“For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” ~ Matthew 11:30
Lent is a season of willingly assuming a discipline. Some disciplines are sacrifices. Going without chocolate, Diet Coke, wine, potato chips, coffee. Some disciplines are practices. Committing to spend a little time each day exercising, praying, reading the Bible, volunteering, writing letters of gratitude to loved ones.
For years, I thought of Lent as a time of suffering, a time of penitence and atonement, and there is certainly value in approaching the season with a heavy heart. Facing humanity’s failings 2,000 years ago with a steady, unfaltering gaze can be quite stirring. Bringing this same unwavering attention to my own failings to live up to my God-given potential can be motivational. But, with this perspective, my Lenten disciplines felt heavy. They were harder to maintain. My energy often flagged well before Easter morning.
As the roots of my yoga practice deepened, I had a glimpse of a new kind of Lent. I began to see these 40 days as an opportunity for steady focus on my spirituality, for a sharpened awareness of how I was living my life, and for dedicated daily practice in stretching toward my best-possible self. Yes, I would continue to assume a discipline. But as I did so, I felt optimistic about creating new habits over the course of the 40 days. I embraced the hope of becoming a better person – healthier, kinder, more spiritual, more loving. With this perspective, my Lenten disciplines felt light. They were easier to maintain. My energy built throughout the season as I began to witness my changes and growth.
It is not surprising that yoga reinforces the powerful potential of assuming a discipline. After all, a regular yoga practice is like a less distilled Lent. The word “yoga” actually means “yoke” in Sanskrit. We assume the yoke of the practice just as we willingly shoulder a Lenten discipline. Because yoga is so wonderfully transformative, we typically see results immediately. We feel healthier and stronger, more focused and balanced, less frazzled and irritable. These results keep us coming back for more. Though the commitment required of us seems huge before we start, once our practice is underway, we find its burden light.
It is also not surprising that a yoga practice can help reveal the possibility of a less punitive Lent. As we move and breathe on our yoga mats, we learn about handling our shortcomings and failures. As we practice, we begin to see mistakes as opportunities to learn. Mistakes can motivate us. Without them, it would be harder to see how much we’re growing and changing. But they don’t help as much if we’re gripping them with white knuckles as we beat ourselves up. In order for new ways to blossom, we must be willing to allow our old ways to die. This can’t happen if we’re holding tight to our failings.
Practicing yoga is also a regular reminder of the many layers of a spiritual discipline. Yes, moving and breathing on my mat is quite good for me. But that is just the tip of the iceberg. The act of practicing is a reminder of my real goal rather than the goal itself. Each time I unroll my mat, I affirm my intention to take time out of my day to turn inward. I shore up my hope that I am capable of change. My optimism about my potential is recharged. My faith in the power of the practice, as well as in the act of practicing itself, is a faint shadow of my greater faith in life and its Creator.
So sure, giving up sweets or caffeine is good for you. But while the healthy benefits of your discipline may keep you committed for 40 days, they pale in comparison to the real gift of your sacrifice. Commitment to a Lenten discipline can be a 40 day experiment in living a more spiritual life, in living a life more in line with your faith, in pouring your energy into becoming the best possible you. With this hopeful intention, Lenten disciplines can feel like sustainable practices. With this perspective, you just may find that Jesus’ words ring true—“My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Then, perhaps, your new discipline and its gifts will enliven your life beyond this 40 day season and into your whole year.
Editor: Brianna Bemel