My Yoga Journey… about way more than yoga

Yogis often use the term ‘yoga journey’ for explaining the role yoga has played in their lives. For me, it’s more about the way God has used yoga as a catalyst for my faith and walking out my calling. So here goes. It’s story time, friends!

< This is me, telling you my story… >

I practiced yoga on and off in college. Along with pilates, zumba, and whatever else was in fad. Mostly, in that season of my life, I was a cheerleader. Not the pom-pom shaking ‘rah-rah’ cheering, but the ‘Bring It On’ competitive cheerleading, rich with gymnastics, tumbling, dance, and stunts. I did that from 7th grade through college. I loved the energy, the challenge, and it was fun. But whatdo you do with cheerleading as a graduate? I looked at ‘adult open’ teams, but couldn’t get into it. So I experimented with yoga because of the vast amount of Living Social and GroupOn coupons available. Hah. The first style of yoga I got into was Bikram. That’s the SUPER EXTREMELY HOT YOGA.

Bikram is a set of 26 poses practiced in a 103 degree room. It’s the same poses, delivered the same way, no matter where you take a Bikram class. It’s almost militant. It intrigued me because it was hard, I mean really hard, but it was not just physically challenging — it was mentally challenging. You’d get half way through the class and want to quit from the intensity, monotony, and heat exhaustion. But the instructor would challenge you to keep going. I remember one instructor said, “Your body wants to quit, but don’t let it. You are capable of far more than you think you are. Set your mind to it and you can do it.” Mind over matter, essentially.

That was the season of my life when I lived in South Florida (2009-2012) and when I was thinking of going on the World Race. I wasn’t sure that I could do it. The backpacking. The tent. The camping. Did I mention the tent?

I remember that line from the Bikram teacher resonating with me. I went to the beach after that evening’s yoga class and I talked with God, as I often did at the beach. With my feet in the sand and my eyes on the moon, God and I decided that night that I would go on the World Race. Thanks, Bikram dude, for letting God use you.

So then I went on the Race and my world was turned upside down in so many ways. But it was during Month 6 of the World Race that I first felt the Lord call me into ministry through yoga.

I was in Thailand and it was December of 2012. I was there serving at an anti-trafficking ministry and I met a girl named Lindsey who was teaching Christian Yoga as a form of rehabilitation for women coming out of the sex-for-sale industry. I saw how God was using the yoga class as a safe space for these women who had suffered so much abuse to encounter His presence, truth, and love. Lindsey would share scripture passages, play worship music , and pray over them. I loved it. I knew that I wanted to get trained in teaching yoga. I saw it as an incredible opportunity to reach people who may never be willing to step foot in a traditional church, by bringing ‘Church’ to them…in the vehicle of a yoga class.

When I moved to Gainesville in 2013, I made my way into a yoga class at Flip Your Dog Yoga. Lenny Kravitz was pllaying and we were doing all kinds of crazy inversions. I had found my home studio. I signed up for a monthly pass and started to get serious about my practice. I had to keep referring friends to afford my own yoga habit, (#missionaryproblems) but I was growing in my interest in the yoga world and I wondered if this could be ‘my thing for life,’ ya know? As you get older, it’s harder to stay committed to high-impact sports. I saw my Mom (who used to be a gym-goer and beach-runner) and my Dad (who’s a black belt in Karate) struggle to find a physical activity they could enjoy and stick with as life circumstances and their bodies changed. The only active older people were playing golf, tennis, swimming, or yoga. Yoga had already piqued my interest as something so much more than exercise, and because of my wiring to go deep, talk about things that matter, and connect with people and God — yoga was the obvious choice. Yoga here I come!

