. . . no matter how many times we read these stories [of the Bible], they will essentially remain the same.
However, we will not.
Moreover, as the mystery of their multiple meanings dwells from one stage of life to another in our hearts, minds, and spirits, we encounter moments when suddenly, and perhaps unexpectedly, the stories are born and reborn anew within and between us.
~Caren Goldman & William Dols

A Surprising Place to Find God
– by Carolyn Bell


This is a guest post by my friend Carolyn Bell.  She is a member of First United Methodist Church in Wichita Falls, Texas where she taught preschool at the School for Little People for 25 years – and still teaches yoga to four year olds!  Currently, she teaches the High School Girls Sunday School Class and participates in several study groups.  A certified yoga teacher, Carolyn teaches at Anytime Fitness, also in Wichita Falls.  You can learn more about a transformation in her life and her personal yoga journey on her blog:  yogafriends.wordpress.com.  She is married to Dewayne, and they have two adult sons.

Growing up, I had a traditional Christian upbringing within several Methodist churches, but I was surprised to discover a deepening of my faith on my yoga mat. I started a yoga practice about 14 years ago at a time when my personal anxiety was at an all-time high level. For many reasons, I have had a struggle with an anxiety disorder over the years. No amount of prayer or positive thinking or medications had helped me to overcome my overstimulated nervous system. My body was in that “flight or fight” syndrome most of the time, and I felt very fragile.  While I struggled to remain present in my body at my first yoga experience, I soon discovered the reward at the end of class… meditation.  It was in this contemplative state that I opened myself to new possibilities and to new life. I prayed for God’s presence and for His guidance. After six years of practice I knew that God was opening a path for me to teach yoga, and I responded. Yoga has given me techniques to calm and integrate my body, mind, and breath.  The continued practice of meditation has given me the ability to open myself as a vessel for the creative flow of God. I know more than ever that, “In God I live and move and have my being.” (Acts 17: 28) God is the creative spirit of life. I see his work all around me. Meditation has allowed me to open myself in ways that I never imagined.  I discovered for myself that yoga integrates the movement of the body and mind with the breath which allows your spirit the freedom to soar.

A few years after beginning my yoga practice, I was faced with more challenges to my personal belief system. As my heart softened, I altered my view of what I thought I believed. I discovered a new vision for the Kingdom of God, one that I was already participating in here on earth. As I let go of the rigidity of my mind, I understood anew ways of understanding the stories in the Bible and the message that Jesus brought forward. By softening the hard edges of my mind, body, spirit connection I leaned more into progressive Christianity with authors like Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan, John Shelby Spong, Walter Wink, Brian D. McLaren, and Rob Bell. These authors make me think and re-evaluate my life purpose as a follower of Jesus. At times, I struggled with thoughts like, “Is it okay for me to think like this?” “What will others think about me if I don’t believe the standard message anymore?” and finally, “This is more exciting and amazing information than I ever thought possible!”  In years past I probably would have panicked and run away from anything that went against my traditional theology.  But because I had the tools that I needed to stand firm and open my heart to listen, and to use my mind to comprehend what I was presented, I gained new insight, new knowledge, new understanding.  I believe that my yoga practice has had an influence on how I accepted this new vision of Christ in my life.  There is something about yoga that requires you to step outside of your comfort zone… to be unafraid… to face your fears and let them flow out of your body with your breath.  Thomas Merton said, “When the heart is right, ‘for’ and ‘against’ are forgotten.”  Many yoga postures open your heart, freeing you from fear and encouraging you to stand firm, to find that balance between surrender and strength.  This balance of the body and mind with the breath allows you to flow in synchronicity within yourself, and it has an impact on how open your heart is toward others.  For me, the breath is the God given “pneuma” of life itself in God’s Holy Spirit.  You feel a connection with those near to you and to all of life.  In Matthew 22:37-39 Jesus himself tells us to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it:  Love your neighbor as yourself.” Yoga has introduced me to another culture, to another philosophy, to tools for living, and even to new music. This gained knowledge has helped me to gain new insight for my own culture and religious belief system.  I have fellowshipped with and grown closer to people that I never would have known otherwise.  I have dropped the rigid dividing walls of my mind.  Yoga has given me the tools that I needed to face my fears, to cleanse them with the breath of God’s spirit, to be still before my God, and to serve others in love.

I have heard the Christian naysayers who speak up against yoga saying that the two practices are incompatible. For me, yoga has enhanced my spiritual life especially through the meditation practice.  I have learned how to be still before my God and listen for His voice and direction in my life.  Yoga did originate in India 6000 years ago, and it does have a philosophy that is described in the Yoga Sutras by Patanjali.  It is a scientific system that enables one to build strength along with flexibility which encourages inner growth and discipline.  Yoga has taught me how to breathe correctly, how to balance effort with relaxation, how to be present in difficult circumstances, how to feel grounded with good posture, how to quiet my mind in order to think or not think, how to move my body with the breath, and how important it is to rest in order to be at ease in the world.  Yoga balances the energy in my body. If I did not feel this balance then I would not be able to interact fully with those around me; I would be on the couch with a blanket over my head!  Through my studies, I have discovered that there is a yoga ‘mudra’ or hand position which symbolizes Christ’s presence in your life, and your hands are repeatedly placed in a prayer position throughout the practice.  Yoga has helped me to free my tense body, heart, and mind to God, to others, and to my own inner wisdom.  From my perspective God has blessed me with this physical practice of yoga.

I have continued as a yoga teacher for the past 8 years and even share my passion with children by teaching yoga through story and movement.  There are wonderful yoga stories available for children that teach ways for them to deal with their emotions, to playfully imitate animals, and to learn to quiet their mind and bodies. My yoga practice has been an amazing and opening experience for me. Each class is a time of present moment awareness and of opening myself to God’s presence and to His creative flow. I believe that God is working within me to share this practice with others. Relationships have grown with those who practice with me as we have become more connected through our shared experience. I know that I can’t help but include my Christian faith as part of my yoga practice. It is a part of who I am; however, I have discovered that yoga encourages the same qualities of love, compassion, peace, patience, and humility that Jesus shared with us as the fruits of the Spirit. I encourage you to add a time of meditation to your daily life and experience the ever present Spirit of God for yourself.  Every breath we take connects us to God if we acknowledge Him. That breath flows through every organ and vessel of our bodies, cleansing our systems and filling us with new life.  Experience the connection for yourself, and open your heart to new possibilities.  Find your strength in stillness before God.

Namaste – Carolyn

3 Responses to “A Surprising Place to Find God
– by Carolyn Bell”

  1. By Carol Davis on Jul 29, 2012 | Reply

    Beautiful. Enjoyed reading this.

  2. By Joan Gray on Jul 29, 2012 | Reply

    Dear Carolyn, What a wonderful way to express the love for God, and for those you care about. You have a wonderful gift to express your feelings towards finding yourself and about loving others. Thank you, Great testimony. Love, Joan

  3. By Karin Lerew on Jul 30, 2012 | Reply

    Carolyn, thank you for blessing me with your testimony- and the reminder to breathe and be still. There is nothing like that quiet peace we experience when we allow the outside world to pass by…as we quietly listen. Now, I’m going to go take your reminder and put it to use:). God’s blessings to you, Karin

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