head in Downward-Facing Dog and I heard my roommate say, “We’ll stay here in this resting position for a few moments,” I bit back a laugh as I thought, this is resting? Dear God.
My roommate will openly say that yoga saved her life. It pulled her out of a crushingly difficult time. She says that contrary to what many believe, yoga isn’t a religion, or just exercise. It’s a way of life. As she says, “it is learning to let go of that which does not serve you.”
Nearing the end of the hour, as I rose and settled into Warrior Two, leaning forward and admiring how my feet finally seemed to line up properly on their own after several rounds of readjusting, I began to understand this principle. I will admit that I had never felt particularly drawn to Love Your Body week, as I tend to shy away from focusing on loving myself, just as I shied away from the mirrors in the multi-purpose room. I find my joy in focusing on others, in watching them grow and come to accept themselves and their own lot in life. But stumbling my way through the sequences, and listening to my roommate speak in her calming voice about becoming aware of my own movements, and focusing on uniting my body and breath, I was struck by how important it is to occasionally focus on myself.
Matthew Kelly, in his book Rediscovering Catholicism, says that we must nurture and grow all aspects of ourselves to become the holy men and women we are called to be. He establishes four major aspects of the human person – physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual. He explains: “When we eat well, exercise often, and sleep regularly, we feel more fully alive physically. When we love, when we give priority to the significant relationships of our lives, when we give of ourselves to help others in their journey, we feel more fully alive emotionally. When we study our vision of our self, God, and the world expands, and we feel more fully alive intellectually. When we take a few moments each day in the classroom of silence to come before God in prayer, openly and honestly, we experience life more fully spiritually.” These, he says, are all life-giving endeavors, so that by using this best version of ourselves in the service of Christ, His words will ring true: “I have come that you may have life and have it to the fullest” (John 10:10).
Yoga may not be your thing, and I have yet to decide if it is mine, but self-awareness looks good on everyone. If we nurture all parts of ourselves – the physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual – and we follow the yoga idea of letting go of that which does not serve us in all four of these areas, then we will become better servants of God.