When Seth and I got married in 2014, he saw the passion in me to get yoga-teacher trained and agreed it was something I should pursue. In 2015 I enrolled in Yoga Teacher Training. At this point, I had been working full-time in building the women’s ministry at Adventures in Missions a for a little more than a year During my weekends at Yoga Teacher Training, I saw the spiritual parallels between what I was teaching in my Beauty for Ashes Retreats and what I was seeing take place at the yoga studio. People were coming to BOTH places seeking healing. People were seeking a place to breathe, to be still, be accepted, and loved. Without being able to articulate it, people were looking to connect with God and with themselves. They were looking for Jesus! I felt the Lord opening the door for me to minister through yoga.

< in our graduation ceremony, we tie a string around our wrist symbolizing something we are letting go of or taking a hold of. I was taking a hold of yoga as ministry >

To start getting my ‘teaching hours’ in, I started teaching my first Christian yoga classes at my work. The teacher training I was taking was a secular training, so I didn’t really know was I was doing with “Christian Yoga”, so I just prayed and asked God what He wanted to share in each class. I would read a scripture passage, pray, and we’d do yoga. Meditating on the truth of God. My students loved it and so did I  🙂   I even got to travel back to Thailand and host my own yoga class there — right in the heart of the red light district in Chiang Mai. It was awesome.

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 2016, I started teaching Faith Based Yoga classes every Wednesday evening at my local yoga studio. My yoga-boss trusted me enough to teach how I wanted to teach and I was grateful. I’d start the class with prayer and offer a scripture passage as the meditation we’d come back to throughout the class. Sometimes we focus on the peace of the Lord, sometimes on our gratitude to Him, sometimes on some other aspect of faith. And at the end of every class, I get to pray over each of my students individually and corporately. I always pray that they continue to see and experience God as they leave the studio. Some of my students are Christian, but many are not Believers. I get excited knowing the prayers I pray over them may be the only prayers they receive all week.

This year, we launched MissionaryYogi, officially. I started posting yoga videos online, started hosting Wholeness Journey yoga missions trips, Christian yoga teacher retreats, and this blog where I get to share my heart.

Together with my friend Jessica, I hosted my first Wholeness Journey yoga missions trip in March 2017 to Guatemala and it was fantastic! We saw God move in so many ways. Our next one is coming up in February 2018 to Thailand.

            

My first Christian yoga teacher retreat was in July 2017 to Asheville, NC. I got to host it with my friend Anna and it was awesome. We served together at an addiction recovery program and we spent time seeking God’s path for the future of our Christian yoga community. We agreed that we want to be women who set a standard for what we are teaching, how we share the Gospel in the yoga community, and how we explain our ministry to others.

I am stoked that God’s invited me to create this unique form of ministry with Him. My heart is to create opportunities for yogis to encounter the one true Living God, found through Jesus Christ. I believe the physical practice of yoga and the power of prayer and meditation in the Spirit is a transformative experience that can strengthen our faith. I believe we can worship God in mind, body, and Spirit. And, with His guidance, that’s exactly what I am doing through this ministry.

Thanks for following along on my ‘Yoga Journey’. It’s totally “my thing for life”  and this is just the beginning.

Do you have a ‘yoga journey story’?     I’d love to hear yours 🙂

Namaste, friends  <3

“It is in Him that we live and move and have our being.”     ~Acts 17:28

Trouble Maker

My full-time job is working for a Christian missions organization. My passion project is this: Missionary Yogi — bridging the gap between the Church community and the yoga community. It’s a lofty goal. It’s controversial. In just the last week, I found out that some close family members had serious issues with my commitment to “yoga as ministry” and were even considering withdrawing their financial support to the Christian ministry I work for because of it. Yikes.

I’ve always been somebody that pushes the envelope. A month ago I volunteered as a Trainer at World Race Training Camp. It was an intense experience. I felt like I was back on the World Race for 10 days. Which brought up all the good, bad, and ugly that that season was in my life.

