Once upon a time, in a land filled with lakes, I worked as a lifeguard at a Christian camp during my college summers. I loved spending all day in the sun, knew exactly when to apply sunscreen to avoid burning, and learned how to care for pools—testing pH levels and vacuuming dirt.
We worked long 14-hour days, minding kids of all ages and performing other, icky upkeep chores like cleaning the bathrooms. We had a saying for doing things we didn’t want to do: “Cleaning the toilets for Jesus!” “Filling water balloons for Jesus!” “Diving in murky water for Jesus!”
During my second summer, I was the head lifeguard, practicing servant leadership, which meant I often chose the worst chores for myself instead of making my minions do them. One day, we needed to find anchors at the bottom of the lake. We had lost the ropes tied to them, but we knew approximately were they were.
So I dove into murky water, stretching my hands into the silty bottom, searching for a steel loop embedded in concrete. I imagined leeches latching onto my fingers, stayed until my lungs nearly popped, and then flew back up to the surface. I shook my hands above the water, trying to clean them with air, inspecting them for leeches. No leeches. Then my partner said from the canoe, “I just saw a snapping turtle surface over there.”
Diving with snapping turtles for Jesus.
I had no boundaries. I pushed myself, carrying my 14-hour lifeguard days into the classroom, spending 14 hours a day preparing, grading, and teaching. I burned out within three years.
And then I found yoga.
Naturally, during my first class we practiced a seated forward fold—the pose where your legs are straight and you try to touch your toes. I couldn’t touch my toes, but I strained to do it. “Touch your toes for Jesus!”
My instructor told me to respect the limits of my hamstrings and let my hands rest on my legs at whatever point felt comfortable. At a point where my hamstrings were stretching, but my legs stayed on the mat and my back wasn’t hyper-extending.
Permission to stay within my range of movement felt like chocolate pudding inside my skeleton: delicious.
In that moment, yoga mesmerized me. I knew instinctively that if my physical body had limits like this, then so did my spiritual body. I knew yoga had something to teach my faith.
I know now that yogis respect the limitations of the body so as to not break the body. By respecting the limitations and “playing the edge,” as Erich Schiffmann says, the body grows stronger and increases its range of motion.
When you over-extend your edge, you tear the muscle, and then it has to reknit—usually tighter than when it began.
This knowledge is only practical if it becomes lived knowledge off the mat, too, where all of life is yoga. And so, I have grown much better at noticing and acknowledging the more intangible boundaries in my life.
I still don’t recognize them quickly.
School has now been in session for three and a half weeks. For three of those weeks, I have been miserable as I attempt to do WAY too many things. One of those things is teaching writing full-time, which I still do with lots (if not all) of my energy. Another one of those things is being an elder at my church. Another one is writing a book. And finally, there is this blog.
My desire is to work on my book.
So I am noticing places where I am over-reaching, over-extending. I am creating margin in my life so that I can write a book.
One of those places is this blog. Two posts a week is too much while teaching full-time. It was doable during the summer. One post generally takes 2-3 hours to write, which is 2-3 hours I could be working on the book per week.
Thus, I’ll be posting one written blog per week – usually on Thursdays. Perhaps on the other day, I’ll post a quote from my research instead of my own meandering musings.
What has yoga been teaching you about your spirituality?