To the quiet rhythm of women breathing at the same relaxed pace in a sun-filled room, Lori Smith opens her Bible to Psalm 143:8. "Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you," Smith reads in the New International Version translation. "Show me the way I should go for to you I entrust my life."
"Lord, we are loving you with all of who we are," Smith said, continuing the prayer as she checks the yoga poses of the seven women on their mats in the Carriage House of First Presbyterian Church in Huntsville. "Prayer," she reminds them, "can be in three forms: Speaking to God, listening for God and just being together."
The 90 minutes of yoga this Tuesday morning will end with some minutes of contemplative prayer. All of the yoga poses and breathing and the readings and prayers that Smith intersperses during the practice lead to those moments of quiet.
But, wait a minute. Yoga at church? Yoga - which was developed by Hindus, some say as postures of prayer to Hindu gods - for Christians as a way of prayer? Christians moving their bodies in prayer?
Smith understands the suspicion on the part of some Christians and the desire not to mix Christian teachings with those of other faiths. Every few years, a new debate on the topic breaks out in publications like Christianity Today. Smith's yoga license came through her training at New Day Yoga near Atlanta, where she learned traditional yoga poses along with a Christian viewpoint of how those poses can become integrated with prayer. Some Christians are comfortable using Hindu prayer chants during yoga. Smith herself, when she is taking workshops with conventional yoga teachers, transforms the suggested chant of "om," a Hindu prayer, into "Shalom," which is Hebrew for the peace that comes from completeness, the peace that ends all chaos.
"God is so big, he's to be worshiped in many ways," Smith said.
Twice a 'pariah'
For Smith, the connection between yoga - which she took up many years ago at the suggestion of a friend for health reasons - and her Christian faith came as a surprise. An industrial engineer by education who worked for years in the space industry in Huntsville, Smith had been feeling anxious. "Lord, why am I not feeling joy?" she kept praying. Then one day, as she raised her hands in a warrior pose, one knee forward, one foot stretched behind, she felt a kind of rush of joy coming into her heart that she knew was an answer to her prayer. God was waiting to pour joy onto her, but she had to open her heart for it. (MORE)