Last year, I attended a yoga retreat for my birthday in which I took a yoga and meditation workshop at the Ananda Meditation Retreat center. On the train to Nevada City, I contemplated what my current spiritual practice looked like and what I wanted it to resemble upon completion of the workshop.
Growing up, I didn’t attend Sunday mass or confirm my faith at the nearby church. My parents weren’t practicing Catholics and didn’t impose their religion on me. While I read Bible stories that were floating around at home, I only read them because it was a book and I loved to read.
Easter, for my family, wasn’t a time for prayer, but a time for family. It was a time where I’d wear my best clothes, be taken to McDonald’s, and be photographed by my Dad. At some point when I was five, my mom and I would dye eggs together and I’d have my own basket. Chocolate was definitely in play and I always loved the candy.
In middle school, my family always observed Lent. No meat on Good Friday until Easter Sunday arrived. Lent, for me, was always a time to sacrifice something I overindulged in throughout the year. I didn’t use it as a time for fasting or repentance or contemplation because it was a ritual I followed blindly, with friends and my family. With each passing year, Lent had less of an effect on me and I stopped practicing completely when I moved to the Bay Area. I had no connection with it and as much as I researched it, I didn’t feel a need to participate any longer.
When I moved to the Bay Area, I had turned thirty and had attended my friend’s wedding that January of 2012. She had moved to New York City from Ohio and we had become fast friends. Unlike me, she was seeking to be a part of a faith-based community. Since I didn’t grow up practicing religion, I decided to join her in finding the community that best suited her needs and a way to open me up to what that community could offer me.
In the space of three to six months, we attended a few services at a Unitarian Church, a Quaker gathering, and finally, Sacred Center for Spiritual Living, which was a church focused mostly on spirituality. Each space held different energy and I was mostly there for her journey and ignoring my needs.
The Unitarian Church was Catholic-lite and reminded me of the random services I’d attended when a family member or a friend had passed away or a Christmas service when I visited cousins in Florida. Neither my friend nor myself connected at all with this environment. Felt too traditional and inflexible so we didn’t return.
The Quaker meeting had resembled an open forum in which there were no pews in the space. It wasn’t a traditional church because the seating has been arranged like an auditorium with blocks for folks to sit on. And it held a more meditative nature; folks were invited to share their thoughts and if not, attendees would sit in silence. I connected with the meditative nature at the time, however, I could not justify waking up so early on a Sunday. Just to sit in a room with people that chose to talk or not. We attended two meetings and decided this wasn’t for us.
At Sacred Center, she connected fiercely with the community and soon after, found her tribe, became a minister and relished in her faith and spirituality here. She asked and she received. I, on the other hand, was on the out. I wasn’t in a space to fully commit and join this community because I wasn’t used to it. And I didn’t know anyone else, other than her, that was so quick to latch onto a community based on their faith. I had had a bad experience in college when a group of Christians had tried to recruit and convert me without my consent. They had invited me to join their Bible study groups as a way to discuss the Word. When I heard one of them say, “One more study group until Rose can be confirmed!” I panicked and didn’t like this implication. Just because I was interested in learning about the Bible, didn’t mean I wanted to become a Christian. Once I suggested we don’t discuss the Bible any more, I never heard from them again. This negative experience tainted my openness to any organization slightly religious because they might try to convert me without asking me to. I didn’t appreciate the aggressive sales approach.
In California, I began practicing yoga and learning more about the discipline behind it. I learned that it’s part of a simple meditation including moving your body. I had no idea yoga was more than Bikram and Vinyasa Flow. Learning the origins opened up a side of me I’d never explored before. As a plus-sized woman of color, I always felt out of place at yoga studios because they were always skinny white women, tangling their bodies in ways I never thought I could. Once I discovered Yoga With Adriene, yoga appeared more accessible. I had the ability to use her online videos and create an at-home practice I didn’t know I could do. Then when I discovered Jessamyn Stanley, my worldview of yoga (and who can practice) absolutely changed in the best way. Yoga truly is for everyone and both Jessamyn and Adriene emulate that with their messages. Adriene’s tagline is “Find what feels good.” Jessamyn’s book, “Every Body Yoga: Let Go of Fear, Get on the Mat, Love Your Body,” discusses her journey with yoga and easy flows for a body of any shape. These two people occupying the yoga space in their own way showed me the path to my spirituality.
I got on the mat and felt at peace. My yoga retreat at Ananda reinforced that my spirituality will involve meditation and moving my body. I found my inner peace and I didn’t have to step inside a church to find it. I don’t judge anyone who chooses to find their faith in the most traditional sense. However, I only wished that more people would accept that yoga is a way of life and not just a fitness craze. Yoga is meditation. Yoga is exercise. Yoga means union in Sanskrit and it’s truly the union of body and soul. This Easter, I’m getting on the mat and I’m so happy to have arrived at my final destination of spirituality.