Jean-Marie Déchanet, author of Christian Yoga writes;
Before beginning exercises in the morning, I wash, I brush my teeth and drink several mouthfuls of water and then stand facing the open window. Relaxed, smiling slightly and looking straight ahead without focusing on anything, I begin to breathe in, silently pronouncing this verse of Psalm 118:
Rises ever a sigh from my lips, and even, if my breathing rhythm is already slow enough: Rises ever a sigh from my lips, as I long after my covenant.
And as I see this breath from God that I am eager for, I feel it fill me and quicken my whole being. Not only is my blood purified in this wonderful exchange, of which even the tiniest cells of my lungs bear witness the innermost depths of my whole life as man and Christian are plumbed by it my strength swells and my heart expands. Merely from paying attention to a phenomenon as everyday as this inhalation, I have been able to endow it suddenly with the hidden meaning. It is not only my body but my soul and spirit also that the breath of the Almighty comes to awaken and seize.
For a few moments I keep my lungs full, poised somehow in the wonder that is taking place in me. Then I gently exhale this “corrupted” air, saying silently (from Psalm 50):
My God bring a clean heart to birth within me; breathe new life, true life, into my being.
The breath prayer is not only the simplest way to ease stress and anxiety, it can also be the easiest way to connect to Christ. It can be done anywhere at any time and costs nothing. It’s simple, yet profound. It can help us focus when attempting meditation and cannot be separated from the practice of yoga.
There are many definitions of the word yoga. All meanings have an element of together-ness or unity within them. From the original Sanskrit word, the literal definition of the word yoga is yoke. From a Christian perspective yoga can be defined as a means of uniting, or yoking our individual breath, body and spirit with the Breath, Body and Spirit of God. This is the essence of why yoga is set apart from any other physical activity-it includes a holistic approach of mind-body-spirit, regardless of religion or lack of. The Christian yoga practitioner unites their posture, breath, meditation, spirit and often their voice or song with Christ. Essentially, we use our entire being to worship and love Him with our ‘whole self.’
Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ Matthew 22:37
You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you. Psalm 63:1
What does it look like to the love God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind? What does it mean to seek and thirst for the Lord with your whole being? Read again what the Psalmist writes; “My whole being longs for you.” Ponder how you would define this?
These passages and several other ancient scriptures are the very cornerstone of a Christian yogi’s practice. Therefore, a person should never judge how another person interprets scripture, connects to God, or how one prays, meditates or worships the Lord. The Christian yogi firmly believes they are to be worshiping the Lord with their whole self.
Déchanet writes, “It is not only my body but my soul and spirit also that the breath of the Almighty comes to awaken and seize.” The breath of the Almighty comes to awaken and seize. Wow! Like DéChanet, I am fascinated not only at the gift and miracle of the breath, but how this typically thoughtless action of an inhalation and exhalation, can connect us to the heart of God if we allow it. Déchanet describes holding onto the inhalation with wonder, not only the physical body awakening, but also his soul and spirit.
Psalm 57:8 says: Awake, O my soul, with the music of His splendor-song! Arise, my soul, and sing His praises!
Decades ago, Déchanet discovered the most precious gift-second to salvation-His soul was awakened! And not only awakend to Christ but awakened to His magnificent glory in all the earth! (Hallelujah!) Has your soul ever been so alive, so awakened and unified to Christ’s glory?
The Psalmist goes on in verses 10 and 11 to say; Your love is so extravagant it reaches to the heavens, Your faithfulness so astonishing it stretches to the sky! Lord God be exalted as you soar throughout the heavens. May your shining glory be shown in the skies! Let it be seen high above all the earth!
Perched high above in the French Alps at Déchanet’s hermitage, I was moving and breathing in the exact spot he practiced this intimate and sacred worship to our Lord and Creator. I was blessed to experience God’s magnificent splendor and glory! I understood fully what practicing for an audience of One meant. You do not have to travel to France to experience whole worship as scripture or Déchanet defines it, you need only to get alone with your Maker. Perhaps sitting, perhaps moving, the posture doesn’t matter, your surrendered heart and willingness to commune with your Heavenly Father is the only important thing. We know through scripture that there is no right or wrong way to pray, only that we never stop praying (see Thessalonians 5:17).
