Yoga and the Graceful Leader

yoga-1146277_1920A funny thing happened at yoga class today. Jesus and yoga got all mixed up together like a chocolate and peanut butter milkshake, and I love it when that happens because some people think that can’t happen.

The studio was packed when I arrived, with probably 30 people sitting on their mats and chatting. I was a student in this class and elated at the idea of 90 minutes of pure self-absorption.

Sizing up my floor options, the teacher, who is in her 50’s and has been practicing for 30+ years, sidled up and said,

“There’s room at the front.”

“I know,” I said with a laugh. “I’m kind of a back row Baptist.”

“Lucky for you this isn’t a Baptist church, but I like the back sometimes too,” she said smiling and sidled off.

Did I imagine a little antipathy in that comment? Or am I expecting it because of who I am? I am always standing with my feet planted in different worlds, I think it’s my gift actually. I thought of the Christians who’ve been snarky to me about yoga over the years, and smiled to note the yogis still get a few punches in too.

And that’s the way of humans isn’t it? We hunker down with people like us, and lob grenades over the walls we build. No devoted Christian or yogi would ever admit they like homogeneous exclusivity, but from time to time, it sure looks that way.

Anyway, at the front of the room in a sea of white, mostly female faces, I took a spot under a watery blue and green painting with the word joy written on it in gold letters. I thought about the gold cross dangling from my neck and considered how the crucifix sometimes looks weird in a yoga studio, but it’s not like I take it off. Then I wondered what assumptions the teacher made about me when she saw it, or if she even noticed.

It is possible I think too much. That’s why I do yoga.

Twenty minutes into class and breath three of a hard pose, I heard the door of the studio open behind us and heard the teacher say hello.

Do you know what the first rule of yoga is?

You do not arrive 20 minutes late to yoga. Ever. It’s JUST. NOT. DONE. And yet, a small conversation ensued in the back of the room, as I was shaking my way through breath six.

Do you know what the second rule of yoga is?  FIVE is the number of breaths, not six, because…tradition.

Soon enough, the teacher pulled us out of the hard pose and let us rest. Then she began making space for the latecomer, which was tricky because there wasn’t any.

She began gently instructing people to move their mats over and forward and back, like parallel parking in a crowded city.

When we started up again, I saw the newcomer for the first time. She was black, which increased the number of black people in the room by 100%.

Several poses later my teacher asked if today was anybody’s very first attempt at yoga. Guess who raised her hand?


When it was all over, a number of people, including myself, asked the newcomer how she liked it. She was smiling and said she liked it a lot.

Now, imagine how different her experience would have been had my very wise and experienced yoga teacher chosen rules over relationship, smugly protecting yoga tradition and embarrassing someone who knows nothing about it.

I can promise you there were people in that studio, holding a hard pose and rolling their eyes at the breach in etiquette behind them. I know because if my teacher hadn’t offered grace, I wouldn’t have either. Had she offered sanctimony, I would have done the same.

And I can’t believe that about myself, but that’s why the world needs more graceful leaders.

My yoga teacher acted exactly like Jesus would have in the situation. Jesus didn’t punish people for things they don’t know, he just invited them in and taught them. In so doing, he showed his disciples, who weren’t always inclined toward grace, what graceful leadership looks like.

It’s ok guys, scoot your mats over, there’s enough room for everybody.

Jesus must roll his eyes a million times watching us crave and build exclusivity because we think separation makes us safe. It doesn’t, it makes us fearful. So when someone extends grace, it’s at once scandalous and awesome.

And Christlike.

I guess that’s why I don’t argue with people about yoga anymore. I guess that’s why I’ve quit describing myself as a follower of Jesus, and instead just say I’m a Child of God. The former says something about me and my ability, the latter says everything about God and his.

I don’t know if my yoga teacher follows Jesus or not, but she sure acts like it. She gave us a beautiful lesson in grace today, by just modeling what it looks like in action.

She ended the class by putting us in this pose.


Photo Credit: Kukhahnyoga’s Blog

It is exactly as hard as it looks and most of us did not look graceful doing it. But I plan to practice it now, to remind myself that grace in action takes much practice.

When done well though, it’s something to behold.


4 thoughts on “Yoga and the Graceful Leader

  1. What a beautiful, inspirational post! Your writing style is so inviting. I like the gentle humor and appreciate your sharing your insights. Erin M.

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