Our yoga instructor, Mandy, liked to start each class with a short, written reflection. Yellow luminaries flickered in a crescent moon around her mat. She took off her cloth mask and walked around the room with a brown journal in hand, reading to us as we lay stretched out like snow angels. As she paced around the room, stepping around limp bodies, she gave us permission to take up as much space as we could and lead us into our first pose.
“Yin yoga is the practice of getting yourself into an uncomfortable position, and then staying there.”
I let my muscles sink deeper into the mat. She stepped closer to my head, but I kept my eyes closed and drew in a long breath as my belly filled like a balloon. Forming my mouth in an “o,” I breathed the warm air out again as it made dragon sounds traveling out the back of my throat.
“Getting yourself here is often the hardest part,” Mandy said in that slow, hypnotic voice characteristic of all yoga instructors. “The better we become at learning to breathe through discomfort—here, inside this room—the more resilient we are at navigating things outside our control. Each week, when we show up for class, we help ourselves manage day-to-day stress and the demands of the outside world.”
She closed her brown journal and lay it on the floor next to one of the yellow luminaries. Sitting down, cross-legged, she moved her blonde hair to one side and repeated the first line of her reflection: “Yin is the practice of getting yourself into an uncomfortable position, and then staying there.”
One of the perks of my job is a sports club membership, which includes access to a yoga studio. Early last year, I started attending Surrender, a Monday night class where we hold only six or so poses over the course of an hour. Unlike more movement-based styles, like Vinyasa, Yin lengthens connective tissue through holding each pose for as long as we can. The fascia grows warm and pliable as we lay or sit in silence.
“See if you can stay in it just two breaths longer.”
Mandy guided us through the pigeon pose, as we pressed our chest closer to our knee. Nerves that ran through the muscles in my hamstring zinged like electricity until I didn’t think I could stand it anymore.
“Just one more breath.”
My attendance at this class was sporadic at best, but when low back pain and stress hit again, I knew this hour each week was to be my spiritual discipline. But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Romans 8:25). Later in the year once guidelines were adjusted again, I began to come weekly and realized the principles of this class were exactly what every one of us needed coaching in. As Mandy said, it was all about persevering through discomfort by learning to breathe. Learning to trust that we’d make it through after just one… more… breath. If this doesn’t represent the year that was 2020, I don’t know what does.
While it’s true that there are certain parts about yoga philosophy that don’t align with my Christian faith, I don’t doubt for a moment that the Lord can use all things for good. Growing up, my best friend always said, “Chew the meat and spit the bones.” Friends, there’s a whole lot of meat in bodywork classes, and it is so very important to listen to our bodies and steward them well. Especially those of us who are sensory-built and absorb the world like sponges.
Learning the practice of perseverance—of breathing through discomfort—has changed my relationship to many things in life, including my writing. On the hardest day when we don’t think we can take any more of this, we breathe. We ask God for patience. We hold out a little longer. And then we do it again. When I can’t see far enough ahead to know where my stories are going, I take a deep breath and sit in the discomfort. Clarity will come. Seasons will change.
But for now, we wait.
“More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3–5).
Bailey Gillespie is a California girl at heart, living in Nashville Tennessee. She’s passionate about the intersection of creative writing, wellness, and spiritual formation and loves throwing dinner parties—complete with a great playlist. Her writing has appeared at She Reads Truth, The Rabbit Room, Worship Leader Magazine, and Voice of Courage. You can find her on Instagram @bailey_bluebird.