working out what life and call and prayer and silence are all about

Posts tagged ‘Discovery Yoga’

Beyond setting an example

All my life, I’ve been told that Lutherans evangelize (share the Good News of Jesus) by setting a good example. Our lives are supposed to be so compelling that people will notice our peace and love and joy and simply flock to church to get some of that for themselves. In the 80’s, the ELCA launched a media campaign with photos of a variety of people in their work clothes with the tag line, “You may live next to a Lutheran and not even know it.” We were proud to be anonymous, perhaps as a reaction to the drama of TV evangelists at that time. But the plan continued. In 2002, as a newly ordained pastor, I ordered the latest evangelism DVD, planning to train my parishioners to share their faith more openly in the world. The video arrived, and as I previewed it, I discovered that the entire 15 minute show was void of talking. There was background music with images of Lutherans living their lives, anonymously doing good works, with no reference to how we talk to people about our experience of God’s love. Apparently, we doubled down on our silent evangelism plan.

Leading my first yoga class

Leading my first yoga class

As I began my training as a yoga instructor, I fell into the same trap. I was comfortable on my yoga mat. I could even feel ok about putting that mat in front of a group and going through my own yoga routine for my class to watch. I felt safe on my own mat, experiencing the power and grace of my practice. I was growing stronger and finding inner peace, but what about my students? When I finally looked up, I realized that several of them were floundering, unsure of what pose I was instructing, unclear about where to fold or stretch or twist. Clearly, I had some work to do.

Studying Haley's Trikonasana (triangle pose)

Studying Haley’s Trikonasana (triangle pose)

First, I worked on my language. I had the images of the poses in my mind and the feel of the poses in my body, but I didn’t have the words to convey to others. So I turned to my manual that listed all the steps needed for every pose. I read through the steps, not as a student, but as a teacher. How would I describe that move? Would I use that phrase or would I say it a little differently? As I worked through those decisions, I came up with my own version of the instructions. Then I wrote down my version. I recorded my version. I listened to my version. I began to internalize my own instructions, the description of how the poses work. But I still wasn’t fully ready to get off the mat.

Assisting Linda with Ardha Sarvangasana (half shoulder stand)

Assisting Linda with Ardha Sarvangasana (half shoulder stand)c

It took a lot of courage, a lot of prayer, a lot of deep breaths to take the next step. I had to leave the comfort of my own practice and my personal experience. I couldn’t stay loftily apart on my mat in front of my students. I had to be with them, among them, beside them. I had to learn how to give instructions and then help them follow. I learned which points on the body could lead to a more extended spine, a more comfortable bend, and a deeper twist. And then I had to reach out and touch the people I was trying to help (always asking permission first.)

Helping Linda achieve a deeper stretch in Matsyasana (fish pose)

Helping Linda achieve a deeper stretch in Matsyasana (fish pose)

And after I had finally developed a close relationship with my students (my fellow teachers-in-training), I got to practice even deeper assists. I learned where to place my hands on my student and how to position my legs to protect my back so that I could give this amazing assist for fish pose that feels like a massage on the lower back. I was helping people, really helping where they needed it.

30,000 Lutherans in Detroit!

30,000 Lutherans in Detroit!

Today I’m at the airport after spending the weekend with 30,000 Lutherans in Detroit at the Youth Gathering. For the past three days in a row, groups of youth and adults have blanketed the city, cleaning up parks and planting flowers and boarding up abandoned houses with murals painted at the activity center. And the best part is that they were doing all of this alongside the neighborhoods’ residents. Moms and sons, uncles and grandparents, daughters and friends all turned out to partner with these kids in Skittle-colored T-shirts who came to show God’s love. For some of these Lutherans, traveling to inner-city Detroit to help strangers is a stretch. And for most of them, finding the words to share why they would come so far to do so much is terrifying. My hope and prayer is that along the way, they were able to find their own language, their own version of the gospel story, and share it with confidence and authenticity. Because it’s when we get off our mats and out among our neighbors that we truly discover the power of God alive within us, empowering us to share the story of Christ’s transforming love with the world.

