The roots of my faith were planted in Catholicism. Being from a large Catholic family, my mother dressed my brother and I for mass each Sunday. We would sit and have breakfast together afterwards, and then walk home. I remember those peaceful walks very vividly, and I cherish those memories. I was raised to pray for my loved ones before bed each night. My mom would tell me to speak their name. I’d say aloud, “God bless daddy. God bless mommy…” she would always encourage me to think of more people that I’d like to offer blessings to- teachers, friends, even workers we encountered daily. As a child, I believed in the patriarchal figure of Jesus Christ and was taught to seek comfort in his image, as well as, seek his guidance through my prayers. It was a very positive and beautiful foundation of faith- belief in the divine, and belief in something outside of myself where there is divine order and protection. The feeling of safety is everything to a child and through imagination, the idea that there is a powerful force keeping their loved ones protected is truly comforting. This upbringing was rooted in goodness and I was taught to practice my faith.
As I grew older, life happened: broken hearts, death of loved ones, a traumatic injury, crippling anxiety disorder, and a terrifying pregnancy with my youngest child. I stopped worshipping and practicing my faith. It wasn’t intentional. I just no longer felt that strong faith that I once held so strongly to.
We all have pivotal moments in life where even the simplest events, somehow, will forever be connected in our minds as profound. One morning, I received a phone call from the head neonatologist at the Newborn Intensive Care Unit where my daughter was being cared for. After being born two months premature, she stayed in the hospital for 5 weeks. I was told to come right away. The last thing that the doctor told me was, “Bring your husband. Don’t come alone.” As I waited for my husband to turn back from work, I felt the kind of hopelessness where my whole body felt weak, as if I was separating from it. I could not feel anything in material realm. I needed my faith more than ever. I scooped my then two year old son from his crib, and drove to the nearest church. I sat for mass. I cried the whole time, mentally willing the priest to say something relevant, inspiring… something to help me feel at peace, something to help me feel divine perfection in the spiritual realm. He read scripture. We stood up. We sat down. We recited prayers. It was very rote. Even his voice was monotone. I left feeling… betrayed. Empty. I felt betrayed by the priest. I remember thinking that I wanted to plead with him, “You have an entire congregation of people standing before you that want to be inspired. Say something! Speak to them… REALLY speak to them! Be passionate about your life’s work, and make them want to come back!” I felt betrayed by the feelings of safety that I looked to as a child.
Looking back, it wasn’t directed at anything that concrete. It was this intangible fear that I could not push past. Eternally grateful for my happy ending and for the gift of my beautiful daughter- I began to seek a new path to practice my faith, because I still did have faith. Maybe a divine deity was listening to my most heartfelt prayers on that day, and maybe church was just not the place where I found inspiration. I needed something more tangible. Stumbling upon yoga through a Groupon for a local studio, I began to practice. The self-determination, and feeling of connection to my own heart, as well as, the heart center of others was very profound. It was as if I was given no other option but to be happier, more energetic, and more compassionate. The longing in my soul to practice, the prayer in my heart awakened again with the same liveliness as when I was a child.
While it’s impossible to prove the existence of something beyond material existence- I feel the benefit of a powerful inner peace as I practice. I push my own limits physically and emotionally, and breathe through my discomfort. Life throws us out of our comfort zone over and over again. Many feel comforted and draw strength from religion, worship or prayer.
We seek the anchor of faith to stabilize our fearful minds. Having strong faith is shown to produce oxytocin, as does physical activity, like running or yoga. My faith has evolved and transformed greatly from what it once was, and I’ve embraced other possibilities and theologies that feel right to me – it is also very complex and deeply personal. A simpler look through a clearer lens is that my yoga practice, not only benefits my faith, but I believe with my whole heart that yoga was brought to my path for a reason.
Our yoga practice is ever evolving, ongoing, and heart expanding. Moving meditation has brought me closer to peacefulness in difficult moments. Happiness and ease are always available to us. Often the mind is ridged and fearful. We store this in our bodies and muscles. Yoga helps us to release this. Just a few moments into our practice and we may think, “Was I stressed about something today?” Yoga brings us back to center and into presence. It provides a true gift of putting us in a state of mind where we want to see beauty in the world and in the beings that surround us.
That is religion. As we end each class we, we repeat the salutation, “Namaste”, with hands in prayer, like in church. It means: I honor the place within you of love, of light, of truth, of peace; I honor the place within you, where, when you are in that place in you, and I am in that place in me, there is only one of us.