Before I started taking yoga classes a decade ago, I felt distant from God. I imagined God as an aloof deity who gazed down on us from on high, a source of fear and punishment rather than a font of nourishment and love. Even though I knew God was the divine source of our lives, I felt God”™s absence more than God”™s presence. Ever since the death of my mother thirty years ago, I have felt this way, as if God had withdrawn from the world to watch and judge us as we make our way stumbling along our invisible path from one day to the next.
Thanks to my yoga practice, though, I now experience a more intimate and joyful side of God. When I stand in Tree Pose on my mat, I sense God”™s nurturing presence beside me. When I raise my voice to chant Om with the other students at the beginning and end of class, I feel the vibrations in the back of my throat as if God”™s voice has flooded my spirit. In poses like Camel or Revolved Triangle, when I need to trust in something larger than myself to reach into the unknown, I sense God”™s support almost like an invisible hand holding me up, helping me keep my balance. It”™s this support, as well as my sense of God as an intimate presence””not just beside but also inside me””that I feel, thanks to my yoga practice, in every moment.
Practicing yoga helped me learn a new form of prayer. With each pose I learned how to express gratitude to God without words for granting me this body, this life. My yoga practice reminds me that God is the source of all energy. As I move from pose to pose, I can feel that energy flowing through my muscles and bones, carrying me from one pose to another, radiating outward in love and joy after my practice is over. I can feel the same energy flow through my lips and heart in everyday actions, too.
Practicing yoga has expanded my understanding of God in ways that I never expected. Instead of viewing God as a figure whose power is limited to the stories of an ancient book or restricted by the stereotypes and clichÃ©s that I was taught in my youth, I now appreciate God”™s presence as limitless, a source of abundant energy flowing through each of us, granting us limitless possibilities.
Now, in my weekly yoga class, when I step on my mat and follow my teacher”™s instructions for each pose, I feel something awaken in me as I listen more closely to the sound of my breath and the pulse of my heart. With each forward bend, I root my feet into the earth and rediscover gravity as it exerts its pull on my shoulders and arms. With each twist, I turn toward the unknown and open more space in my hips. With each movement, I become more mindful of the intricate design of my body””the blink of an eyelid, the caress of breath on my upper lip, the muscles, ligaments and bones supporting me in each pose””and can sense a divine presence in the world.
Without words, without prayers, I feel a deep sense of abundance, a deepening appreciation for each moment of life. Yoga teaches that God”™s presence can be felt anywhere. It doesn”™t matter if you”™re stretching on a yoga mat or sitting at your desk. Practice is intended to cultivate mindfulness. And mindfulness can awaken us to the presence of the divine in our lives.
Bruce Black, the author of Writing Yoga (Rodmell Press), lives in Sarasota, FL. He is a contributor to the websites, Yogamint, Yogi Times, and MindBodyGreen. You can read more of his work at his blog, Writing Yoga with Bruce Black (journalpractice.wordpress.com/).