The Body and the Soul: Yoga as a Practice of Integration (Part III)

The following is a paper I presented upon completion of spiritual direction training. Due to length it will be divided into several posts. You can find part I here, and part II here

The second level of engagement takes us beyond yoga as primarily a method or technique leading into prayer and silence, and into the place where the movements of the practice become prayer themselves. This is yoga as body prayer. This might be a harder conceptual leap for some, but if the body is an equal part of the soul, then there should be no reason to reject that we can pray and experience God simply with our bodies, just as we can with thoughts or emotions. In fact, such a view would be right in line with the idea of incarnation, with offering our bodies as a living sacrifice (Rom 12:1), and with the sacrament of communion—a physical act of eating and drinking that also points to the enfleshment of God through the body and blood of Christ. “The spiritualization that the Bible proposes does not eliminate the external expression of worship but rather grounds it in human nature, which is both ‘spiritual’ and ‘bodily.’”38 Can the body itself be a sufficient expression of the soul? Can we reach that place in our prayer?

Just as many have found the importance of silence in prayer, the use of our bodies as a means of expression can also be a significant growth in prayer. There are times when our body can express what our minds and hearts cannot find the words or feelings for, and that can be helpful to many. Anxious energy, nerves, agitation, etc. can make it difficult to sit in prayer, especially when no words seem sufficient. It is in these times that one can experience the “yoga postures as a kind of body language for prayer.”39 Many may find that engaging in this way is a very freeing experience. “When we use our bodies with spiritual intent, both our bodies and the occasion become sacred. Sometimes these bodily actions accompany spoken prayers; sometimes they are prayers in and of themselves.”40 The body, as an equal part of the soul, has just as much value in expression as prayers coming from the mind or heart. “While yoga prepares one for meditation, it is in itself mediation-in-motion.”41

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The Body and the Soul: Yoga as a Practice of Integration (Part II)

The following is a paper I presented upon completion of spiritual direction training. Due to length it will be divided into several posts. You can read part I here

It is not surprising, perhaps, that the best physical practice of integrating the body with the soul does not come from within the Western Christian tradition, given the long history of Platonic dualism throughout the church. Yoga is certainly the richest tradition in this area, and a thoroughly explored “applied philosophy,” not just acknowledging the conceptual truth of the body’s place in the soul, but also a tradition that seeks to “discover a resource of practical knowledge that will provide integration of body, mind, and spirit for fulfilling the purpose of life.”12 As well, despite what posh American yoga studios may try to convey, it may be the most approachable practice, physically speaking. There are forms of yoga for people of any age and physical ability. However, many Christians have shied away from yoga despite its growing popularity around the world, and despite the rich spiritual/bodily wisdom it offers.

We cannot discuss integrating yoga into a spiritual life without addressing the fear and denouncement by some Christians against this “New Age” and Eastern practice. Much of the antagonism comes with little knowledge or actual study of yoga, as is often the case with fear-based denouncements. The foreign nature of the practice and its connections with other religions are enough to scare many away. We’ll address a few of those issues before moving the focus to the many positive benefits that yoga can offer.

Yoga is an ancient physical and spiritual tradition historically employed by Hindus, though its origins predate Hinduism. ‘‘Yoga was not ‘made in India,’ it was preserved in India’ … Contrary to popular belief, the practices are not inseparably tied to the concepts peculiar to Hindu theology.”13 In fact, the nature of yoga is better understood as a science or wisdom heritage, rather than a religion, as Swami Rama affirms.14

Yoga, then, is not an Eastern import. It is not a religion, nor an ethnic custom. That its traditional ground for thousands of years has been the Himalayan mountain region was a geographical advantage to its founders and not a boundary to its universality. Yoga remains free of ethnic, religious, political, or social influence. Christianity shares an Eastern origin with yoga and likewise transcends both geographical and cultural boundaries that initially supported it.”15

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Anthony de Mello

The most painful act the human being can perform, the act that he dreads the most is the act of seeing. It is in that act of seeing that love is born, or rather more accurately, that act of seeing is Love.

Once you  begin to see, your sensitivity will drive you to awareness, not just of the things that you choose to see but of everything else as well. Your poor ego will try desperately to blunt your sensitivity because its defenses are being stripped away an it is left with no protection and nothing to cling to. If you ever allow yourself to see, it will be the death of you. And that is why love is so terrifying, for to love is to see and to see is to die. But it is also the most delightful exhilarating experience in the whole world. For in the death of the ego is freedom, peace, serenity, joy.

The Body and the Soul: Yoga as a Practice of Integration (Part I)

The following is a paper I presented upon completion of spiritual direction training. Due to length it will be divided into several posts. 

While much of the West is moving away from religion, it is not becoming any less spiritual. Spirituality is alive and well, if not a bit scattered and incongruous, in the tradition of emerging post-modernism. At the word “spirituality,” the body is not generally the first thing that comes to mind. Often times the body is seen in direct opposition to, or at least separate from, the spirit and therefore the spiritual life. The division between the body and the spirit, or more traditionally the soul, is one that extends far back into the history and philosophy of the West, if not originating, at least widely spread by Plato. “Spiritual” became connected with the immaterial. This rift has created a division that has done a disservice both to the body and the soul.

Bede Griffiths, an English Benedictine who spent the second half of his life in India, went so far as to propose: “There may be another way, but integration of flesh and spirit is Christ’s way for us today.”1 We must begin again to see the body’s connection to the soul, especially within the very act of prayer, as the vital practice along the soul’s pathway to God—drawing specifically from yoga as a rich tradition of freeing the mind and heart to rest with God in uncluttered attunement, and a method of integrating the body with all parts of the soul in prayer.

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A Root in Each Act and Creature

The sun’s eyes are painting fields again.

Its lashes with expert strokes
Are sweeping across the land.

A great palette of light has embraced
This earth.

Hafiz, if just a little clay and water
Mixed in His bowl
Can yield such exquisite scents, sights,
Music–and whirling forms–

What unspeakable wonders must await with
The commencement of unfolding
Of the infinite number of petals
That are the

What excitement will renew your body
When we all begin to see
That His heart resides in

God has a root in each act and creature
That He draws His mysterious
Divine life from.

His eyes are painting fields again.

The Beloved with His own hands is tending,
Raising like a precious child,
Himself in

*translated by Daniel Ladinsky