In Jesus’ time, wooden yokes got placed upon oxen to plow fields. First, however, the ox was taken to a local carpenter to be fitted. If not, these notoriously harmful contraptions could pinch nerves and severely damage the animals—even kill them. According to a legend, Jesus-the-carpenter created the best ox-yokes in all of Galilee and farmers came from many miles to have their oxen fitted for one that He made.
When Christ said, “Take my yoke upon your shoulders and learn from me for I am gentle and humble of heart…My yoke is easy and my burden light” (Matthew 11: 29-30), He may have spoken from experience and, as was often the case, on a deeper level. The Greek work used for “easy” in this passage is “chrestos” which translates as well-fitting. If we get yoked to Him, it will fit us well. Jesus wants us to be bonded with Him. When we are yoked to Him, we will benefit from His strength to do the work we are meant to do. Oxen are not only beasts of burden and symbols of strength but, sometimes also, animals of sacrifice. He wants to be connected with us in ways that are visible and invisible, material and spiritual, and in ways that are sacrificial.
A similar notion exists in yoga, where the physical and spiritual are united. “Yoga” and “yoke” come from the same root word meaning attached or unified. Our hope, as Christians, is to be united with Jesus in our mission and destination. It starts with tuning in to our breathing. As God breathed life into the first human in Eden, so did Jesus breathe upon the Apostles after His resurrection; He was breathing the new life of the Holy Spirit into them. It symbolizes the covenant between God and creation, between Christ and the new creation by which we are yoked with Him.
In yoga, like in most meditative prayers, we attempt to synchronize our breathing with a rate that was given to our eldest ancestor. Many medical professionals claim that through meditative prayer our heart rates and breathing ease their way to a rhythm which is healthiest for us and most purely human. For example, some contend that in the time it takes to pray a rosary we arrive at that perfect rate. The repetition of words, or mantra, like those prayed in the rosary, help us to get centered. Centering prayer, or centered breathing, helps us to be more mindful of our creation and our Creator. Through such prayers, we are “yoga-ed” with Christ.
Though studies are inconclusive that yoga impacts physical disease or mental health, some have documented personal achievements, as have others in recovering from addictions. Beyond the breathing is the movement. Stretching is the best exercise for us, especially as we age. As we stretch our bodies, minds, and spiritual limitations, we move beside Christ with whom we are yoked. There, as we plow the fields of our daily challenges, our burdens will be lightened and our mission enlightened. With Him, we live and move and breathe and have our very being, to paraphrase Saint Paul (Acts 17:28). When we are in sync with Christ—yoked to Him—it will fit well for us and our burden will be eased.