Susan Neal blended two seemingly unrelated passions into one: Christianity and yoga.
In 2004, she launched a Scripture Yoga class at Woodbine Church in Pace. The class inspired her to write a corresponding book, “Scripture Yoga,” which includes 21 Bible lessons for Christian yoga classes.
“I felt like for five years God was saying, ‘Make yoga Christian,’” Neal said. “I was like, ‘I don’t know how to do that,’ until I learned God’s word and I started memorizing God’s word.”
Neal teaches a free Scripture Yoga class at 10 a.m. Fridays at In-Line Fitness, 5628 Woodbine Road, Pace. “Scripture Yoga,” along with several of Neal’s other books are available on Amazon.com.
More information about Scripture Yoga is available at Facebook.com/ScriptureYoga/.
Neal has reaped the benefits of yoga for a long time.
She started yoga as a way to relieve stress while pursuing two master’s degrees from the University of Florida — one in business administration and one in health science.
“I picked up a book and taught myself how to do yoga, and it was very stress-relieving and it was wonderful,” Neal said.
Yoga has many health benefits for the mind, body and spirit, Neal said. She lists them in her books, including increasing muscle tone, range of motion and flexibility, and reducing stress, anxiety and depression.
Before teaching the class, Neal already wondered how to make yoga Christian, she said. When Woodbine Church asked her to start a yoga class, it was even more incentive.
“How could this be a Christian environment for a yoga class?” Neal said. “Yoga has this bad rap, but it’s such a wonderful form physiologically and psychologically for your body.”
A few years later, Neal read Rick Warren’s “Purpose Driven Life,” which encouraged her to memorize one Scripture verse a week. She did, and suddenly it all made sense.
She integrated the Bible verses into Christian themes for her yoga classes.
“I felt as though it was really God ordained,” Neal said. “I felt like the Lord was saying, ‘How can you make this Christian?’ Rick Warren was saying, ‘Learn Scripture.’ And, I was already teaching yoga in Pensacola.”
Neal recites verses during class. Examples of themes are “Don’t Quench the Spirit,” “How to be Filled with the Holy Spirit” and “The Fruit of the Spirit.”
People often approach Neal after class and ask which verses she used, so they can write them down, she said.
“Each one of these classes is like taking a mini Bible study,” Neal said. “You walk out of there with golden nuggets of godly wisdom.”
Neal taught a women’s Bible study for several years at her church, so she already was familiar with the concept. She also incorporates thoughts that occur to her during classes, she said.
“I’ll have examples in my own personal life that I bring up,” Neal said. “That’s how people learn, when you show your true self and that you’re not perfect.”
Pam Antoun, a member of Woodbine Church, has taken Scripture Yoga for more than four years. She first tried the class solely for the physical component, she said.
“I was blown away by it because it was really amazing at a spiritual level,” Antoun said. “You’re getting the spiritual nourishment while you’re doing a lot of good things for your body by stretching and breathing properly.”
After the first class, Antoun was hooked, she said. She highly recommends the class.
“After you walk out of class, you feel like you’ve gotten a massage,” Antoun said. “(Neal) has a very soothing voice, and she uses beautiful music to go along with it.”
The idea for the book came a decade after Neal started the class. A fellow Christian yoga teacher came to Neal’s class and expressed an interest in the themes.
“She said, ‘I have had the hardest time figuring out what to have as a Christian theme in my yoga class,’” Neal said. “I was like, ‘Well, I have a whole bunch, because I’ve been doing this for over a decade.' I really felt called to get this on the market, so if anyone else wanted to have a theme — well, here’s 21 themes. That’s like half the year."
Yoga once was more taboo than it is now, Neal said.
“Fifteen years ago, when I started this, I got more flack about, ‘Oh, voodoo-ish with yoga,’” Neal said. “Now I think people are being much more open with Christian yoga.”
Some people associate yoga with religions other than Christianity, Neal said. Her book features research about how yoga existed before many religions.
“Yoga archaeologically dates back to 3,000 B.C. but the beginning of Hinduism was 1500 B.C. and Buddhism was 1600 B.C.,” Neal said. “Those two religions picked up yoga as part of their religious practice because it’s such an incredibly wonderful form of exercise for the body, mind and spirit.”