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Spirit Story

A Hindu practice, a Christian awakening

By Leslie Sinclair

I lay on my back while the acupuncturist placed fine needles all over my body to help him deduce the root of the problem. I arrived at his office seeking help for migraines, but I left with another problem on my hands. At 26, my digestive tract was a mess.

“If you don’t get your stress under control,” he said, “you’ll end up with an ulcer.”

His prescription was yoga. I signed up at a nearby recreation centre. I learned deep-breathing exercises and meditation. My stomach improved, as did my overall health. Even better, once I’d established a consistent practice, the frequency and severity of my migraines decreased dramatically.

Despite yoga’s roots in Hinduism, for a long time I didn’t embrace the discipline as anything more than a holistic treatment for my stress and headaches. I never suspected that yoga would help reconnect me with the Christian teachings of my childhood. But eventually, I noticed a subtle shift in my yoga practice. Kneeling on the floor, my forehead pressed into the mat, I realized I’d come to think of the resting position, child’s pose, as a prayer.

Islamic ritual prayer incorporates a position remarkably similar to child’s pose called sajdah. “Glory to my Lord, the most high,” Muslims recite as they kneel into it. “God is great,” they continue, rising.

Perhaps it is no coincidence that I felt naturally called to prayer when I found myself in this prostrate position. But while I accepted the pose as a quiet space to rest and reflect, I resisted getting any closer to God.

Over the years, I took many classes with many teachers before an instructor named Sarah captivated me. I even joked to my deeply religious boyfriend that her Sunday morning class was my “church.” I’m sure that’s not what he meant when he wondered when I’d turn to faith.

“Reach your arms up,” Sarah instructed one pivotal Sunday. “Look up. Make yourself a conduit between heaven and earth.”

Something turned on inside me in that moment, doing this familiar move. I stood in a lunge, my feet rooted deep into the floorboards, my hips squared, my arms stretching to the sky.

“Breathe here,” said Sarah, as we held the stance.

My mind cut loose from my body, travelling to the spot on the ceiling where my gaze rested, just beyond a halogen light.

“What am I looking up at?” I wondered. The sky, I answered myself, even though I was actually looking at sound-buffering tiles.

So what else is up there? What am I stretching my arms up to? The answer arrived quietly: God.

The room brightened. Sunbeams radiated into the studio and pooled in great patches on the floor.

I had become the conduit between heaven and earth that Sarah had been asking me to be for so long.

Yoga master Aadil Palkhivala writes, “God, as the name for the universal life force, is worshipped in different forms by every religion and faith. The name we use doesn’t matter — the dedication does.”

Ishvara pranidhana — surrender to God — is one of a series of yogic niyamas, or observances, and it had crept into my practice. It nudged me to consider what God meant to me, and that was the God I’d been introduced to in the United Church.

In yoga, we are constantly reminded to “let it be.” I wasn’t particularly interested in embarking on a journey into Christianity.

Nevertheless, since yoga had awakened my own dormant Christian belief system, the only way to “let it be” was to surrender to exploring it.

Long ago, my church gave me a Bible when I’d attended Sunday school for 10 years. I cracked it open and began.

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