Take a deep breath. Slow down. Unplug for awhile. With North American culture’s relentless pace and high levels of anxiety, who couldn’t benefit from these suggestions? That’s partly why Ken Bieber, pastor of outreach and discipleship at River Terrace Christian Reformed Church in East Lansing, Mich., proposed that the church offer yoga classes.
“Everyone is stressed,” Bieber said. Because of yoga’s growing popularity and its health benefits, including promoting relaxation and lowering stress, he sees the classes as a way to both serve and build relationships with people from the neighborhood, which includes nearby Michigan State University.
Breathing Space yoga classes began in September 2018 and meet twice weekly. Attendance ranges from four to 14 participants. Jennifer Hehl, a certified yoga instructor, leads attendees through hour-long sessions in stretches, deep breathing, and slow exercises. Throughout, Bieber reads psalms, ancient prayers, or short meditations, bringing a devotional dimension to the sessions. “It’s pretty intense,” he said.
Breathing Space was funded by a $3,000 grant from Ignite, which supports innovative and new ministry initiatives in the CRCNA. The funds, which will support the program through May 2019, cover instructional and equipment costs. Classes are free to participants.
Attendees range in age from their 20s to their 70s; each week so far, at least one person without connection to the church has attended. “For some it can serve as the one real connection to a church,” Bieber said. No Michigan State students have attended yet, but Bieber will be promoting the class at upcoming student-focused events, including the end-of-term Midnight Breakfast the church holds to support students in exams. [See June, 2018 story: Midnight Breakfasts Kick Off Finals Week.]
Mother and daughter River Terrace members Lori Young and Elizabeth Young enjoy attending classes together. “I am always conscious of my goal to spend more time than I do communing with and meditating on God, and this sounded like a creative way to do just that,” said Lori.
“The class is a no-judgment zone, which makes it welcoming to everyone regardless of your experience or comfort with yoga,” Elizabeth said.