For I Am With You

These past few weeks I have been battling fear to embark on my yoga journey this year. I began questioning my ability to teach and to lead and doubting my ability to succeed. The Lord has been merciful in redefining my perception of success. Although it is good to have tangible goals to achieve, sometimes my unrealistic expectations can mislead and deceive. You are not good enough. You do not know enough. The lies go on and on.

What I’m learning is that success is not measured by the amount of goals I check off my list. Success, to me, is about keeping my eyes on Him and walking in obedience to Him, regardless of where that might take me.

It reminds me of a passage in Matthew 14:

When the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart, it is I. Do not be afraid.” And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. Matthew 14:26-32

The disciples immediately respond in alarm. Jesus immediately asserts there’s no harm.

In this moment, Peter’s greatest fear is the mighty storm that has drawn near. He feels the crashing of the waves. He feels the wind against his face. He sees Jesus, and then he prays—and not just any prayer. He asks to step into the storm’s warfare. He asks to step into his greatest fear because he sees Jesus, and he wants to draw near.

“Come.”

That’s what Jesus said to Peter. That’s what He is saying to me, and that’s what He is saying to you.

But I need to be honest. Sometimes I hear His invitation, but I decline in trepidation…what if I sink?

My natural response is to give fear authority. I would rather stay where I am than risk sinking…failing…falling. But Peter—willing to submit his fear—steps out of the boat. And when his eyes are fixed on his Comforter, he walks on the water towards Jesus.

It sounds nice and easy—just take a step of faith. But there is more to it than that. It isn’t just stepping out of the boat—it’s keeping our eyes on Him as we step into what appears to be chaos. That is where the real challenge is for Peter. The storm takes his attention, he takes his eyes off of his Comforter, and he begins to sink.

We can’t do it alone. We can’t step out of the boat with our own power and will. It doesn’t matter how much we want it or how hard we work or how perfected our skill—in our own efforts, we will continually fail.

But what if the goal isn’t to step out of the boat? What if the goal is to be closer to Him? What if the intention isn’t to walk on the water (no matter how cool that may be)? What if the intention is to keep our eyes fixed on Him, to walk with Him, and to walk toward Him?

Inevitably, most of us are familiar with the feeling of sinking when we are trying to walk toward Him. We are lured by temptation or our own expectation or fear and frustration or too much obligation. But when Peter’s eyes shift and he begins to sink, He doesn’t just sit and accept defeat. Peter prays. And He doesn’t pray a long, sophisticated prayer. He prays the cry of his heart in the midst of despair: “Lord, save me.”

“Lord, save me from financial burden.”

“Lord, save me from pride.”

“Lord, save me from fear.”

“Lord, save me from depression.”

“Lord, save me from grief.”

“Lord, save me from addiction.”

“Lord, save me from perfectionism.”

“Lord, save me from shame.”

“Lord, save me from insecurity.”

“Lord, save me from anger.”

“Lord, save me from impurity.”

“Lord, save me…”

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Jesus reaches out his hand and takes hold of Peter. Jesus reaches out his hand and takes hold of you.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. . .Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, people in exchange for your life. Fear not, for I am with you. . . Psalm 43: 2-5

For I am with you. 

Jesus asks Peter, “Why did you doubt?”

He takes hold of Peter and calms his fear, and it isn’t until Peter feels secured that Jesus asks him where his eyes were lured. Jesus knows that Peter fears the wind, but Jesus doesn’t reprehend. They get back in the boat, and then the winds cease. Jesus declares over Peter’s fear, “I’m the Prince of Peace.

We are called to step out of the boat in faith. We are called to fix our eyes on His face. We, indeed, will continually fail, but His love and His mercy will prevail.

What big prayers do you need to pray? What step of faith will you take today? What is your gaze wandering to? How will you respond when fears pursue? Let me tell you something I’ve found to be true—it doesn’t matter what you do. He will say, “For I am with you.”

So here I go, beginning my yoga journey once again and attempting to keep my eyes on Him—even amidst the doubt and fear, because I know that He is near.

My kick-off class will be Saturday, September 28th from 9:00am-10:15am at Abilene Performing Arts Company—1049 Industrial Blvd, Abilene, TX 79602.

Come ready for some yoga, worship, and time together. Looking forward to seeing you soon!

Mountain Pose

The most foundational pose in yoga is known as Mountain Pose, or Tadasana. It is at the center of every yoga pose. The head is drawn back so the ears are in line with the shoulders, the spine is lengthened, the shoulders are pressed down and back, the core is engaged, and the tailbone is lengthened towards the floor. This line of energy is maintained regardless of how you bend and balance in any yoga posture.

