How Yoga Changed My Life... It's Not What You Think.

I’ve always been an active person. My mom is a fitness instructor and my brothers and I basically grew up in the day care at our local gym. When I was three I began my first “sport” and started taking ballet classes. I couldn’t sit still long enough to pay attention and was constantly getting in trouble for not listening to the teacher. I hated ballet class. Which is hilarious in hindsight because I went on to dance professionally in New York after I graduated high school, where I grew to love and appreciate ballet.

After making the difficult decision to walk away from the professional dance world, I was searching for a new activity or form of exercise that would keep my body feeling flexible and strong, so, naturally, I tried yoga. And just like that ballet class I took as a child, I hated it. It was slow moving, boring and full of spiritual practices that made me feel uncomfortable. I probably took three or four classes before deciding that yoga just wasn’t for me.

Fast forward three years and I spent a summer working with a friend who had recently completed an 11 month Christian mission trip around the world. While on her mission trip, my friend and a few other girls on her team had started doing yoga to stay in shape while traveling. During the summer we worked together, I started joining her. We would spend about an hour each day doing yoga and just talking. We would listen to worship music, talk about our lives and our faith, and play around with crazy acro yoga postures. It completely changed my perspective on yoga and took it from a rigid, structured practice,to something that promoted creativity and freedom. This was the kind of exercise my body had been looking for, and, without even realizing it, I had stumbled upon the thing my soul needed as well.

I have always considered myself a Christian and have had a relationship with God for years, but I never really resonated with the spiritual disciplines that are preached in the church. I saw their value, and worked to incorporate them into my weekly routine, but I never felt the connection with God that I had been told would come if I just read my bible and prayed enough. I had always felt more connected with God when I was out in nature or doing something active, and it was the same with yoga. I started to notice that when I was stretching it was easier for me to pray and talk with God. The movement actually helped me to feel less distracted than I did when I tried to just sit still. After a few weeks of consistent practice, I could easily spend 30-45 minutes challenging my body with new stretches and postures, while simultaneously giving my mind a space to connect with God.

The practice of combing yoga with my Christian faith was revolutionary. It opened by eyes up to a whole new way of experiencing God, and it provided a space for me to rest in His presence without feeling the pressure to do anything while I was there. I could simply step onto my mat, ask God to be there with me, and then use the movements to calm my mind and allow me to worship. Incorporating a daily practice of yoga into my routine has helped me be more in tune with God’s presence in my life, which ultimately led to an unbelievable amount of fruit that has shown up in other ways. Knowing my place in God’s kingdom has brought me more peace, confidence and strength to live my life the way He calls me to. Before I started practicing yoga, I knew all of this in my head, but it had never found a way to make it fully into my heart. Now that it has, I can’t imagine the person I would be without that transformation. Yoga didn’t change my life, God did. He just used yoga as a way to do it.

I know that there is a massive controversy surrounding the idea of Christian yoga. Christians say it’s demonic and yogis say it’s stripping the practice of its roots. The truth is, if calling it yoga makes you uncomfortable, then I don’t care what you call it (movement, stretching, meditation, etc.). It works for me, and for many other people. Yoga has provided me with an outlet that helps keep my mind both focused and free. It gives me a space where I can show up exactly as I am and know that no one expects anything from me, except to just open my heart to God and allow His words to soothe my soul in whatever way it needs that day.

If you have been hesitant about practicing Christian yoga because of the controversy that surrounds the word yoga, then I have two suggestions for you. 1) Give yourself permission to approach it differently. Just grab your bible, start praying and then do some gentle stretches at the same time. 2) Pray about what you feel specifically threatened by or worried about when you consider the practice of yoga. Ask God to reveal to you the boundaries in which you feel safe taking elements of a yoga practice and combining them with your faith. For example, I choose to never use Sanskrit or chanting in any of my classes or personal flows. Whenever possible, I play worship music and read verses aloud while I practice. These are just two examples of techniques I use to help keep my focus on God and His voice.

I completely understand that Christian yoga isn’t for everyone, and I would never encourage anyone to do something that makes them feel uncomfortable or distant from God. However, if you have been searching for a new way to connect with the Lord that feels more authentic to who you are, then all I can tell you is how powerfully this practice has changed my life and offer you the opportunity to experience that as well.

If you would like to get started with a Christian yoga practice of your own, then the Unshaken Yoga 31 Day Program would be the best place to start. This is my most comprehensive guide on how to use yoga as a tool to connect with the Lord, and to live out the calling that He has placed on your life. This program includes 31 half hour yoga videos, and a month long devotional ebook (full of prayers, journaling questions and daily verses) that go hand in hand to help guide into the presence of the Lord each day. While it is structured to be a 31 day practice, once you own the program it is yours forever and can be completed at your own pace. I hope it will help you experience the same transformation that I have.

 

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Denika Spadafora