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Faith, Fitness & Fun

Yoga for the Body, Mind & Spirit

From its roots in the East, and over the last century, the art of yoga slowly moved into the Western world and into the hearts and bodies of many in the United States. People began to do it for many reasons – as a form of relaxation, meditation, exercise and/or agility.

“It’s really taken off in the last 30 years,” says Melissa Gray, co-founder of Living Waters Yoga, a faith-based yoga studio in Grosse Pointe. “Bikram [Choudhury, an Indian-born American yoga guru, and the founder of Bikram Yoga] showed that this was something Americans would do and he kind of opened the door to making it a little more user friendly here in the U.S.”

There are many different types of yoga, from hatha and ashtanga to yin and hot. There are also faith-based yoga programs, like Living Waters Yoga and Holy Yoga, a nonprofit national brand with various local branches.

“Yoga has transformed itself into Western civilization to be more of a physical practice,” says Nakia Reeves, board president of Holy Yoga Detroit. “When incorporating yoga with meditation, it has benefits for both the body and mind. In Holy Yoga, we align our body and spirit with the Word of God and that’s what really separates us from the traditional practice.”

In a typical yoga class, she says, there would be some breath work, movement, and possibly meditation to clear the mind. Faith-based yoga usually incorporates breath work with prayer and scripture so it’s not necessarily an opportunity to clear the mind, but to have a centralized focus which is the Word of God.

Classes are uplifting and joyful and worship music is often played in the background. “Many people think when you do yoga it has to be this quiet endeavor, but we like to bring fun into it,” says Nakia. “Practicing yoga and worshipping the Lord doesn’t have to be somber. People walk away with hope and excitement and that’s what we want people to know. That there is hope, there is light.”

For many, finding hope during the trials and tribulations of COVID has been a struggle. Faith-based yoga has allowed them to embrace all the positive benefits of yoga while tightening their bond with God.

“Traditional yoga has more of an Eastern philosophy, which is fine, but because we’re Christians, we wanted the spiritual element of yoga to have a Christian base,” says Melissa. “We get a lot of Catholics, we get a lot of Protestants, and we also get a lot of people who just like it. My philosophy has always been of healing of mind, body and soul. I really like that three-legged prong, and that’s really what yoga is. It’s a balancing of those three.”

She believes faith-based yoga is needed now more than ever. “I’m very into reading statistics and stress levels are through the roof, mental illness is through the roof. And all the health issues – people dying from heart disease and diabetes are also through the roof. So this is a way to combat those things.”

Melissa discovered faith-based yoga when a friend’s daughter became certified to teach Christian Yoga. “She wanted to practice in my basement,” she says. “I had just had a baby and needed to get back in shape. My friends found out about it and we were getting like 20 women coming to my basement to take yoga. From there, it exploded.”

Melissa loved it so much that she decided to get certified as well. She went to Arizona and trained with Yahweh Yoga, a Christian yoga teacher training program. She then came back and took over teaching classes in her basement when the friend’s daughter went back to school.

“I started teaching classes twice a week, and my friend Sarah Holder thought this was totally cool and got certified as well. We then started teaching it together.”

With the interest was so great and growing, the two women moved their classes into an actual studio in town about 12 years ago, and Living Waters Yoga was officially founded. Now, Melissa and Sarah run the studio together.

Holy Yoga Detroit does not have a brick and mortar location. “We are a ministry that is called, and we go wherever we are called,” says Nakia. “That means if a church wants to experience Holy Yoga, we go there.” Classes have also been held in other place such as schools, foster homes, and senior citizen facilities.

“There are a lot of people who are dealing with addiction, they’re dealing with health issues, and they need to know that God loves them. It’s a way for them to meditate on the Word of God and to allow them to write it in their heart.

“And it’s important to move our bodies. We’ve become so sedentary – people couldn’t go to gyms or local yoga studios.”

Fight and Surrender is one of Holy Yoga’s signature classes and combines the serenity of yoga with the energy of cardio. The cardio is the fight and the yoga is the surrender. “Because in this life, you’re going to fight a little and sometimes you’re going to have to surrender some things,” says Nakia. “We take up arms to fight alongside the Lord but we also surrender those things that we can’t do on our own.”

Since yoga is moving meditation, she adds that it allows us to focus and calm the central nervous system. It allows us to incorporate our breath at a greater capacity. “We only use a certain amount of our lung capacity day to day. It might seem trivial when people say, ‘Take a breath.’ Taking a deep breath, filling up your lungs before emptying them out allows you to realign your focus and it’s so beneficial for our blood flow and our posture.

“There have been studies that have shown that yoga helps children with ADD [attention deficit disorder]; it helps them realign their focus. I’ve seen seniors who haven’t been able to walk properly stand up straight. It allows your body to elongate, to stretch, and be able to do the normal things in life.”

Holy Yoga plans to expand its offerings with what they call Experiences. In the new year, they hope to offer them monthly to get the word out. “It’s an opportunity for people who can’t come to a regular Holy Yoga class,” she says.

“So, one of the things we’ve done now that we can gather again in larger groups is create these experiences where people are able to set aside two hours in their day, come to an Experience and see what the full spectrum of Holy Yoga Detroit is all about.” Nakia says they can then take that knowledge and those skills back to their local church or other organizations.

Since Holy Yoga is a nonprofit, these Experiences will also serve as a way to raise funds to pay their teachers. Usually, people and organizations pay what they can, and Holy Yoga asks for donations. “The only thing we charge a set price for are the Experiences, which are very affordable.”

Another one of their goals is to start a pay-it-forward initiative. “Once we have an event, people will have an opportunity to secure a space for someone else in the next event. That will help us have the funds to do the events but to also get more people involved.”

At Living Waters Yoga, most participants come in two to three times per week and everyone is welcome. “In our yoga studio we have yoga for all levels,” says Melissa. “We had an 88-year-old come and do chair yoga with us. We have a whole program dedicated to special needs adults. We have super advanced flow yoga, gentle yoga and restorative yoga. We want to hit every base, but our heart is actually for those who say, ‘I’ve been to other yoga studios and I was intimidated.’ We are not about that, at all.”

“This type of yoga is so needed right now because during the last year and a half, people haven’t always been able to go to their church,” says Nakia. “They haven’t been able to go to work, or touch their loved ones.” Aside from yoga practice, she adds, faith-based yoga is important because it helps remind people of the Lord and to enable them to connect with the Lord.

It’s also a great alternative for those who have left their churches, she adds. “There are so many people who have walked away from God because they’ve been hurt in church, and some will never go back. But this is a way for them to be reminded that although they were hurt there, that wasn’t God. What we try to do with Holy Yoga is show that God loves you, and even if you don’t walk into another church, He will be wherever you are and this is a way to encounter God in a different way.”

For more information about these faith-based programs, go to https://www.holyyogadetroit.com/ and to https://www.livingwatersyoga.com/.

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