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How to get into Mountain Pose:

Stand with feet hip distance apart. Notice if your are leaning forward onto your toes or backward onto your heels. Lift your toes and press into the ball joint of your big toes, the ball joint of your pinky toes, and the two points on the bottom of your heels (this is also known as pressing into all four corners of your feet), and then gently place your toes back down on your mat.

Bring awareness to the muscle engagement in your legs. Rotate your legs inward to make space for your tailbone. Notice if your lower back is arched up or tucked under (maybe arch and tuck your sacrum to feel the extremes, and then find the middle). Bring your sacrum to neutral so that the tailbone is lengthened towards the floor.

Engage your core—hug your ribs together, and pull your belly button towards the spine. Open your chest by pressing your shoulders back and down, and then pull your chin back so that your ears are over your shoulders, your shoulders are over your hips, and your hips are over your ankles.

Take long, steady breaths.

Benefits of Mountain Pose:

There are so many, but to name a few…

  1. Improves posture

  2. Great for bringing awareness to breath

  3. Assists with balance

  4. Strengthens legs, glutes, and core

  5. Helps with sciatica (common cause of lower back pain from irritation of sciatic nerve)

  6. Improves concentration

Common mistakes of Mountain Pose: 

  1. Shoulders are collapsed inward with a rounded upper back rather than shoulders pressed down and back with an open chest

  2. The tailbone is arched or tucked rather than lengthened towards the ground

  3. Ribs are flared open rather than hugging them in and engaging the core 

  4. Weight is either all in the toes or heels rather than pressing into all four points of the foot

  5. Legs are not engaged instead of spiraling the thighs inward toward the back of the room 

Notice the arch in my lower back, how my shoulders are in front of my hips, and how my hips are pushed slightly back behind my ankles. You want to rotate your legs inward and then lengthen your tailbone towards the floor to lengthen the spine and reduce the curvature that you see pictured above, and you want to line up your ears, shoulders, hips, and ankles.

Notice the arch in my lower back, how my shoulders are in front of my hips, and how my hips are pushed slightly back behind my ankles. You want to rotate your legs inward and then lengthen your tailbone towards the floor to lengthen the spine and reduce the curvature that you see pictured above, and you want to line up your ears, shoulders, hips, and ankles.

Tips for Mountain Pose: 

  1. Stand against a wall—pull your chin backward so that your ears are above your shoulders, press your shoulders back and down so you can feel your upper back against the wall, engage your core by pulling your belly button towards your spine, and then feel your glutes and your heels against the wall.

  2. Hug your shoulder blades toward one another to open up your chest.

  3. Lift your toes up from the ground to ensure you are pressed firmly into the ball joint of your big toe, the ball joint of your pinky toe, and the two back points of the heels of your feet. 

  4. Place a block (or maybe a book or small pillow) between your legs above your knees, and then roll your thighs inward so that the block moves backward. This will teach you what it feels like to have an inward rotation with your legs. 

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Mountain Pose is frequently disregarded as easy, but when it is done correctly and when you are focused on alignment and muscle engagement, this pose is much more difficult than one might think! And it is essential to know and feel the alignment of this pose as you continue to learn and practice yoga. 

I challenge you to practice Mountain Pose and really focus on what it feels like in your body. Then do your favorite yoga pose, and feel how the alignment you learned in Mountain Pose manifests itself in the pose of your choosing. 

Feeling the line of energy from Mountain Pose in other yoga postures will change your practice. By protecting your alignment, you are able to hold the poses correctly without compromising your primary line of energy. If you do not pay attention to proper alignment, not only will you be compromising your primary line of energy, but you will also be compromising intended benefits of the poses as well as increasing your chance of injury.

In the same way we walk through life building structures on faulty foundations, we all walk into yoga with patterns in our bodies. For example, a lot of us stand with one hip out and all of our weight directed onto one foot, or we sit with our shoulders hunched over. Because our bodies are accustomed to improper alignment, we must be attentive to what the proper alignment in Mountain Pose feels like and then apply this as we build into other yoga postures. 

I know you are probably more interested in explanations of “more exciting” poses, but—trust me—you don’t want to go there without starting here. This is the foundation. And it is the perfect pose to bring awareness to your breath! Breath is at the heart of yoga, and I’ve found that breathing—the very thing you already do day-in and day-out—is one of the hardest parts of a yoga practice, so that is where we are headed next.

