Especially the muscles of spiritual discipline
I was in downward dog, trying to follow my yoga instructor’s lead, when my left hand slipped forward on my “sticky” (not sticky enough) mat and tweaked my shoulder.
Ouch. After class, I spoke with my yoga instructor about the injury and suggested my mat wasn’t sticky enough. She replied, essentially, that the problem wasn’t the mat, it was me!
Susan then got into the downward dog position on the wood floor and showed me the pose when she wasn’t fully stabilized. Her feet and hands began to slide across the floor. Then she stabilized her shoulders and her legs, fully engaging her muscles, and anchored herself to the floor.
“Your mat doesn’t have to be ‘sticky,'” she said as she demonstrated the two downward dogs. “You have to find stability no matter the surface. Identify where the slippage is occurring and engage opposing muscles. Remain mindful and engage your core.”
Perhaps because my achy shoulder stayed with me for days, Susan’s words lingered too.
What if we treated life — not just downward dog — as taking place on a yoga mat that’s lost its stickiness? As an unstable environment? What if we followed our instructor’s guidance, fully engaged our mind and core, and mustered our strength against opposing forces so nothing could move us?
Yes, in yoga, too.
The Bible warns of the day of evil and tells us we must prepare so we can stand firm when it does.
“Therefore put on the full armor of God,” the Apostle Paul tells us, “so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand” (Ephesians 6:13, NIV).
I want to resume yoga poses safely. More so, I want to stand firm in my faith no matter the opposition.
My recovery after my yoga class has been a bit of a rollercoaster ride with steep slopes and tight turns. The morning after I slipped, I awakened to a stiff and achy shoulder. I did a light swim, which eased the stiffness without overtaxing the area. The next day, I felt a little less stiff, and I did some light weight-lifting and hung. (Dr. Kirsch’s method for getting rid of shoulder pain.)
Oddly, on the third day, I awakened to pain in the front of my shoulder, indicative of a long bicep injury. (The long bicep tendon connects the bicep muscle to the bones in the shoulder.) I was unable to lift my arm forward, although I could lift it to the side. I rested my shoulder entirely and walked on the treadmill for exercise. That evening, my husband, a physical therapist, suggested I use our massage gun on the area.
The area was tender to the touch, so I only lightly applied the massage gun. The idea was that the action would increase blood flow to the area and speed healing. When I awakened the next morning, the tenderness was nearly gone. I was able to lift my arm, and I seemed to have full function of my arm. It has improved from there.
Why am I telling you this?
I have had issues with my shoulder in the past. Impingement and bursitis, my doctor diagnosed. The discomfort lasted for months and prevented me from swimming, my aerobic exercise of choice. When I started physical therapy for a rotator cuff injury, I did it for both shoulders.
Even after my shoulder healed, I continued doing those exercises to strengthen the four muscles that make up the rotator cuff. If I wanted to swim, I needed to counter any damage I might do by that repetitious movement.
Plus as I age those muscles will be more likely to weaken and allow injury — such as a tear that would require surgery. I want to avoid that. I probably did avoid a more long-lasting injury in yoga class because I had strengthened those muscles in my shoulder.
Rotator cuff exercises seem pointless. I can do them isometrically or with lightweight bands or weights. I don’t work up a sweat. I don’t breathe hard. My Fitbit hardly registers I’m doing anything at all. The exercises don’t feel challenging — and they don’t look challenging. But they are important to do because they strengthen the muscles, which then protect my bones and tendons.
Trust me. When I am in pain and trying to heal, I am motivated to do the therapy. But when I feel healthy and see no demonstrative reward for doing these exercises, I have to practice discipline to get them done.
Here’s the application
The same principles apply to our spiritual lives. When we’re hurting or in need, we find it easy — and necessary — to pray and read the Word. When all is well? It might not feel as crucial.
Those small disciplines we do — praying, reading the Bible, meditating on Scripture, meeting together, worshipping God — strengthen our spiritual muscles. Talking to God — hearing from Him through the Bible or others or His whispers to our quieted souls — reminds us of the firm foundation we have in Him.
When we find ourselves on a slippery surface, we have strong muscles we can engage to stabilize against opposing forces. We can follow our Instructor’s guidance, mindfully engaging our core understanding of who He is, and stand strong (or do downward dog) anywhere.
Even in yoga class. 😉
Here’s the catch
You have to act, not just think. I returned to yoga class a week after my injury. My shoulder felt normal. Only fear remained.
It didn’t help that my morning answer to “Father, what do you want to say to me today?” was the phrase, “Take heed lest you fall.” (I then looked it up in my concordance, as I didn’t want to wait for my computer to boot, and found the verse in 1 Corinthians 10:12.)
“So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” is the New International Version’s rendition of the verse.
Indeed. In less than an hour, I would do yoga and “standing” on my hands and feet in a downward dog I hoped wouldn’t slip on a non-sticky mat. Was God warning me not to do yoga? Or was He just telling me to be careful? (Or something else? I realize contextually, the meaning was more along the lines of “don’t think you’re too good to sin” rather than a yoga class.)
I went to yoga. Early.
“I’m glad you’re back,” Susan said. “How are you?”
“Timid,” I replied. “But I feel mostly normal.”
“Let’s warm up.”
We went to the wall, where Susan walked me through a series of warmup exercises that would use every muscle in my rotator cuff, and then we started class.
We always start on our feet, and this morning the entire class stayed on our feet longer than normal. When we did make our way to downward dog, the instructor started in a child’s pose, emphasized stabilizing our shoulders and hands, and then moved us incrementally into downward dog.
Which I did — completely stable, thanks to Susan’s cues, which she gave, clearly, to direct me and give me confidence throughout the class. I not only didn’t slip, I also was much more aware of engaging my muscles and my core in every pose we did.
“You did that for me,” I said to her after class.
“I did,” she admitted.
That, my friends, is love. And that is what God offers us. He doesn’t just recommend that we follow our Instructor’s guidance, mindfully engaging our core, and stand strong. He gives us the cues to follow and enables us to do what He calls us to do.