One thing it brought up was this self-perception that “I’m a trouble maker.” That thought reaaaally bothered me. So much so, I found myself in tears explaining it to a Training Team Teammate in her car one morning. I know why it bothered me so much: it’s because for a lot of my life I found a part of my identity in being a good “bad-girl”. Growing up in Christian and then Catholic school, I didn’t run with the goody-goodies. I was always a part of the party-crowd. But I was in Honors classes and excelled in my academics, sports, and extra-curricular activities. On the World Race — a pretty radical Christian missions trip not for the faint of faith — I was one of the girls with a speckled past and relished in being able to answer questions about boys, marijuana, and getting drunk from my more innocent teammates.

When I got engaged to marry my husband, the son of the founder of said Christian missions organization, I felt the weight of my ‘trouble-maker’ identity issue. When talking through this delicate topic with a mentor, she commented     “…you don’t want to be the one to embarrass that family.” Of course, she didn’t mean to shame me, but for someone with issues (like I clearly had), it definitely left a mark. Who wants to shame their future family? This self-perception issue also left me in tears at the end of my wedding rehearsal dinner, because my crazy college besties decided to use their time on the microphone to make jokes about me always being late to social events — while Seth’s friends gave toasts about Seth’s character, loyalty, and all-around-awesomeness. There I was ’embarrassing myself’ to my new family. Yuck.

Of course, I worked through a lot of this with Seth in our pre-marital counseling, in tough talks with close friends, and long conversations on the couch of my last single-life apartment. Seth assured me that I was exactly who he wanted to marry, that he didn’t wish I had made different decisions (because they made me who I am), and he assured me that his life needed the color and flare I would bring. Haha.

So, why 4 years post-Race and 3 years into my marriage was I crying about it while serving on a Training Team?

Well, because there are always new levels of our identity to unpack and walk out. And as we step into new seasons, God allows us to learn a little more about who we are designed to be.

I sat with the Lord and asked about this whole ‘trouble maker’ thing. And you know what He said?

“Jesus was a trouble maker.”

Jesus came into the picture and stiiiiiirrred the pot. He pushed the envelope, broke the rules, and pissed people off. God assured me that He designed and wired me to innovate, to create, to question the status-quo. And so in order to do that, I need to be OK with causing a little trouble sometimes. In my immaturity, I used this natural wiring to satisfy my flesh and my ego. But now as I (attempt) to walk out maturity, this wiring allows God to use me in some envelope-pushing realms of His work. Like yoga as ministry.

When people ask goofy self-reflection questions like, “If you were a color, what color would you be?”

My answer is Tiedye.”

I feel like I am a vibrant mix of color and I want to stain everything I touch — not to be blemished, but to be brighter and a little more wild. I used to live out my tie-dye nature in smoking pot and rallying people to let loose and party. Now I live out my tie-dye nature in teaching yoga and rallying people to be authentic and passionate and join causes worth fighting for. Same, same, but different. Same, same, but BETTER.

That’s what Jesus does in a situation like sifting out your identity and purpose, He comes in, tweaks it, and to makes it better, richer, healthier, and more meaningful.

 

What part of YOUR identity do you wonder about sometimes?

Here’s a good indicator: when you get disproportionally offended or thrown into a mental-tailspin from a comment (Ex: “you’re a trouble maker” or “you’re a hot mess” or “what are you even doing?” or “FILL IN THE BLANK” statement), it could be because it’s poking at your identity issues. You know you have a wound when what should feel like a paper cut feels like a stab.

How has God redeemed or tweaked that part of your identity to use for His purposes?

Or how would you like Him to?

I’d love to hear from you!

And PS- there’s a Part 2 of this post coming next week 😉

A Conversation on Pain

I’ve been prompted to write about pain ever since I got home from the World Race in 2013. I remember sitting on the beach with my parents when “a blog hit me” and I scrambled to jot it down on the inside cover of a Kingdom Journeys book. I wrote a short article on the topic of pain. I never did publish it, and I never did find the book I wrote it in. (hah!)

