A Yoga Conversion Experience

By Heather Milar

Tuesday, April 3

I’ve always hated yoga. I tried it a bunch of times over the years: My track and cross-country coaches in school introduced me to a lot of yoga poses as stretches. Once I was out of school, I’d try a yoga class about once a decade.

But I never got it.

I found my mind wandering. I got bored. I figured that my mind was just too restless, that yoga would go into my box of “mindful practices at which I fail,” along with tai-chi, centering prayer and Buddhist meditation.

Then last summer, we had good friends from New York City visiting. They’d heard about yoga at Grace Cathedral and wanted to try it. These are some of our dearest friends, and I agreed, even though, in my mind, I was grumbling, “I hate yoga.”

We got to the cathedral just before class started and barely were able to find a spot to unroll the mats we were able to borrow for a modest donation. A few people graciously moved so that we could squeeze into three spots on the floor near the choir stalls, behind the altar. I’m a member of the Sunday congregation, so I was amused by this different experience of the space.

I didn’t hold out much hope for the yoga, though.

The class began with cycles of “downward dog” and “cobra” poses. Before I knew it, more than a half an hour had passed. The gorgeous sacred space, the cathedral, the ethereal live music and the company of more than 500 other people seemed to hold me, keeping my attention focused.

Holding “Warrior 2,” a sideways lunge with arms stretched to front and back, I stared down the nave at the rose window that depicts the Canticle of the Sun, a poem by St. Francis of Assisi. Daylight was fading, and the primary colors and geometric patterns of the window pulled me in. Somehow, attending this cathedral on Sundays for years, I’d never looked at the rose window this way. I guess I’d never been really present enough to appreciate it fully.

Then, just before seven, we all laid flat on our mats and closed our eyes, meditating silently and waiting for the cathedral bells to chime the hour. When the tolls began, I could feel the vibrations ripple through the floor under my body. I felt one with the familiar building in that moment.

As class ended about half an hour later, we sat cross-legged and closed our eyes again as the musicians led us to chant “Ohm” seven times. I felt one with all the other practitioners.

After that first class, I became a bit of a yoga evangelist. I told friends in the Sunday congregation that I thought it would be cool, just once, to chant “Ohm” during a regular service. (Of course, I have no idea how complicated that might be, both theologically and liturgically!) As enthusiastic as I’d once been skeptical of yoga, I gushed about the live music during yoga class, the calm teaching of the yoga team, the friendliness of the volunteers and other practitioners.

“If you try it, you’ll totally get why it’s become what may be the largest yoga class in the country,” I’d insist to people at coffee hour.

I became a yoga regular, and attended almost every Tuesday until the end of last year. Then my teenager took on a commitment that meant I have to drive her to Marin every Tuesday evening. She’s on a waiting list to change days.

Then I’ll go back to Yoga on the Labyrinth. I can’t wait.

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