Patricia Hudson and her daughter, Alexis, spent part of Valentine's Day evening together in a Christian meditation and yoga class.
Hudson, 42, amped up her workouts last year after she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She added yoga classes when her church parish, St. Mary of the Assumption in Lancaster, began offering them last fall in the St. Mary's Elementary School gym.
"I look forward to this," she said after a class last month. "It centers me."
That's the whole idea, said Jane Schmitt, the certified yoga instructor and fellow parishioner who leads the bimonthly classes.
"I feel like this is my ministry for the church," said Schmitt, 62, who also teaches yoga at community education sites in Lancaster and East Aurora, as well as Joy Wheel yoga studio in East Aurora.
The hourlong Meditation & Yoga as Christian Spiritual Practice classes differ. Two dozen people who took her Valentine's Vinyasa class moved through their poses to songs that included "Come Thou Font of Every Blessing," "Prayer for Peace," and "When My Mind Becomes Still."
The classes start at 7 p.m. two Tuesdays each month, including next week. All are welcome free, though most who attend give a small donation to the parish.
For more information, call parish communications coordinator Diane Zwirecki 683-6445, Ext. 24 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hudson began to bring her daughter to classes a few weeks ago because Alexis, 9, takes dance and was interested.
"It's really fun," Alexis said.
Her favorite poses? Those that test balance.
"Mom always tries to hold on to me," she said.
Schmitt first thought about teaching yoga on the parish campus when church members were asked to consider what gifts they could offer to the church. The idea solidified after she attended a religious retreat for Christian yoga teachers last summer at the Graymoor Spiritual Life Center in the Hudson River Valley. The Rev. Thomas Ryan – author of "Heart and Body" and a leader of an ecumenical group called Christians Practicing Yoga – led the gathering.
"He is a Catholic priest and certified Kripalu yoga instructor," Schmitt said. "I thought, 'This has to happen now because he's doing both of my worlds.'"
Schmitt and her husband, Jerry, owner of Schmitt's Audi, have three children and five grandchildren.
She leads her Tuesday evening classes from a pair of mats laid out in a cross shape.
Q. How did you come to yoga?
As a student. It really called to me. I loved it so much and really felt it. I had to go into teaching (eight years ago) and learn more about it.
Q. Can you talk about the benefits of combining yoga and spirituality?
The reflection and the meditation drew me toward a deeper connection to my faith. It felt more authentic and meaningful than it ever had before. It was great. When you're a kid and you get trained in whatever religion you're in, it's very real to you. Then you become more skeptical. You go because you have to go. Yoga gets you into a place where you can feel a bit more open and receptive. You also learn to slow it all down and you can take it in. You go to church and all of a sudden you're listening better, you're hearing different things. I love to see in church when people have their heads bowed in prayer. There are good feelings that you get.
Q. What are the classes like?
We start with some breath work. We do slow movement to music – we do postures; the asanas – and we end with traditional relaxation, or the savasana pose, and a short meditation. We sometimes include scripture, prayers or inspiration from the weekly readings and sermon at Mass.
Q. What are the movement and meditation like?
It's gentle. So many people are brand new to yoga that sometimes I'll demonstrate and then we'll do it to music together. … There's a lot more teaching involved. Sometimes the music is a prayer or a hymn. It's kind of neat. It's almost like the prayer and the music are a moving meditation.
Q. Can the movement be modified?
Yes. If someone has difficulty doing things on the floor, they can go into a chair. Diane, who is helping me, often goes into a chair and demonstrates.
Q. What music do you use?
It's inspirational music with some hymns. It's not strictly Christian music.
Q. Should you bring your own mat? but we have extras.
Yes, but we do have a couple of extras if they're needed.
Q. Would all feel welcome and comfortable?
Yoga is not a religion but it can draw you closer to your already established belief system. All yoga aims to produce tranquility, calm the body, still the mind. All spiritual seekers are welcome.
Q. Can you talk about the folks who have been attending classes?
They're great. They've really embraced it. There are always new people showing up. It's mostly women but some men. It's all age groups. We might have a 13-year-old and a gentleman who might be in his 70s. We've been getting 20 to 40 people for each class. I feel like I'm starting to get to know people a little bit better, including those from church.
Q. How has your faith, married with your yoga, instructed your living?
When people start to get into yoga, it kind of becomes a way of life. You become a little bit more peaceful, a little bit more joyous. Maybe it starts to reflect to the people around you and maybe they want to see what it's all about. It's definitely made me happier in my faith life.
Q. What do you envision for the future?
I want to start taking it more into the meditation. I always run out of time. I always try to squeeze all this stuff in and want to leave a bit more time for meditation.
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