Rachel Kain is a writer, weightlifter, yogini, runner, singer, poet, and former Jeopardy! contestant. She resides in Livonia, Michigan with her loving husband and sons, and often teaches yoga with Soul Stretch Christian Yoga.
I found yoga nearly 20 years ago. My dad was constantly nursing a nagging back injury and asked if I would go to a yoga class with him to see if it would help. He lasted only a few sessions, but I was taken with the practice right away and soon found myself attending back-to-back classes twice a week. In 2001, I took my first round of teacher training and was transformed by the experience. I repeated the course in 2002 and finished just after I found out I was pregnant. From that point until 2010, I continued to practice on and off, but mostly related to the physical practice as a means to end, assisting in making meditation easier and my triceps bigger—thanks, chaturanga dandasana!
In the summer of 2010, I found out about Christ centered yoga classes at a church only a few miles from my own church. In 2010, I suffered the death of my youngest son, Colin, to congenital heart defects. He was only with us for 109 days, all of which were spent in the hospital. 100 of which were after open heart surgery. My heart, like his, was broken. And I was fully entrenched in mourning his death. But I hadn’t barely practiced during his pregnancy or during his time at Children’s Hospital. I needed something to do besides go to work or care for my living children or cry.
I had never approached my yoga practice from a Christian perspective before. Like I said, it was a physical practice only, and a means to an end. Part of the reason for this was due to some feedback from my meditation journaling during my teacher training. While I learned that hatha yoga could help me focus inward—thanks, hip openers!—I was discouraged from letting the practice have any spiritual importance. I had written in a journal about my experience meditating on Sept. 11, 2001, confessing to melting into tears followed by prayer. The comment written in my journal said something to the effect of: “You should really only focus on the breath during meditation.” This was disheartening to me, especially in light of the events of the day, but I did the best I could to try to keep prayer out of it going forward. But I so often found myself leaning in to hear God’s voice, to feeling fully receptive to God’s presence when quietly paying attention to my breath. I tried to quiet the Spirit, but it was nearly impossible on some days.
Integrating yoga with my Christian faith allowed me to re-center my practice and to recognize asana as a form of moving meditation that still prepared the mind for stillness, but also empowered me to bring a variety of intentions to the mat that were forbidden before. There was also music, which had never been allowed in the practices at my studio. We were encouraged to not use music in our own practice or while we were teaching. It was seen as a distraction from the practice. But in that first class, I found that music was an enhancement to my practice. It helped me to find my way to God from the mat. Listening to the Word, to Christian devotions, to secular and sacred music that was prescient to the theme of the session all seemed like the most natural thing in the world to me. I realized that focusing on the breath allowed me to commune with the Holy Spirit. After all, the word Spirit comes from the Latin for breath—“spiritus.” This joining with Spirit, in the presence of other seekers of Christ and peace and balance, was one of the things that my grieving heart needed so badly. I swept away silent tears in more practices than not, but it was a place for me to repair body, mind, and soul in the presence of the Lord. I was blessed to have a teacher (Jessica Beaubien) who radiated the essence of that presence in her nurturing demeanor, loving instruction, and meaningful soundtracks. Suddenly, music had become a vital part of my practice, just like it’s absolutely necessary for worship.
One of the songs curated by my teacher introduced me to a new band while simultaneously telling my story and breaking my heart: Beautiful Things by Gungor. I had been broken down, burned by the loss of my son and was now finding my way out of the ashes — the dust, finding my way back to Christ and to God. This song was the very representation of my journey to God through Christ.
Ultimately in my faith-filled yoga journey, I learned that I would survive something I was convinced I could not when it was merely possibility, and not yet reality. I learned how much of these survival skills could be attributed no only to my relationship with Christ, but also to my years of yoga practice, like being able to continue to breathe even in the midst of stress that I thought I could not withstand. I learned how coming to this practice and allowing the presence of God to fill me on the mat was how the practice was always meant to be for me.
Now, I substitute for that same teacher and the lovely host of this blog. And it is a joy to me every time I am given the opportunity. And Beautiful Things is often on my playlist.