Climbing the stairs up to Grace Cathedral at the end of a long day, looking out over the early evening light reflecting a glare from downtown, the cool of the nave can feel like a retreat, a respite from the city into some temporary place apart. I was looking for that when a friend brought me to Yoga on the Labyrinth on a recent Tuesday. I’d been to my share of yoga classes and thought I knew what to expect. In many ways, I found it: Quiet and still, Grace is a world away from typical Tuesday city energy. But yoga here is different and offers something else. Not an escape but another kind of connection. “Yoga on the Labyrinth” opens Grace’s doors to a different kind of spiritual practice and a way to connect to the city, ourselves, and each other in new ways.
I read somewhere that cathedrals are “cracks in the fabric of spacetime” — places of departure, frozen in time, in the middle of the changing, moving, noisy city. Just being in the space throws us out of our daily movements and into a new, separate sphere of being, “in the world, but not of it,” as spiritual leaders from Jesus to Buddha have said. But that feeling of separateness — of being separated — can make us feel somehow smaller, even unworthy of the grandeur. We whisper when we walk inside. We’re aware of rules and rites and rituals. We want to act accordingly. But not today: Before class, mats are unrolled throughout the space. Between pews, up by the Keith Haring altarpiece, on the wheeling lines of the famous labyrinth itself. The buzz of bodies moving, being, and settling animates the space. Those chilled stone pillars echo with chatter and warmth. My favorite part of going to church as a kid was the few minutes before service when we’d turn to greet our neighbors. I grew to appreciate the moment for its fostering of community, but I first fell for it through the sound: the hum of human connection filling the echoing hall. If there’s a constant energy to Yoga on the Labyrinth, it’s this buzz. We take a pause before class starts to say hello — lots of regulars, regulars bringing first-time friends (me), lots of first-timers becoming regulars (also me) — and the energy carries through the rest of the hour-plus-long practice.
The class is a mellow Hatha sequence led by Darren Main, a pillar of the SF yoga scene and leader of Grace’s practice for over a decade. Local musicians add their vibes weekly; Destiny Muhammad played the harp and sang when I went. The Rev. Malcolm Clemens Young introduced the theme of the class — the heart chakra — with Rumi poems and a short meditation and set us off.
This isn’t yoga in a gym or a studio. The focus at Grace is less on performance or even physical challenge, though the option is there for you if you seek it (while Darren stays center-labyrinth, other teachers circulate to offer guidance and adjustments if you need them). The goal is spiritual expansion: Stretch the chakras, and the muscles follow. The class is more open and supportive than any I’ve taken. Move at your pace or meditate and watch the crowd.
We move through poses for an hour, slowing and settling into a guided meditation, and finally, to shavasana, where hundreds of bodies look up through the stained-glass light to the rafters above. I don’t know if the overhead bulbs were dimming or if the sun was setting or the space was softening into itself, but the collective frequency of the cathedral softened and stilled. In his introduction to the day’s practice, Darren mentioned something about yoga as a devotional act. And in the final moments of my practice, I thought of what another Bay Area spiritual guide said. Gary Snyder’s definition of devotion is taking pleasure in “the universe as it is” — not looking for meaning outside of the day-to-day but cultivating it in every moment, no matter how mundane. Yoga, especially at Grace, is a reminder that joy and connection are there if you meet it in reality and reach toward it from the ground, both inside and outside yourself.
Yoga on the Labyrinth happens every Tuesday at 6:15 pm and Saturday at 9 am. The coveted spots on the labyrinth are taken up quickly, so plan to arrive about twenty minutes before class. Reserve your space online or get a ticket at the door. Mats are available for rent.
About the Author
William Bostwick is an artist and writer in San Francisco. Look for his floral design work at nineswordsdesign.com and on unexpected corners around the city.
Grace Cathedral is a sanctuary for spirits where all are welcome. From transcendent religious experiences to deeply moving performances, everyone can find what they seek in our sacred space. We are grateful for the underwriting support of our congregation and supporters of GraceArts cultural membership, who make sharing personal experience stories like this possible.
A gentle reminder to our beloved Yogis: through the generosity of our community, we offer yoga practice to those who may find it challenging to afford it regularly. Email us at Yoga@gracecathedral.org for a comp pass within 24 hours if you want to practice more frequently. We’d love to have you join us.