P90X and the Wisdom of Grace (by Lyndsey Graves)

DSC_0075 Pay close attention, because Lyndsey Graves is the writer to watch. I’m basically trying to copy her-- I’m lucky enough to know her “in real life.” Her point of view made our sometimes boring COMM classes always interesting. When she’s a renowned writer one day, I’m going to be able to say “I know her! We took that horrible Public Speaking class together!” Lyndsey has been featured Thought Catalog, Threads UK, and most recently, On Pop Theology. A recent PopTheology article was shared on Twitter by Rachel Held Evans, one of my favorite bloggers and authors! Off to Boston University to begin her Master of Theological Studies, catch her on Twitter or her blog, [To Be Honest.]

I first started exercising regularly to impress a boy. We would meet with a couple other people in his basement to practice muay thai, the style of kickboxing you usually see in MMA stand-up fighting. It was terribly romantic.

Something I really admired about him (and still do) was that he worked out every day – and not just nice 20-minute jogs. He would either spend an hour in the gym at our college, or he would do an entire P90X workout. You know how the big thing for a while was to brag about doing P90X on facebook? Those workouts are as intense as everyone said they were. Really painful. Push push push don’t stop. You feel really accomplished afterwards, but while you’re actually doing the workout, you keep going by sheer willpower and grit and being yelled at.

I impressed the boy well enough to get mono from him, and by the time I had worked my way from sleeping 16 hours a day down to 12, I was completely stir-crazy. Out of sheer boredom I took up yoga, because I could challenge myself without becoming exhausted, and suddenly I was exercising regularly for myself for the first time. As my body healed from the virus, it also became more strong and flexible, and I fell in love with yoga for teaching me to fall in love with my body. 

Yoga should be hard – you stretch a little further every time and, of course, try to balance in strange contortions – but it’s not really meant to be strenuous. It’s static; it’s silent; it’s about listening to your body and welcoming the ache in your muscles. You’re meant to keep your face relaxed, not contorted in pain, as you find balance, strength, and flexibility within yourself, through your breath. Form is everything, so you can notice yourself in order to care for yourself. Where P90X or sprinting or swimming can feel like a battle against your body to get to the finish line, you can only do yoga well by listening to your body, loving your body, and entering into the present moment.

I realize this may sound very hippy-dippy, and you may still not consider yoga to be a “workout”, all that standing around gazing at your hand in the air or whatever. The first year or so that I did it, I felt the same way – like it was something I enjoyed doing, but only kind of counted as “exercise”. Difficult though it is, It’s certainly not a sustained cardio session, and it’s not going to GET YOU RIPPED. Most people who do yoga all the time are very strong and very skinny.

I only really came to appreciate its importance after that first year, when I decided one day on a whim to join the old boyfriend and his daily-workout buddy for a session of P90X interval training. It’s probably the very most intense, go go go sort of workout I’ve ever seen, one of these “extra” options for after you’ve gotten too good for regular P90X. It was their third or fourth time doing it in a month, and they warned me that it was nearly impossible to get through and I should take a break, get some water, sit out whenever I needed. Being none too confident in my abilities at REAL SERIOUS EXERCISE TO THE MAX, I agreed with them that I’d probably collapse after five minutes.

So we started the video, wherein you do some sort of move as hard and fast as you can for 20 seconds, take a 10 second break, and then move on to the next. And I, in official exercise parlance, beasted it. I mean, it was difficult and horribly painful, but I was still going strong when the guys were extending their breaks. We were all confused by this at first. But as we kept going I realized that my breathing was significantly slower than theirs, even as my heart rate went through the roof. It had become second nature to me, when exerting myself physically, to work with my body instead of fighting against it, and to draw energy from deep breaths that tried to fill every corner and cavity with oxygen. It occurred to me then that yoga is not a watered-down, lazy man’s pretend-exercise, but that my focused and gentle practice really had brought major change to my body and its abilities to do all kinds of other things.

I am always trying to P90X my faith and my life. I worry that I’ll get lazy or disobedient, and so I try to do everything really well all the time. I read a bunch of Francis Chan books a couple of years ago and decided that really sold-out Christians should constantly be doing very difficult things. I get all strenuous about doing devotions every day, being kind to everyone, volunteering all the time, or “stewarding” my time and money and body TO THE MAX. I’m unwilling to be gentle and patient with myself.

Circumstances and my expectations for myself have made for a past year that was certainly very difficult. It wasn’t all bad and I did get stronger, but if I’d kept going the same way, I was on my way to serious burnout. Now that I’ve been given the gift of a few restful weeks at my parents’ house, I’m realizing it’s time for a yoga season. For rediscovering myself, for learning what it means to feel the stretch without overextending. For being gentle with myself the way God is, and doing the very different work of re-centering in him. I’m starting to realize that the P90X seasons of huge exertion and growth aren’t opposed to the yoga seasons of loving myself and learning calm, the way I used to think they were. The next time life requires a sprint, I’ll be centered; and I’ll be faster; and that is the wisdom of grace.

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