Editor’s note: This article was originally published on LDSLiving.com in June 2016.
As many as 21 million adults do yoga in the U.S., according to a study by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.
And it seems to be popular among Latter-day Saint, with 27 percent viewing yoga as more a spiritual opportunity than exercise, according to a survey by Pew Research Center.
But Latter-day Saint and yoga instructor Jackie Culley thinks of it as both.
Ten years ago, Culley says she was looking for something to "kill two birds with one stone" by exercising while finding inner peace.
What she found in yoga was a way to exercise while clearing out all of the distractions of life to make room for the influence of the Spirit.
"Oftentimes in our world today, we get so busy and so distracted and so hung up on lots of things that are important but not really important that we miss the opportunity to hear the Spirit," she says. "So doing yoga is kind of a way for people who want to multitask to get their exercise in and feel connected to the Spirit."
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, yoga is "a mind and body practice with origins in ancient Indian philosophy." Yoga incorporates controlled breathing exercises, poses or stretches, and meditation to help with stress, flexibility, balance, and strength.
As Culley attended her yoga classes, she found the traditional words her instructors used to describe spiritual moments during yoga meant something else to her.
"There are many choices of words people use when instructing a yoga class," she says. "Depending on one's beliefs, the instructor may choose to refer to the peace, inspiration, and clarity that is felt as simply 'your higher power.' Some refer to this as 'universal energy.' I’ve heard it called 'light' and occasionally 'God,' which is my own personal favorite. When I am in a yoga class and the instructor refers to the light and knowledge I’m experiencing as anything other than God, Christ, or the Holy Ghost, I simply translate for her in my mind."
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But Culley said she found the word "integrity" used by her instructors to describe the quality of a yoga pose to be enlighting as she thinks about how it can be applied to life and living the gospel.
"When moving into challenging poses, much instruction is given on hand and foot placement, weight transfer, and alignment," she says. "Without following the guidelines and then maintaining the integrity of the pose, we will find ourselves either injuring ourselves or falling out of the pose. The same is true in life. As we face life’s challenges, if we do not take heed to the guidelines and boundaries given us by the Lord and then live them with integrity, we will find ourselves struggling, experiencing sorrow, and bringing unnecessary hardships to our lives."
A yoga instructor herself now, Culley uses this practice to help combat the challenges and trials of life and says she helps her classes do so as well.
By picturing herself breathing in the light of Christ, "which is in all things" (D&C 88:13), and breathing out darkness, Culley says yoga is symbolic to her of filling her life and mind with the Savior.
"And then when we’re filled with Christ’s light, we are able to understand who we are, what our potential is, and what our purpose is here on this earth," she says. "And we’re able to move forward with courage and support knowing that our Heavenly Father is with us and, with Him, we cannot fail and we can do anything."
This is especially true for the "Heavenly Father's greatest warriors," or the youth of today, Culley says. By incorporating the peaceful practice of yoga, removing all distractions, and dispelling wayward thoughts and focusing on receiving and listening to the Spirit, the Latter-day youth can "arm themselves" against temptations, Culley says.
As Culley continues to do yoga and benefit spiritually from it, she uses those experiences to help strengthen her testimony and share the gospel with those of other faiths.
"I think there are so many amazing opportunities out there to learn and grow and share the gospel and that we just need to not be afraid," she says. "We need to not be afraid to try new things or to push ourselves to our limits, or to do things that scare us every day. I think that yoga is a way to actively meditate and grow closer to Heavenly Father and hear the direction that He has for us."