“Connecting to Christ through breath and posture creates a void where God’s presence resides.
Later, in Déchanet’s Sacred Yoga chapter, he writes, “The spirit is awakened in the first place by the postures…the length of meditation and contemplation are the least of importance, what is most important is the silence, or greater silence, this is the ultimate place, the created void where God’s divine presence resides.”
I correlate this ‘created void’ and ‘ultimate place where God’s divine presence resides,’ as the Secret Place described in the Bible. A sacred place where only God and I dwell. I also parallel it to Patanjali’s’ 7th and 8th Limb. In my Christian Yoga School, YogaFaith, we strive to redeem biblical principles such as meditation, chanting and the postures of prayer found throughout scripture. We long to redeem ecstasy (the 8th limb), a word that seems to have turned dark in recent times, yet God desires the beauty of ecstasy to magnify Him. I believe Déchanet experienced the 8th limb, or ecstasy, as the ultimate place.
“The spirit is awakened in the first place by the postures,” writes Déchanet. In observing Patanjali’s 8 Limbs of Yoga, we progress from postures to breath, from breath to the act of withdrawing, then we reach the 6th limb known as Dharana. Dharana is where one might begin the meditation process. It’s where we begin to settle the mind onto a single-focused subject or prayer. After achieving this focus, one can then experience a deeper meditation within the 7th limb known as contemplation, where there is absolutely no distractions or other thoughts, rather a profound reflection on Christ alone. Once this is achieved, one could go deeper yet. Though the 8th limb defines this absorptive and highest state as Samadhi, one doesn’t need to acknowledge the Eight Limbs of Yoga to know that Christ desires oneness with believers. Samadhi is defined as joining, and is also known as ecstasy, the deepest part of meditation, and the highest state one can achieve. Ecstasy as I see it, is oneness with Christ. There is no distinction between your spirit and His Spirit, there is no difference between the meditator and the Meditation, the created and the Creator become one, this is the Secret Place of the most High God.
Journeying recently to Déchanet’s hermitage above the village of Valjouffrey, France, I experienced the Secret Place on more than one occasion. This is profound as I’ve only experienced this a handful of times in my entire life.
I am grateful for experiencing what Déchanet wrote about so many years ago. I am also indebted to Dana Moore, who was not only the first person to shed light on the fact that Christian Yoga has a lineage but to extend an invitation to visit the place it was created. Thank you, Dana, it was a dream come true. I am also immensely grateful for our lovely hosts (and Déchanet’s first students in 1965) Gerard and Madé Charrier.
Almost 6700 students, seekers and gurus traveled near and far over the years to learn from Déchanet. I am humbled, honored and privileged to be a part of the first hermitage in over 30 years to reignite these teachings and the hermitage.
I have deep gratitude to have walked in Déchanet’s footsteps, prayed where he prayed and worshiped with my whole being on the same holy ground as he did all those years ago.
(F-B) DANA M., THOMAS R., KEVIN F., HIKE TO HERMITAGE
HEADSTAND ABOVE VALJOUFFREY
LEFT TO RIGHT; ME WITH DÉCHANET’S FIRST STUDENTS GERARD & MADÉ CHARRIER. READING CHRISTIAN YOGA IN DÉCHANET’S STUDY. INTERIOR OF STUDY. FIRST GROUP PILGRIMAGE IN 30 YEARS INCLUDES (L-R) MICHEL MORIN, FR. THOMAS RYAN, REV. KEVIN FLYNN, DANA MOORE, SUSAN NEAL, JANE SCHMITT, SALLY GRILLO AND MYSELF, MICHELLE THIELEN
Please watch the coinciding video to this article, it includes two breath prayers, one from myself and the other from Father Ryan. You’ll see our time chanting and fellowshipping, as well as a couple ‘whole worship flows.’