My Yoga and Faith Journey

BY Heather Zollman 
July 3, 2018

​People come to the mat for many reasons.  My yoga journey started because I was looking for back pain relief after gaining 80 pounds with my first pregnancy 16 years ago.  When I began researching yoga through books and videos, I had no idea that the physical asana (poses) practice of yoga was just the tip of the iceberg.  I continued to practice, because I finally found relief for my pain and noticed other physical benefits such as improved flexibility, weight loss and MUCH improved posture.  I love to teach (I have an elementary school background), and I thought…if yoga has done so much good for me, I would love to teach it to others in the hopes that they would benefit physically from it as well.  I started teaching classes after moving to a new community to help others, and to meet new people since I didn’t know anyone.  14 years later I am still teaching and practicing yoga.  My practice has evolved over the years.  I chose to go to yoga teacher training for 200 hours and then 500 hours.

I have learned that there are no coincidences, just synchronicities.  I have also learned that life is full of bumps and mountains of experiences that we go through, full of peaks and valleys, highs and lows that we cannot avoid.  This is our life journey.  The only thing we can control is our reaction to them.  I also believe you will be provided what you need if you are open to it.  The month before I began my yoga teacher training the first time, my father passed away unexpectedly.  This was the most shocking, heart wrenching, hardest thing that I had experienced in my life up to this point.  It is no coincidence that my yoga/self study began as I also began my grief journey.  I remember clearly my childhood pastor sitting with our family during funeral preparations.  He gave me a piece of advice that I returned to daily.  He said, “Heather, grief is a journey.  It’s a path you have to follow.  You can’t go around it, you have to go through it.  As hard as it is…feel it, don’t push it away. You have to feel it.”   This is also a lesson taught in yoga…I bring it up in my YIN (long held poses down on the mat in a practice of staying, even through the uncomfortable moments, breathing, focusing, and coming out the other side with strength and flexibility) yoga classes.

This was one of those life journey times where I learned so much about myself.  The combination of my faith in a God that has always been there for me, my center, combined with the practice of yoga and of course family and friends helped me to power through.  I felt every moment of grief, happiness, memories, anger, sadness, etc. that I had to feel along the way and still do.

During yoga training, we discussed if yoga was a religion.  I hadn’t even thought of it up until that point, or thought to put to put the two things together. This is a topic that many feel strongly about.  The bottom line is that yoga is NOT a religion.  It was NOT created 5,000 years ago to be a religion.  Hatha yoga poses (Ha-sun, tha-moon yoga poses are what most forms in the West can be classified as) were created to prepare the body for meditation (the practice of stilling the mind).  If you have ever sat in meditation for any length of time, you know that sitting is not easy!:)  The body has to be strong to sit for a period of time.  There is a misconception in some that yoga and Hinduism go together.  This is also not true.  I love how Aadil Palkhivala put it in the Yoga Journal article “When Religion and Yoga are Confused.”  In his words…

“Because yoga developed along with Hunduism in India, many people confuse the Hindu religion with yogic practices.  So let’s make this clear:  You do not have to be a Hindu to practice yoga-indeed yoga has almost nothing to do with Hinudism.  It does not demand practitioners to worship any Hindu deities or any other faith.  Yoga helps me to live my life more fully.  Religion serves humanity by helping people move toward a union with that which is vaster than the petty self.  Religion also unites human beings and helps them grow and feel fulfilled.  Thus, the essence of religion is the same essence of yoga.  Indeed, the essence of any great endeavor is the fulfillment and deep inner happiness of the seeker.”

One of my first assignments in yoga training was to read  The Four Agreements by

Don Miguel Ruiz.  It is an awesome, simple yet powerful little book. One of the many profound pieces I took away from this book was that God lives INSIDE of us.  There are many Bible verses which state that were created in the image of God and that the Holy Spirit dwells inside of us.  For instance in 1 Corinthinas 3:16 it states…

Do you know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?

I feel that this scares people ( I have actually been told this by people), because many believe that you have to look outside to find God.  So you see, each person, religion, faith has their own interpretation of what faith is to them.  This can translate into…my faith is right, therefore your beliefs must be wrong.  I believe their is no place for that.  There is truth…that is all.  Here it is…God is LOVE.  We each have God inside of us.  Therefore we are all connected.  We are put here to LOVE one another.  We, all of us, of every faith were created by God.  Therefore we are ALL connected.

Here’s the deal friends…yoga will meet you where you are.  If you come to the mat to get a work out or to stretch…do that.  If you come to the mat to still the body and the mind…do that.  If you come to pray, find inner peace, clear the mind of chatter, gain core strength, prevent injuries…whatever reason…do that!  The practice will meet you.

Yoga is a practice, a way of life.  It is a way to connect the body, mind and spirit…if that’s what you want from it.  For many, it stills the mind long enough for them to feel their connection to God in a stronger way, with no in between…just them and God.  What is wrong with that?  Why is there fear around that?  I don’t feel that there should be.  I knew nothing of the practice of meditation before yoga.  Meditation is simply stilling the mind.  And who doesn’t need that in todays world?  I do!  It’s a hard thing to do, much more difficult than some of the most difficult poses!  For me, I find my Spirit in  the stillness.  It allows me to get back to my center, my core…where God is.  Where love is.  Self love and love for others.  My husband does not practice the physical part of yoga, but I believe he is a yogi through and through.  We were raised very differently.  One difference…Bryan was raised in a Catholic setting and me…Missouri Synod Lutheran…to be specific:)  We have had so many wonderful conversations on the subject of our faiths.  He has said many times that he believes that for every person in the world…that’s how many different religions there are.  And I agree 100%.  We all interpret everything how we want to.  Religion, faith, politics, the school system, etc.  So find yours.  Your interpretation of everything.  Think for yourself.  Don’t let others think for you.  Take what you know, research what you want to know about and create your own thoughts.  Be curious!  Listen to your inner spirit.  Use the gifts and talents God gave you to make this world a better place and spread goodness.  Be a light! Love yourself, love others…BE LOVE.  It’s what God created us for.    Jesus, Buddha (who was a person not a made up god, Mother Theresa, Ghandi…they were all yogis…they spread love.  Simple as that.  Knowing that you were created with God inside of you, that we are all connected and we were made with and are LOVE…go spread your light into the world!!!  Don’t let anyone dim your light.  Be true to yourself.  We have much work to do in this world…now let’s get to it!

In Love, Yogamama:)