A Priest on a Yoga Mat

{I wrote this piece for an English class I’m in and I’m really happy how it turned out, so I figured I would share!}

It’s 7:56am. Dressed in a maroon athletic shirt and loose cotton pants, David Cregan is preparing for a handstand. Palms press. Eyes lower. Arms lock. In one fluid movement, his legs kick up, gently tapping the wall behind him, before straightening into the inverted pose. He holds for 12 breaths, which seems like a lifetime to the sleepy, beginner yogis in his class. Slowly, his legs descend as he folds into himself, smiling, eyes closed, forehead resting on the mat. He seems to be praying, albeit in a less traditional way than he’s used to. For when Cregan prays, it’s usually on an altar, not a yoga mat.

Father Cregan is a priest at Villanova University, but also a reverent yoga teacher. Despite his aging body and bad knees, he is dedicated to the practice. To him, it’s not just a form of exercise; it’s a moving meditation that allows him to express his faith.

“The integration of the mind and the body that I experience in yoga is a kind of home for me,” he says in his office, two days after his morning class. With his sandy-brown beard and thick-rimmed glasses, Cregan looks more like an academic than a yogi. Comfortably cross-legged in an armchair, he chooses his words thoughtfully. “It brings together two important parts of my personality.” Similar the practice of yoga, his office is indicative of his disciplined yet vivacious nature: the rosary on the coffee table clearly represents his vocation while the expansive multi-colored tapestry on the wall embodies his vibrant spirit. When asked about the striking wall decoration, Cregan’s eyes light up. “It’s from India where I spent 5 weeks getting certified to teach yoga,” he explains. “To those in the Hindu culture, yoga isn’t exercise. It’s a way of life.” While India may have inspired his current yogi mentality, Cregan started stretching for more practical reasons.

As a young man, Cregan ran long distance. In 1997, he completed the New York City Marathon, placing in the top 16 percent (or specifically 4,937th, as Cregan recalls). A few days later, he decided to go for a run, despite the recommended rest period. Perhaps fatefully, he injured his left leg, to which a sports medicine doctor suggested medication, surgery or more stretching. Wary of the first two options, Cregan decided to try yoga, despite his initial assumption: “I thought it was for people in California who exclusively eat granola bars.” Still, he visited a yoga studio in Staten Island, not expecting how it would alter his perspective. “It was a very spiritual place,” he says. “They had the traditional Hindu images, but also the Blessed Mother with a rosary wrapped in her hands. It was then I realized it was a physical activity as well as a spiritual one.”

Since that first class in 1997, Father David has incorporated yoga into his daily routine. In 2008, after being certified in India, he began teaching classes in the Davis Center for students, which most describe as a unique experience. “Every time I practice yoga with Father David, it’s like a prayer,” says Fiona Shovlin, graduate assistant in Campus Ministry and a regular in Cregan’s class. “Yet he also creates an energizing atmosphere. Yoga’s goal is to unite our minds, bodies and spirits and he is skillfully aware of this during class.”

Others close to Cregan also appreciate how his faith, vitality and yoga practice seamlessly intertwine. “He loves teaching, preaching, praying and exercising,” says Father Joseph Mostardi, former roommate and dear friend of Cregan. “They have become so woven into his daily routine that they are hard to distinguish. He knows how to laugh at himself and then find peace even in the midst of chaos. It’s a way he remains balanced.”

And boy, does Cregan love balance. In a one-hour yoga class, he’ll challenge his students to find stability on one foot, shaking forearms and occasionally lopsided heads. With every grunt and heavy clunk of limbs hitting the floor, he reminds his class that they’re doing something beautiful.

And at 9:04am, when his class is ending, the sighs of relief are overshadowed by confident smiles. With hands pressing and heads bowing, the class chants “Namaste,” which Cregan translates to “The divine in me recognizes the divine in you.” After a final blessing, Cregan rolls up his mat, changes into his black vestments and leaves his class the opposite of how he started: right side up.

{Click here to read about the first time I took a class with Father David}

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