Winter in Ontario and I couldn’t touch my toes. I was plopped on the kitchen floor, legs spread in a ‘V’ and hands stretched towards my feet. My spine was stiff. My muscles ached. I stared at my ankles and thought, ‘This cannot go on.’
It wasn’t that I was out of shape. Rather, it was another Canadian January and the snow and cold had kept me indoors. With the exception of skating, I hadn’t been active and my body was beginning to slow. My limbs were tight. That morning, when I tried to stretch and could not, I knew I needed help. I needed yoga.
Yoga is an ancient Indian exercise that incorporates controlled stretching postures and deep breathing to tone the body and soothe the soul. At first, it can look a little flaky; arms twist, legs cross, and backs bend in what should be a workout but looks like a pretzel. After thirty minutes though, when thighs tremble and armpits sweat, it becomes clear that yoga is indeed exercise and exercise that’s effective. After my first week of daily, hour-long practices, I was tired. I slept well and woke up refreshed.
Which is perhaps yoga’s greatest benefit. It is calming. While the body strengthens and lengthens, the spirit grows quiet. It learns to root itself to the earth and to stretch out through the fingers. I found that once I learned to breathe properly (deeply, through the nose), I could transform my exercise from a series of postures to a form of meditation. I found I could think while lunging. I could pray while arching my spine.
And I prayed. As with all exercise, yoga is worship. Years ago, when I took up jogging, I realized the importance of taking care of the body God gave me. I discovered value in my body and gave thanks every time I fed it well and moved it properly. I wasn’t vain, but awed with respect. God, after all, created my body. I pay Him tribute by keeping myself healthy.
Twist and grow
Yoga develops this belief. It forces me to feel each shift of balance and contraction of muscle. It is slow, focused movement that aims to make participants aware of every moment, every breath. It demands that—somewhere between a deep knee bend and headstand—we pay attention to ourselves, others, and the world.
And it’s available to everyone. Yoga doesn’t require any special equipment beyond your own body and a floor. Normally, I practice in loose clothing, with bare feet, on a cheap piece of rug underlay. I follow a yoga program aired each morning on television and borrow videos (click here for an example) from the library. It’s nice; no expensive gear, no one to impress, no reason not to try. So every morning, I lift my arms, straighten my spine, and keep my mind focused. I bend and touch my toes. I honor my body and give thanks to God.