By Melinda Emily Thomas
I am delighted by the opportunity to spend time with you this January. On Sundays from 4-5 p.m. beginning on January 10, we will explore the balancing traditions of yoga and the Rule of St. Benedict over Zoom. The Rule was written in the early sixth century by St. Benedict of Nursia and was intended as a guide to bring structure and focus to monastic life. Rooted in the goal of living a loving, Christ-centered life, the Rule outlines everything from when and how to pray, what to wear and when to eat, and how to engage relationship in community.
Yoga tradition dates back more than five thousand years. The movement practices as we know them in the West today are a relatively new development in this ancient path, which is as complex and diverse as humanity itself in its points of view on life, culture, holiness, and practice. Compared to the Rule of Saint Benedict, which is a simple, short, singular text, yoga is immense. Encapsulating it in any one term, philosophy, religion, or ideology does a disservice to the tradition. Yet while the approach may be different from the Benedictine Way given their differing philosophical starting points, the goals of the two traditions run parallel: a life of integrity lived in communion with the Divine.
In my book, Sacred Balance: Aligning Body and Spirit Through Yoga and the Benedictine Way, I explore the many ways Benedictine spirituality and yoga can work with one another to promote a balanced approach to life. Here is a brief excerpt:
Even though it was written for monastics, the Rule has been a social and spiritual influence for more than 1,500 years. Attention to God’s presence in all things, the importance of right relationship, stability, listening, growth, hospitality, rhythms, silence, and sabbath: these themes transcend the walls of the monastery. Anyone can apply these underlying concepts to daily life. The temptation to say that it is easier to live them out within the confines of a cloister is to dismiss the shared challenges of being human. Yes, it may be less difficult for a monk or nun to pause and pray the psalms and liturgies seven times a day than it is for a layperson; but is it any easier to focus on the Divine in the moment?
Balanced living in spirit, mind, and body is a dynamic conversation between steadiness and motion, work and prayer, sound and silence, activity and rest. Study and application of the balancing way of Benedictine spirituality and yoga are useful markers on the path. Their wisdom has endured the test of time with its evolving cultural norms, politics, theology, technology, and medicine precisely because these traditions bring a steadying dialogue within an ever-changing world.
If you are new to Benedictine spirituality or yoga, or if any of the ideas and practices feel foreign, I encourage you to approach them with an open mind and the Benedictine principles of listening and growth. We don’t know what we don’t know. The path of balance invites us to be curious, exploratory, and receptive to God’s call in the here and now.
In our four-week journey we will explore the complementary principles of humility and hospitality, stability and conversion, daily and seasonal rhythms, and silence and sabbath. Each session will include time for gentle movement, meditation, and discussion. May our time together help us seek new ways or reaffirm old ones that help us live in balance.