But I remember what I wrote. I wrote about how we don’t talk about pain. And not broken arm / sprained ankle kinda pain, but deep down pain: emotional and spiritual pain. I wrote how I think we are conditioned to not talk about it.

I had to look back to my old World Race blog to see what prompted this. Immediately, I remembered. One of my final months on the Race was in Rwanda — a country that inspired me deeply, because they embrace, acknowledge, and talk about their deepest, darkest pain as a nation — and they do it openly.

After being home for just a few weeks, I was unsettled with the stark contrast of how we don’t talk about pain. It’s like we aren’t supposed to. We act like it’s so awkward and uncomfortable. We don’t know what to say or how to deal with our or other people’s pain. Oftentimes, we say something stupid that minimizes or dismisses the pain… ’cause we’d rather they just not bring it up in the first place. Right?  WRONG. I can’t stand that.

 

In 2015, I remember traveling to a close friend’s wedding in gorgeous Antigua, Guatemala — which barely resembles a developing world country. On one of the pre-wedding days, a big group of us traveled to a day-spa an hour outside the city. There were lots of friends of friends on the bus ride and people were going through the get-to-know-you chit chat: life in the big city, their business initiatives, houses they were buying, weddings they were planning. Then we drove by a ‘tent city’ and conversation slowed as the sight of dramatic poverty polluted the view for my new vacationing friends.

One girl asks, horrified: “Do people LIVE in there?” 

Me: “Yep, they do…”

She quickly shields her eyes with her hand and says, “I can’t look! It makes me feel so bad!”

…hmmm, didn’t expect that reaction… “Why?”  

A little annoyed by my question, she quickly replies something about guilt and not wanting to feel bad about her lifestlye and changes the subject.

That reaaally stuck with me. I don’t think we are supposed to shield our eyes from pain of the world. We are supposed to feel the discomfort and then    A) Do something about it  and/or    B) Be more grateful for what we have

But the main thing that bugged me was the unwillingness to feel the pain.  Just one year prior, I had visited homes just like those in Honduras. I sat in one of those tin shanty houses and cried with a mom whose teenage son had decided to join up again in the dangerous gang-life that she thought he had left behind. I couldn’t do anything but sit, cry, and pray with her in that tiny, dirty little home. But she was encouraged by willingness to sit with her in her pain — and I was blessed by the experience.

I think there’s always something God wants to show us, if we are willing to press in to pain. But it seems like we’ve been taught that it’s something better left swept under the rug. Or avoided altogether.

Just today I was reading about our ‘Millennial Generation’ and how we were protected from pain and surrounded with prosperity growing up, and that’s caused us to be super idealistic and perhaps ill-equipped for the rough journey of life. A friend wrote a short article on the topic and this line really resonated with me: One day, hardship will awaken them to resilience they don’t know they have yet.”

I think she’s right. A lot of us DID grow up as a generation shielded from hardship. My dad told me stories of how he would take my dead goldfish to the pet store and ask them for “a fish that looked just like this one” and h replace it before I got home from school! 🙂 My dad shared with me, as an adult, that he had been exposed to so much death when he was young that he wanted to protect me from it.

As I am sure you know by now, last summer Seth and I lost a baby. The pain and the sting of death was unlike anything I ever experienced. It was particularly miserable for my parents to watch me go through it. But God used it to teach me about the depth of my faith, His trust-worthiness, and the depth of character and resilience that comes from walking through hardship.

If we can learn to really sit in the pain of the world — and the pain of our own journeys — I know God will use those experiences in great and powerful ways.

I don’t intend to talk to explain why we suffer, but you can see my father in law’s recent post about that here, but I just wanted to open up this conversation on pain. It’s a topic that’s drawn me some really worth-while places. It’s what resonated with me immediately about Beauty for Ashes (B4A), the women’s ministry I helped build at Adventures. In B4A we teach women to face their pain. Share their stories. To get to the real stuff. The raw honest stuff. The stuff that really matters.  And it’s what resonates with me still about the writing of Glennon Doyle MeltonBrenee Brown, and even Emily McDowell’s greeting cards (a few pictured below).


