“Catholic Yoga Lady” by Gia Lupinacci-Maxson

As a child of the 70’s and teen of the 80’s, I consider myself a Catholic Revert. Raised as a “cradle” Catholic in a small Rhode Island town, the Catholic identity of my youth was more cultural than spiritual.  As a Gen-X’er, we were not only under catechized, but many of our parents didn’t have a lot to teach us about the beauty of Catholicism and how it’s a blueprint for living life.  My parents approached weekly Mass as an obligation, while attending the shortest Mass possible “without all that singing.”  They didn’t serve in any volunteer capacity, so I had no idea about the concept of time, talent and treasure, or giving back to the parish as well as the community.  Outside of the memorization of the Our Father, the Hail Mary and the Glory Be, I wasn’t taught how to pray, we didn’t recite a blessing before meals, and we didn’t have a Bible in our home. My parents were good people, but they taught me little about my spiritual self, while the Church at that time didn’t teach me very much either.   

During my young adult years, I didn’t fully abandon the Church, attending Mass on Christmas and Easter only, which in Catholic circles is known as a Catholic CEO. I’ve always sought meaning-making, so it made no sense to celebrate Christmas or Easter without acknowledging  the reasons why those days are so special. However, my Catholic practices didn’t become an essential part of my life until my early 30’s, after spending my 20’s learning yoga and experimenting with various spiritual practices from Eastern traditions. I was interested in the idea that God is God, regardless of names.  But somehow, that didn’t seem quite right either. Once my husband and I began raising our children, going to Church with the kids seemed like the right thing to do.  We knew our children needed a strong foundation, and although we were married in the Catholic Church, my husband was raised Episcopalian. In those early years we attended non-Catholic churches including the Unitarian Church, but I never felt at home until our move to North Carolina when I made my way by myself one Saturday evening to my current parish of St. Aloysius. It was a lightning bolt moment for me, a total game changer. The Holy Spirit spoke, and I’ve been listening ever since. 

Fast forward 21 years, and you’ll find me at numerous daily Masses during the week, going before Mass to pray the rosary, sitting in the Adoration Chapel in silence, lectoring on Sundays, teaching faith formation, and generally geeking-out on all things Catholic. My children are very strong in their faith and have a rich background in music ministry. Back in 2015, my husband came into full communion with the Church after an insightful and particularly holy priest noticed that he attended Mass every week, but never received the Eucharist. I cried like a baby at that Easter Vigil when my husband became Catholic. 

My feelings about the church have gone from being simply a cultural identity as a young person, to something out-of-date, overtly patriarchal, and boringly mundane as a young adult. Finally, as a middle aged lady, the teachings of the Universal Church are simply the truth.  I believe that the Holy Catholic Church, with all its flaws, divisions, and festering wounds is remarkable in it’s continuity and sacred traditions.  The truth is that Jesus founded our church over 2000 years ago and it remains the closest structure possible to what Jesus was attempting to manifest on Earth. Do I think it has issues, problems and needs some fine tuning?  Yes. Thankfully, I’m not the one who has to be in charge of those.  I’ll be in charge of my own domestic church instead, thank you very much. 

My yoga journey began in the late 80’s as a college elective.  It sounded weird and exotic, which it was, and I was totally hooked from day one. Back then there were no yoga mats or props, and very few “studios” outside of major cities.  Back then the only book I could get my hands on was The Sivananda Guide to Yoga, and the only video available was the infamous Rachel Welch’s Total Beauty and Fitness, which ultimately got her sued by Choudhury Bikram. I faithfully practiced along to that video and emulated the photos in the Sivananda book as a home practice.  Finding yoga teachers was a challenge, but I managed. I eventually became a yoga teacher in the way it was done back then. Your teacher asked if you could teach their class when they couldn’t, and thus began my decades long journey into teaching and practicing the ancient art of yoga.

In the early 2000’s, yoga studios and teacher training began to grow and I went through extensive certifications because it seemed to be the thing to do at the time. At this point, all things yoga, including workshops, classes, training and teachers has become totally over-saturated.  So much has changed in the yoga world since I took my first class in 1987. Yoga is regulated.  Yoga is franchised.  Yoga meets capitalism and becomes a billion dollar industry. Talk about a conundrum! In fact, I muse about this paradox in my book, Confessions of a Catholic Yoga Lady, which I’m self-publishing in the very near future. 

My style of yoga, just as my faith, has evolved over the years.  Am I the same person I was ten years ago? Yes and no. Do I teach the same yoga style? Yes and no. I’m always fascinated by the question: “What style of yoga do you teach?” I mean, I teach Hatha Yoga,  the postures and the breath combined. That’s all there is. But now, that’s not quite good enough. Modern yoga, just like our post-modern technological society, offers so many styles, so many options, so many choices!  Which leads us to the paradox of choice which in and of itself is a separate blog post. But seriously, I teach my own unique style of yoga which is fluid and smooth, inspired by my own personal playlists which are yet another participant in my class. I also believe in the separation of yoga and religion so-to-speak. I don’t feel the need to incorporate the spiritual mumbo-jumbo that is common vernacular in most yoga settings. I no longer chant Om, and I have an aversion to Tibetian singing bowls and tingsha bells since they just don’t have meaning-making for me anymore. Even the “namaste” greeting has gotten old, and I prefer to end class with a “God Bless” instead.  I have a difficult time taking other people’s yoga classes because I’ve arrived at a place in my life where after owning and operating a yoga studio, developing an original teacher training program, teaching tens of thousands of hours of yoga classes, yoga has become second nature to me. It’s intuitive and guided by the Holy Spirit. It is a reflection of who I am. My learning comes solely from my students, and not by any other “guru” besides Jesus Christ himself. 

As far as my book goes, I began processing it around 15 years ago. Taking notes, jotting down ideas, but it wasn’t until my 50th birthday that the actual writing process began. I am currently in the editing stage, which is really difficult, but I’m inspired by the Holy Spirit and the Blessed Mother who protects me from the evil one when those thoughts of, “who am I to be a writer?” enter my mind. The book has been a life-long opus of my two biggest passions: Yoga and Catholicism.  It started out years ago as a way to explain yoga to skeptical Catholics, but it has evolved into a book of Catholic Apologetics in relation to the common threads our faith shares with yoga. Just as I never planned to become a yoga teacher or ever thought I would become this on-fire Catholic Yoga Lady, I also never planned on being a writer.  It’s where the Holy Spirit has guided me. In the end, writing simply helps me clarify both my yoga experience and my faith.

Written by Gia Lupinacci-Maxson, BS, Gerontology MS, Education. You can follow Gia on Instagram as @catholicyogalady and on Facebook.