“Why don’t you become a nun?” Sr. Mary Margaret Ann asked me. I was in my late twenties, engaged and I hadn’t seen her in a decade.
She clearly still saw me as the other Mary-Margaret back at Saint Agnes who secretly LOVED religion class. Reading the bible, debating ethics, studying saints and learning prayers was fascinating but about as uncool as it gets. I always would find myself in the spirituality section of Borders Books, browsing different titles, some Christian ones, many not. My best friend would tolerate my summer reading books on different saints or later Buddhist ones.
While yoga is not a religion nor do I treat it as such, I can’t help but see how it provides meaning in a “soulful” way. The potential to bring peace when I’m grounded and listen, to provide perspective and ethical guidelines for how I operate outside of the studio space. It’s why I enjoy just how inclusive yoga practice can be. No matter what you believe in, it will teach you how to be at home in your body. You learn how it operates and listen rather than force it to do as you say.
For a long long time I would fall asleep saying prayers. I particularly liked how Sister taught me to pray the rosary. Saying the same words over and over again while trying to visualize a particular scene. Trying to embody a mental image while keeping you in the present moment through the tactile presence of a small bead.
It’s how I feel doing the japa meditation, saying mantra or even chanting. Even if I can’t visualize the exact meaning, the presence of the tones out loud redirect my attention to HERE. It’s why you will see me listening sometimes or even blasting to the whole class Dr. Jayashree’s chanting of the Yoga sutras. These spoken words through the genius construction of the Sanskrit language are said to affect our energy through their vibration. Dr. Jayashree would say that even just chanting the sutras reveals their message. I feel that way too about certain Catholic prayers or reading sacred texts from all religions or philosophies like Buddhism. The more exposure to the words, reading and reciting, the greater chance the truth is exposed or a new perspective is elicited.
Well clearly I did NOT become a nun. While I politely laughed off the prospect to Sister, she responded with, “I get to meditate all day!” She knew I had been teaching yoga. This revealed to me that she didn’t think what we did was all that different. The idea that prayer, bhakti/devotion, to a specific concentrated force or God or the entire universe was all the same. That is worthwhile to contemplate the divine and to hold attention toward peace.
I’m grateful for the perspective that we are all looking for something more and should cherish all the unique ways people choose to find it whether it’s through religion, philosophy or something else entirely. BUT of course the joke is on me now, going to church six days a week setting up in the early morning hours to feel at home, meditate and pray through a breath, body concentration practice.