   

That’s why I like to write about the hard stuff. I think talking about the hard stuff is what makes us real.

What do you think about talking about pain?  

Do you think it’s SO awkward and uncomfortable to talk about your own or someone else’s pain?   What has been your experience?

I’m sure this is the beginning of a much longer conversation.

Cheers. To the hard stuff.  😉

Anti-Trafficking + Yoga = Join us in February 2018

Anti-Trafficking + Yoga = Join us in February 2018

Join us on a Wholeness Journey to Thailand in February 2018!

**So excited to announce these dates! We will be traveling to Thailand together February 24- March 4th! **

Do you long for something greater? Hungry to break out of your day-to-day life and connect with God, yourself, and others in a deep and powerful way?

This is an invitation to embark on a journey outside of your everyday, emerge into a new culture, and discover yourself in a new way. To adventure, minister, and experience the beauty of wholeness in mind, body, and spirit through Jesus Christ.

Thailand is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. Nicknamed, “The Land of Smiles,” Thailand boasts pristine beaches, tropical jungles, delicious food, exotic animals, and smiling people, making it one of the top tourist destinations in the world. But behind all Thailand’s natural beauty lies a terrible secret: modern day slavery.

As the Thai economy strengthens and more visitors choose to vacation here, tourism of a different sort flourishes. Human trafficking and sexual tourism continue to grow.
Behind the smiles of many Thai women, is the dark reality of their suffering:
• The abuse and manipulation of the sex trade causes loss of identity and self worth
• The physical, mental and sexual abuse the children and women experience can result in spiritual and even physical death

The women of Thailand need to be freed from the bondage of sexual exploitation.
We will be serving with Shear Love International , a ministry that rescues young women from the brothels of Thailand and educates them in becoming independent women through discipleship and beauty school to live sustainable lives, so they do not need to re-enter the sex-trade.

The women in Thailand long to know their true worth and value. They need to know they can be made whole through the redeeming power of Jesus Christ!

Will you join us to discover and share God’s freedom, healing, and wholeness in Thailand?

Your trip leaders, Christina Barnes and Jessica Dahl, are both trained missionaries and yoga instructors. They bring the combined experiences of The Beyond Project and Beauty for Ashes to lead you in this unique combination of a women’s mission trip and a Christian yoga retreat.

You’ll start your trip along the beautiful beaches of Thailand, as you get to know your team and pray into what the Lord has in store for your Wholeness Journey. You will conclude your trip on the island off Pattaya where you’ll create action steps to keep walking into the whole and purposeful life God has uniquely designed for you!

During your stay in Pattaya, Thailand, you will:
• Attend inspirational workshops on spiritual growth and maturity
• Enjoy rejuvenating yoga classes and fresh, local meals
• Adventure in the natural beauty of Thailand
• Learn to share your unique story, giftings, and wholeness journey with others
• Host women’s retreats where you’ll minister to hurting women of Thailand and share with them about how to cultivate Christ-centered wellness, wholeness, and beauty

Most of the young women you will get to minister to feel so much shame and guilt in their lives and don’t know how to heal from it. You will be a huge catalyst in reminding them of their wholeness in Christ as we get to share with them about their identity. They will experience healing in their bodies as the masterpieces they are, so they can express their inner beauty outwardly—and live freely into the purposes they are created for.


Why Yoga?
We were created as body, mind, and spirit. The exercise of yoga can help us:
• Become more connected with our physical body
• Increase mental clarity
• Attune our spiritual ears in meditation and listening prayer to become more sensitive to hearing God’s voice in our lives

Through this unique missions trip and personal retreat experience you will delve to new depths of faith, adventure, and wellness. You’ll step out of your comfort zone, serve women in need, and press into the wholeness God has for you as well.