Cloudy with a chance of raga

When I visit Charleston, it feels like coming home. I didn’t grow up there, but I did grow into myself there. My first church was Redeemer Lutheran in West Ashley (that’s across the Ashley River from the peninsula of Charleston) and my first home was in Belle Hall Plantation, across the Cooper River in Mt. Pleasant. I arrived as a young woman, fresh out of seminary, with big ideas and big dreams about making a difference in people’s lives. I worked late hours organizing youth events and outreach ministries and developing relationships with the young adults who were moving to the area just like me. It was a moment in time when I felt that everything was possible and that nothing could happen that I couldn’t handle.

Brunch on the water with my dear friend Cheryl

In the middle of yoga teacher training last week, I was invited to spend the holiday weekend in Charleston with our assistant director, Lisa, and another student, Linda. I was looking forward to the escape, leaving behind the stress of planning my practice classes (yes, yoga teacher training can be stressful!) I couldn’t wait to share my Charleston with my new friend, Linda, who’d never been there before. I wanted to run the Cooper River Bridge again, remembering my favorite 10K road race. I wanted to show her the rivers that dominate the landscape, bringing life and energy to the city. And I wanted her to walk the streets and feel the sense of history and heritage that permeates every building and landmark.

St. Phillip's Episcopal

I wore myself out on our drive to downtown, pointing out the street where I used to live, the Coburg cow that changes color for the holidays, and the Krispy Kreme with the Hot Now sign that used to lure me in. With a storm approaching, we didn’t get the full downtown tour, but we hit the highlights and prepared for an evening concert performance by Lisa’s fiddle-playing daughter. After the amazing show (don’t miss them at Woolfe Street Playhouse!) we walked down King Street for some ice cream. Expecting to be wary as we walked down an empty street at night in this part of town, I was confronted by crowds of young professionals, scantily-clad and all clambering to get into the new hot spots downtown. What happened to my Charleston? I used to enjoy walking the streets at night, along the quiet waterfront, past the peaceful churches and their semi-spooky graveyards. Now I was thrust into some kind of Kardashian-inspired catwalk, where being seen at the right club would make history on your Instagram. This is NOT my Charleston, I told Linda.

Red, White, and Cash

As I drifted off to sleep that night, I wondered why I was so disturbed by the crowds on King. Why was I upset that new restaurants with glitter in the windows were attracting young professionals who had made Charleston their home. And it hit me: raga. It’s a Sanskrit term, one of the kleshas: things that distract us from seeing what is, that prevent us from experiencing what is true. Raga is holding on to the memory of a pleasurable experience, something that was enjoyable, and wanting to repeat that experience: becoming attached to it. In the midst of raga, we are miserable in the present because it doesn’t reflect our past. The memory of what was (past) clouds our view of what is (present.)

I realized that my memories of life in Charleston were holding me back from experiencing the delight of Charleston today. And I thought about all the other memories that hold me back. Memories of old relationships that cloud my perception of new relationship possibilities. Memories of the way my body used to work that hold me back from enjoying the way my body works now. Memories of accomplishments and achievements that set impossibly high, perfectionist standards that get in the way of trying new things and taking risks.

Yogic philosophy gave me a name for the feelings I was having that night, and reminded me that being in the present is the only way to pay attention to God’s presence within and around me. The more I’m looking over my shoulder at the past, and longing for whatever used to be, the less I’m able to see what’s right in front of me: the abundant graceful gifts of God. As I enter my last two weeks of yoga teacher training, I want to be fully in the present, taking on the challenge of being a beginner at this new thing, and embracing the blessings of the supportive community Discovery Yoga creates for their teachers. So it’s time to let go of the memories, file them away so they don’t take center stage, and allow the present to blossom in front of me, full of abundance and grace and the promise of new beginnings.

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