Spiritually speaking: Viki Distin finds divine connection through yoga
Spiritually Speaking is a blog series for the spiritually curious. Here you’ll find interviews with those willing to share what spirituality means to them.
When I first started attending Viki Distin’s yoga classes morthan 10 years ago, it was then and there that I began brushing up against the Divine (you can read about that here). It’s apropos that Viki graciously agreed to an interview for this second post in the Spiritually Speaking series.
Though I only pop into Viki’s class from time to time these days, I still favor her classes and her teachings. Her commitment to a contemplative yoga practice that focuses on connection as well as on alignment make for some of the best classes I’ve attended over my 20-year on-and-off yoga practice. It’s with equal parts gratitude and gladness that I present to you this post. May you all receive as much from Viki’s wisdom and experience as I.
Since she was child, Viki Distin has been compelled to get to the source of things. But it wasn’t until she was an adult recovering from a lengthy illness that she stumbled onto yoga. Looking for a way to regain her health, Viki practiced along with a DVD on yoga for beginners. Since then, Viki has gone on to earn several yoga teacher certifications, co-found the thriving Cascade Yoga Studio, build a community of yogis, and study with renowned yoga teacher Tias Little.
Viki incorporates the contemplative aspects of yoga into her classes, into her own practices, and into the everyday, allowing her to draw from a deep well-spring within. As a senior yoga teacher, Viki’s classes concentrate on the details of alignment so her students are always safe. Her teachings also incorporate yoga’s subtle nuances, which encourages students to dive deep and explore their internal worlds.
In addition to running Cascade Yoga Studio and teaching yoga, meditation, and breathing classes, Viki regularly blogs about how we can use contemplative practices in our daily lives.
What does spirituality mean to you?
To me, spirituality means the unknown. It's this thing that we tap into when we drop into the practices that help us explore what is not in the rational mind. I would even go as far as to say it's the unconscious mind because obviously that's unknown to us. If I kept it really simple, it’s connecting to this unknown force that supports us. It sounds so ambiguous, but spirituality is ambiguous. For me, it's hard to explain because it's not intellectualized.
Describe how you cultivate your spirituality.
Silence, solitude, and meditation are my spiritual practices. And of course a yoga practice incorporates all three of those things. It's through yoga that I can I connect to Spirit or God. Every time I drop into that silence, solitude, and meditation, whether it be 15 minutes or five days, I come away feeling renewed. My mind is more clear.
That silence and solitude piece…I feel like it's missing, not just for most people, but even for many yoga practices. I think it's really hard for people to become silent and still. So at least we have the physical postures of yoga to help us baby-step our way into being able to sit still and listen to that voice within. One of my early yoga teachers taught me that prayer is the practice of offering your requests to God, where meditation is the practice of listening to God. I think we need both.
Do you follow a faith tradition?
I do. I grew up Christian, and come from a long line of Methodist ministers. But it wasn’t until I started doing yoga that I really began connecting to God. Even though I grew up as a Christian, it was yoga that made me understand Christianity better. The peace or joy of Jesus wasn’t there, or at least not on a consistent basis. I wasn't feeling the connection to God.
It took the yoga for me to understand my connection to faith. When I dove - head down, literally - into yoga, not only did it make me a better Christian, but it also made me more open to all faiths. Any type of spiritual practice that connects you to some kind of self-reflection I would say is valuable - whether you do that through the Islamic faith or dream interpretation or counseling. So whatever spiritual modality works for someone, yoga can complement that.
Tell us how faith or spirituality showed up in your life as a child.
As a child, I went to Sunday school. My mom was the choir director. But, we never really talked about spirituality in my family, which was interesting. We'd go to church, but then it wasn't like we'd ever sit around and talk about our faith. We said grace and that kind of thing, but there was never really any discussion about faith. I think that was frustrating for me. It was challenging for my parents to talk about our faith.
But what my parents did do was teach me a spiritual practice just by the way they treated people. They were both extremely respectful and loving of all people. It didn't matter who the person was, my parents were always compassionate, respectful, and loving people. I learned what it was like to be Jesus through my parents and how they treated people. It was good to watch that. For me, watching them treating people well was more powerful than sitting around reading scripture.
Talk about the path your spirituality has taken.
I married my husband, who is Christian, and we decided to raise our kids Christian. But when I started practicing yoga there were some conflicting times. My husband and I had the same intention for spirituality, which was to connect with God, but we wanted to do it in different ways.
For my husband, it was going to church and joining a fellowship group. For me, it was meditation, yoga, and retreating. We weren't sure how to present these different modalities of Christianity to our kids. I believe that silence and solitude are in the Christian faith, but it's not talked about very much. I would go to church and wonder why they weren't talking about these spiritual disciplines, even though we know Jesus did those practices.
Then there's this whole realm of Christian mysticism, and I resonate with the Christian mystics. Not because I'm trying to have an ecstatic experience, but because the transformation happens for me through silence and solitude.
Early on in my yoga practice, I was talking with a minister and told her that I had been reading articles from Christians saying not to practice yoga because it’s evil. So I asked her about that. She sent me this beautiful email, and she said a really good litmus test to a spiritual practice is to look at the fruits of it. She reminded me that through yoga I was becoming more patient, kind, and generous. I was cultivating the fruits of the Holy Spirit, so what I was practicing wasn’t anti-Christian. I felt so relieved because I didn't feel like I had to leave my faith. And I didn't want to leave my faith.
Where is your spirituality at today?
Resonating with the Christian mystics - Thomas Keating, Thomas Merton, etc - I want to dive deeper into the history of that. Early in my yoga practice I had a spiritual experience, a visceral sensation of connecting to God. I didn’t even know that was possible at the time. Growing up, it wasn’t taught that everyone has divinity inside of them. After that spiritual experience I realized God is within all of us.
But that experience freaked me out. I thought: Well, who am I? I'm just a housewife from Grand Rapids. Who am I to be divine? It made me realize, I am divine. God is within me. That also made me realize everyone has this potential. I think that ecstatic experience happened to me because it was in recognition that everyone has the potential to be divine. And it’s through that vision that I teach yoga - I work to teach people that they are divine. They have that potential.
Is that ecstatic experience your first memory of being connected to the Divine, or was there a time earlier in your life?
I haven't had a connection to the Divine that powerful before or since that ecstatic experience. I'm also not trying to because I think it can be a distraction. I don’t think that “high” is healthy or sustainable for the nervous system. Understanding this through the lens of the nervous system, it was an extreme sympathetic response. In yoga, we look to balance the sympathetic and the parasympathetic (rest and digest) systems, and this balance will breed sustenance. However, before that experience, and since that experience, I have felt glimmers of this strong divine connection.
Have you ever completely stepped away from your spirituality?
I did and I didn't. I did stop going to church every Sunday. But I always felt connected to Christianity. It felt like my roots. If I really connected to Christianity...it's hard to describe it…I don't feel the need to go to church. There’s a writer, Caroline Myss, who says that at some point to grow spiritually you have to leave the tribe. Though I didn't leave the Christian faith, I did leave the tribe.
The whole practice of going to church, Bible study, those didn’t work for me anymore. I still go to church, but I mostly go for my husband. But, he also practices yoga for me. That's how we make it work. It's not like when I go to church I don't get anything from it. It's just more of an intellectual thing that happens there. It's not this visceral connection to God like when I'm meditating or on retreat. Although, I do appreciate the organization of the Christian church for the volumes and volumes of mission and service work they do for those less fortunate.
What do you hope for your spirituality?
At some point, I hope there is an overflow of love and radiance, and that I can empower and teach others to feel the same.