Are you ready to embark on your Wholeness Journey to Thailand?  APPLY HERE

The Wholeness Journey Movement

The Wholeness Journey Movement

Wholeness Journeys are happening!

I am thrilled to share with you about the momentum I felt coming off of our March Wholeness Journey Trip in Guatemala! This was my biggest prayer leading up to the March trip:

“God, let me feel your momentum coming off this trip. I hope, God, that it’s not just a one-time-thing. 

If this is something you really want me to pursue, let there be other people want to BUILD this with me!”

And THAT, my friends, totally happened!

I have been working with one of my Wholeness Journey sisters, Anna Murphy, to build our first MissionaryYogi Retreat & Missions Trip in Asheville. The goal is this trip is to bring together women passionate about both yoga and ministry — and yoga AS ministry. And my Wholeness Journey co-founder, Jessica Dahl, and I are planning our NEXT Wholeness Journey to Thailand this October!

It looks like our vision of “sharing the love of God and the wholeness available in Christ through the practice of yoga” is the premise for a movement!  But before I get ahead of myself, let me share with you more about the Wholeness Journey Guatemala trip:

 

We had 14 women ages 21-40 come down to Lake Atitlan, Guatemala and join us for our very first yoga retreat/missions trip: “Wholeness Journey.” It was AH-MAZING. I loved every minute of it. It was like ALL THE THINGS I LOVE in one place at one time: Jesus-focused yoga, new friends, adventure, creating experiences for people, teaching and training, Beauty for Ashes style women’s retreat activities, and amazing food. (That’s a lot of things I love!)

We studied what the Bible says about the wholeness and abundance God has for us, we hosted a women’s retreat for 50 Guatemalan women from a local church, and we practiced yoga as a form of worship — connecting with God and honoring Him in a physical way. It was SO cool how God wove it all together so seamlessly: what we taught in our small group sessions, the Lord would echo in the meditations on our yoga mats, and then the team would share with the Guatemalan women what they were learning!

The Guatemalan ladies LOVED our time together. Their leader thanked us saying,

“The work that you did was truly an expression of God’s love for us. Your girls were angels sent from Heaven!” In fact, we heard that one 17 year-old girl who had walked away from the church and her faith attended our retreat, simply because she heard there were Americans in town. She had been in conflict with her family for several months about the bad choices she was making about drinking, boys, and partying. After the retreat, she told her Mom she was sorry! She changed her mind about God and wanted to come back to church, because “she wanted to grow up and be like the girls she met from America at the retreat.” Isn’t that so great?!  (If only some of us had had cool yoga-practicing, Jesus-loving role models at 17! Haha.)

As we wrapped up the trip, one Wholeness Journey participant shared,

“I’m leaving with an extreme sense of comfort — that I don’t have to go to battle alone. The Lord is on my side and I can make real friendships, not just surface level ones. And there’s been so many great insights I have learned from the Bible this week! I hear God saying, ‘The answers are in there, what are you doing?’ My Bible has been sitting on my shelf collecting dust. I’m gonna dust it off and read it!”

I left SO encouraged and motivated to keep things going!

I’ll be honest, re-entry back into America slowed me down, but God has been so faithful to connect me with women who share the same dream of yoga as ministry — and it’s HAPPENING! I am FINALLY feeling that same momentum that I felt at the end of March 🙂

And now we are open for applications to our Thailand Wholeness Journey in October! It’s going to be epic.

And if you or someone you know is passionate about connecting with other missionary yogis — join us in Asheville in July! Only a few spots left!

God is on the move and yogis are partnering with Jesus as He redeems the practice of yoga.  Yes and Amen!  …and Namaste  🙂

My Wholeness Journey Guatemala Sistas

Taking the PLUNGE!

This was in a ‘releasing our fears’ exercise where we went CLIFF JUMPING.

Pursuing this dream is a little scary… but I am jumping in!