Keep tuning in to learn about the importance of breath!

Firm Foundation

Bring awareness to what is holding you up—now, in this moment. Feel the chilled tile underneath your toes, the table pressed against your elbows, the cushion of the chair absorbing your weight, or the pillow holding your head straight. Notice the support—the firm foundation. 

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Can you imagine attempting stability through everyday life on a slippery infrastructure? 

Laying a firm foundation is essential. Not only does it determine the size and shape of a structure, but it also determines how sturdy it will be. It determines how it will hold up under pressure. 

Jesus talks about having a firm foundation at the end of the Sermon on the Mount: 

“Everyone then who hears these words of mind and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it” (Matthew 7:24-27, ESV). 

What does it look like to build a firm foundation? 

Strong structures need a flat piece of land. The roots and rocks and trees have to be removed, and some deep digging has to occur. Sometimes the beginning of building a strong foundation means the beginning of uprooting those things that God doesn’t intend for us. Maybe it’s asking ourselves the question, “What is getting in the way of having a more intimate relationship with Him?” and then allowing Him to dig deep and uproot those places in our lives. It could be an unhealthy habit, a sin we won’t admit, feelings of doubt or fear, or lending lies an open ear. Regardless of the interference, God’s desire is to give you clearance.

But so much of the time, instead of allowing God to dig and remove, we tell Him to sit, and we attempt to improve. So we dig and we build. But in our endeavors, there are still inevitably some obstacles in our feeble efforts. We begin to establish our foundation, but those things God wanted us free from become a part of the formation. 

So my question for you is this: Where is your foundation? What is it built on? What roots have you done your best to conceal? Where do you think you may need to heal? What areas need some digging? Remember, God has all the tools—today, receive His equipping. Because He is the master-builder, He is with you, and He has you.

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous hand” (Isaiah 41:10, ESV).

As assuredly as the chilled tile underneath your toes, the table pressed against your elbows, the cushion of the chair absorbing your weight, or the pillow holding your head straight, He upholds you.

Why Sow Yoga?

I thought it might be appropriate for my first post to tackle my most frequently asked question: Why Sow Yoga?

I guess I should begin by clarifying that it is “sow” as in “you reap what you sow.” 

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Physically, with yoga, you reap the benefits of the practice if you are willing to sow. You can’t go to one yoga class and be able to do the splits, and you can’t go once a month and expect crazy differences in your sleeping patterns. Yoga truly does have all those benefits you have been hearing about, but in order to reap a lot of those benefits, first you must sow. 

Mentally, as we train our minds to meditate on scripture, the lies that we have been believing are replaced with His truth. It is a beautiful representation of “renewing our minds” (Romans 12:2). And a lot of people don’t recognize how much our thoughts impact our health. In fact, studies have been conducted where an apple is cut in half, and the halves are placed in two separate jars. One half of the apple has positivity spoken over it, and the other half has negativity spoken over it. The one that heard the negative words rotted, and the one that received positivity stayed good. (See here, or just google it, it’s a thing). If negative words have such a profound impact on an apple, how much more do those negative words impact us? With that said, if we sow His truth and His thoughts about us begin to replace our thoughts about ourselves, it has power, and we will reap healing from that. But lies aren’t replaced overnight. We must continually sow His truth. 

Spiritually, “the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:8, ESV). If you are engaging with sin, you are working rigorously and will continually come up empty. You will feel like you need more, and you will keep engaging in the sinful behavior. It’s a relentless cycle. But if you are abiding in Him, you will reap the fruit of that—”Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15: 4-5, ESV). 

Which leads me to the heart of my yoga practice—being with Him. It’s about learning to abide. It’s about learning to rest in Him rather than making restless attempts of self-reliance. 

So, Sow Yoga. Because you reap what you sow—physically, mentally, and spiritually—and my hope is that you will sow righteousness and reap the benefits of being with Him. 

Let me introduce myself...

My name is Sarah. These days you can usually find me reading books, sipping on coffee or tea, going on walks, adventuring in nature (preferably the mountains), doing yoga (is anyone surprised?), or finding new ways to create and to play.

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I’m a coffee-chugging, yellow-loving, always-humming twenty-something. Sounds light and free and happy-go-lucky—all things I’d love to embody—but reality is that a lot of my life I spent chasing darkness, dwelling in sin, letting fear creep in, and surrendering to depression. 

