I’ve been breathing through Warrior Two.
I can feel it in my pinkie toes and thighs; there’s a tiny trembling cramp at the base of my shoulder blade. Elegance has settled in my wrists, but my chin tends to wander - my neck is tight and a little awkward from pressing it back into position. Now, we arch back to Reverse Warrior, pulling taut the strings of muscle running from ribcage to hip. Warrior Two, again, then straightening and reaching, reaching, reaching out and down. Triangle pose. Today, it feels good.
Some days, it doesn’t. Some days I make excuses and pretend it’s not Yoga Tuesday. I go running instead or put it off until it’s too late to bother. Yoga feels unnecessary or tiresome. Sometimes, I think it’s boring. It’s just stretching, after all.
But stretching is good for me. It conditions the muscle fibers I use for everything else in life, from eating to running to shopping. The gentle strain of stretching brings grace, a flexibility and fluidity to everyday movements that decreases the risk of injury and increases my ability to react to stressful situations with less stressful responses. It creates space in places where space hasn’t been, space I can enjoy and fill, if I like. Space I can love leaving empty.
Yoga isn’t just about stretching. It’s about strength and balance, too. Patiently holding poses quietly strengthens muscles that make balance possible. Remaining still can be as beneficial to a healthy body as running fast. The race is won just as much in moments of mighty motionlessness as in leg-pumping, lung-tearing, sweaty-eyed sprints.
Life is often a string of one breathless sprint after another and I’m only learning now that my spirit needs to stretch as much as my limbs. Maybe more. Not an outer Upward Dog or Child’s Pose, but an inner steady arching of my heart up to God.
Isaiah knew it. Looking through prophetic eyes to future days of famine and ruin, he found the secret to surviving such painful days: the patient holding of worship postures before the Lord:
“You will keep in perfect peace
Him whose mind is steadfast,
Because he trusts in You.”
“This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says:
‘In repentance and rest is your salvation,
In quietness and trust is your strength.’”
Repentance and rest. Quietness and trust. A steadfast mind. Yoga of the soul.
Stretching is not easy. When I am out of practice, too busy for intentional movement of any kind, my attempts to lengthen tight muscles meet resistance. It hurts. I can’t follow through the way I wish I could. My heart is the same. Repentance is the lengthening of my soul. If I don’t find time for it on a regular basis, it feels awkward and tight when I come back. It hurts. My desire to change meets resistance and I’m afraid that follow through won’t be what I wish it was - I’ve already failed so many times.
But, the gentle strain of repentance, the opening up of myself before God, is the only way I know to find grace. Grace that brings flexibility and fluidity to my everyday movements. Grace that decreases the risk of injury – my injury to others, my perception of their injuries to me. It creates space for forgiveness and restoration, space that hasn’t been. Space that needs to be. It’s in that space I find rest. In that rest I can finally understand the depth of my salvation.
Trust is the strength posture that brings balance. I find it through a steadfast mind, focused on the words spoken to me through God’s Word. They tell me who God is. What He said. How He behaves. How He expects me to behave. Who I am. I cannot trust my own inclinations or ideas about such things – they knock me off balance every time. It is the mighty quiet stillness of relentless belief in the character of God - trust - despite whatever winds may blow that is the source of my strength. No storm can knock me down, no tempest throw me off course. He will hold me in perfect peace.
Family and friends all around have been recently sprinkled with the magic of tiny fingers and toes, little noses and soft spots under super-fine baby hair. The stork, it seems, has been working overtime. I held a delivery today, a brand new person clothed in flawless skin and sweetly scented potential. He’s been breathing our air for only one day – so many more still spread out before him. He spent his time in my arms sleeping and squirming, yawning and stretching. Stretching is instinctive to him – he hasn’t forgotten to be intentional about it. When I had believed in God only a day or two, with so many others spread out before me, stretching was instinctive to me, too. Repentance and trust, prayer and Bible reading were as natural as breathing.
But I am grown now. Years can have a stiffening effect on body and soul and sometimes I forget to bend. Life feels like one sprint after another and I am often tempted to believe that the race is won by simply running. Perhaps if I run from one need to the next, I’ll have a fighting chance of fixing a broken world.
Running in my own strength, however, may get me from place to place, but not without awkwardness or pain, injuries that prevent me from being effective when I get where I’m going. God made me for balance. I can run, but not without rest; I can speak, but not without pauses for silence, serve but not without grace born of repentance. Through it all, I’ve got to breathe, inhaling His steadfast strength into every space He opens, releasing stress and injury with every exhalation. He bends my soul ‘til it’s supple, and my faith is once again brimming with sweetly scented potential. When I am limber enough to fall on my knees in worship, truly taking a child’s pose, He lifts me up. Then, I’m a warrior, too.