Yoga on Labyrinth

Labyrinthine Liturgies, New Age Style

In conjunction with the recent revival of liturgical dance in the United States, Memorial Church acquired a portable, vinyl labyrinth. This sparked a new church tradition in which visitors can walk the labyrinth every Friday morning. Four years later, the Office for Religious Life organized a “Yoga on the labyrinth” day, which has since become immensely popular. Yoga instructor Rebecca Snowball articulates how yoga on the labyrinth creates a renewing intersection between spirituality and artistry: “Rejuvenate the body, mind and spirit as we perform sacred gestures in the sacred space of Memorial Church on a sacred piece of geometry, the labyrinth. The labyrinth offers a sacred circle to work within an otherwise rectilinear world. The space and light this architecture offers to visitors is awe-inspiring and memorable. Contemplative traditions have used the labyrinth as a tool for synchronizing our soma and psyche and we will dance upon the labyrinth, contrary to the structure, overlaying one tradition upon another. Sacred gestures used to awaken our potential and enliven our spirit will be our sacred offering to the infinite that we may be released from the grip of speediness and materialism. Meditative music will enhance the experience.”

Chartres labyrinth, completed c. 1220. Photograph by Asaf Braverman

 

The practice of placing labyrinths in churches hearkens back to medieval Europe. The architectural design for medieval labyrinths was loosely inspired by descriptions of the Daedelian maze in classical literature that was bequeathed to the Middle Ages. But despite its legacy as a pre-Christian symbol alluding to the Cretan myth, the pavement labyrinth became a common feature in twelfth-century Gothic cathedrals; by adopting a crusader spirit, these labyrinths emblematized an act of personal pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Evidence for the labyrinth as a physically-charged space lies in its embodiment of cosmic movement. Medieval manuscripts contain diagrammatic images of labyrinths which forged a relationship between primordial matter, the creation of heavenly bodies, and the movement of the spheres. The Chartrain model (i.e. the paradigmatic labyrinth design at Chartres Cathedral) was reproduced in astrological and encyclopedic texts as a pictorial model of the universe. The Chartrain design is comprised of eleven tracks which lead to a single, circular center. This structure parallels the Aristotelian model of the universe, which featured twelve components (the four elements, the sun, the moon, the five visible planets, and the fixed stars). More modern churches such as Grace Cathedral, and now Memorial Church, have adopted the Chartrain labyrinth as well as Neo-Pagan communities and feminist theologians.