A lot of people ask what I did to get to the place where I am today. They want to know what they can do to finally find freedom, too. My answer is pretty simple and non-influential: I don’t know. It certainly wasn’t my doing. I tried my own attempts at improving, but I learned that it’s really all about pursuing the Lord. I thought I had to fix myself, but He showed me that all I had to fix was my eyes on Him. 

Some people experience the weight of anxiety and depression for a couple of weeks and others experience it for their entire lives. I don’t have a clear explanation for that. And I don’t think it is a matter of how “faithful” or “faithless” we are. We can’t earn freedom with a few more prayers, and we certainly shouldn’t say that if we really followed Him then we wouldn’t have this burden. I don’t think that’s how it works. In fact, some of the wisest and most spiritually mature people I know fight the battle of mental illness on a daily basis. 

I don’t know why some people can “pull themselves out of it” and others can’t, but I know that I certainly couldn’t. I felt the weight of it for five years, and I never thought I would get to walk in the light again. I followed the Lord the entirety of that time and wrestled through the confusion of why I was walking in darkness even though I felt like I was following the Light. I battled with God because I knew He was bigger than my anxiety and depression and had the ability to instill peace and energy and joy, but He wasn’t. And I couldn’t. I had given up on myself, but God never gave up on me.

I don’t have the answers to depression and anxiety. I don’t know why (in a lot of ways) things turned around for me. But I do know what The Lord used for my healing. And I can condense it all down to one word: Yoga. 

Here’s how: 

  1. Perfectionism has always been a part of my life. Growing up, I would make up dance routines and practice them over and over again until they were “presentable.” I found comfort in organizing my toys or even the drawers of pens and pencils in the kitchen. I would draw and then erase and then re-draw and erase on every piece of artwork. It could always be better. I can always be better. While there is truth to this, the Lord has been teaching me to overflow grace toward myself. Yoga has been an incredible tool through this learning process because it is all about embracing where your body is today. Sure, you may have been able to bend in half yesterday, but today your knees are screaming. Listen to what your body is telling you, and be gracious. Where your body is today is enough. And the beauty is, regardless of if you are in the “full expression” of a posture or if you are customizing to where your body is today, you still reap the same benefits of the pose. Even if I’m not where I want to be, it is still good. 

  2. The postures promote benefits to your physical health. Yoga has been proven to assist in cardio health, balancing your metabolism, increasing strength and flexibility, soothing pain, lowering blood pressure, releasing tension, supporting digestion...the list goes on. Of course, the more you practice, the more benefits you will see over time. In other words, you reap what you sow ;) 

  3. One of the wonderful benefits of practicing yoga is better sleep. And this was a game-changer for me because I was having some major sleep issues and lack of sleep is a trigger that sends me spiraling, so enhancing my rest time was critical. 

  4. I don’t know if you have ever been to a yoga class and found yourself weeping on your mat, but it’s a thing. At first it didn’t make sense to me how some postures and breathing could become something so emotional, but now I can’t imagine yoga apart from emotional well-being. Yoga is inherently vulnerable, and the postures bring attention to places in our body where we are storing emotional trauma and baggage. Our bodies always remember where we’ve been and what we are holding onto. We carry it around, and yoga brings it to our attention. So if yoga makes you emotional, you’re not alone. Embrace it.  Our bodies (and God) are merciful to bring these places of pain to our attention so that we can be set free. 

  5. Yoga without breathing isn’t yoga. Breath is at the heart of it. And although we breathe instinctively, I didn’t really know how to breathe until going through my yoga certification process. Learning how to focus on breath and practicing deep breathing techniques was vital to learning how to ease my relentless anxiety. 

  6. Yoga is meditative. When you are focused on breath work and postures, you are called to the present moment. It is hard to worry about everything you have to do when you have to focus on what your body is doing. When weaving scripture into it, your mind is able to focus on His truth. It is a holy time—a time where you are fully present to pray and to praise. And although I think yoga has an abundance of health benefits on its own (and I have seen those and love that about yoga), I wholeheartedly believe that what changed my life wasn’t the yoga but the time of being fully present to be with the Lord. It was learning to rest in Him even when my heart was beating unrealistically fast. It was praising Him even while I was sitting in the middle of my mess. He is where the peace is, and He is where the joy is. 

Maybe you have walked a similar path as me, or maybe you are walking through something entirely different. Regardless, I know yoga has benefits for anyone and everyone—all shapes and sizes and athletic abilities—and I know, without a doubt, the Lord desperately wants to be with you—all of you, all the time.

Learning yoga is good and fun, but learning to seek Him and His truth is invaluable. 

I hope you’ll join me on this journey. 

Let’s grow together.