Yoga is a practice of liberation. It’s sometimes described as a discipline of freedom in which you learn more and more what it means to be trapped and what it means to be liberated. It is a Wisdom Tradition that draws your own wisdom from the core of your body out through all your limbs, your hands and feet, your eyes, your crown, and covers you with it. Your own goodness, your own wholeness, your own choice to be the way you want to be in the world.

When lying in savasana (resting in corpse pose), I’d hear my dear teacher talk about contentment, our true nature. I thought I knew what she meant. So I began striving for contentment. This is hysterical! I see myself as having chased contentment so much that I literally chased it away the way one keeps driving a puppy farther on by running after it. (You know, you have to get the puppy to wanna chase you, then you run home.)

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Hollowness, emptiness, obscurity, lack. That’s what’s left when contentment’s not around. But these non-feeling-feelings are vague and veiled, so sometimes they can seem like contentment. I’d say it to my own students, too, “Rest in contentment, your true nature.”

I had misgivings about this, about not being sure, exactly, what this true-nature-contentment thing was, so sometimes I wouldn’t say it. But I did know about the pause between breaths, that swirling spaciousness into which the exhale dissolves and from which the inhale arises. And so I’d invite my students to “Rest here, for as long as it lasts, and then enjoy the next breath whenever it comes along.”

20 years later

full, warm, round.
Like a baby’s belly after just enough milk.

When my babes were growing into toddlers there was always a lot of talk about food. Meals, snacks, bites, feasts. Yoga is like this.

When my toddlers were growing into children, we talked about feeling full, stuffed, hungry, ravenous, and famished (never starving). I offered them “content” as a way of describing the sensation just shy of full. Did they feel (sense) they’d had enough to eat? What if we wait twenty minutes before having more? Did they feel content with what they had? Yoga is like this.

Photo by Pixabn

Memorial Day weekend of 2020 I was on my first ever silent retreat. My first ever silent retreat was fully online. So, not the experience I had anticipated, but one that was rich and layered with new ways relating and new ways of knowing. It was on that Saturday after listening to poetry, feeling it in my body, and understanding the ways metaphor (which is language itself) translates to sensation (through the motor and somatosensory cortex) that I realized I had been selling myself short. Or (and?) selling contentment short.

I began to understand that I had interpreted contentment as a neutral sensation, neither pleasant nor unpleasant. It seems I didn’t have a sense (a sensation) of contentment that resonated or vibrated in my body. Also, I had used the yogic practice of non-attachment as a way of trying to access contentment, and in so doing had separated it from sensation even further. In this way, contentment felt like nothing – no thing – there was no metaphorical/neural connection for me. When I thought or said the word contentment, neither my motor, nor my somatosensory cortex activated. My brain had nothing (no thing) to offer. There was not an embodied experience (a knowing) from which to draw meaning. No texture or temperature, no vision, aroma, flavor, or action. Basically, contentment was dead.

Enticing the Puppy

Have you ever felt a poem in your bones? Has your flesh ever vibrated with a knowing when your friend describes her experience to you? Has your body ever come alive as you describe your own experience to someone else? This happens because language touches the part of our brain that controls our senses and our movement. The only reason we know anything is because we have a body from which to draw meaning.

Through a series of contemplative inquiries, trauma-informed, resilience focused practices, and iRest yoga nidra meditation, I began to understand that contentment could hold really big things, like Ease, Security, and Safety. It was like a door had been opened, or the roof lifted off, and possibility entered in, lifting me like a cloud toward something even bigger – Joy.

I used to think, Joy? Who am I to feel joy? And then, Wait – why not joy? Why rest in contentment when I can rest in joy? Instead of coupling contentment with neutrality, non-attachment, non-touching, non-aliveness, I started connecting it with happiness, serenity, peace, tranquility, and even Bliss – full aliveness.

I began to turn away from striving, and instead began running home to my body. Contentment would follow me, like a puppy, and bring with her all the sensations of enlivenment like tingling, pulsating, vibrating, shimmering. This is Yoga.

Photo by Erik Izsu00f3f on

A touching. A coming together. A joining. A yoking. A completeness. A coming home. All of this inside me, coming to life.

The practice of contentment is one of non-grasping. It is deep below the surface where the waves do not disturb it. That’s how this all works. Have the experience of bliss and remain equanimous when bliss passes. Have the experience of spaciousness and remain at ease when spaciousness fades. Have the experience of peace and remain serene when peace dissipates. The depth of the ocean is content to remain in cold darkness, unmoved by the weather so far above.

The Evolution of Practice

Dear one, in the depth of your being be content to rest in joy, your true nature, unmoved by the circumstances of your life. Allow yourself to be breathed by the lifeforce of the universe. Feel the birth of the inhalation and the death of the exhalation. Allow yourself to rest in the spacious joyfulness between breaths where death dissolves and life begins.

Can you feel how big you are? Can you feel light radiating from you? Can you feel it in your blood? Your bones? Your skin? How you are touching Love and Love is touching you? How you are the ocean, how you are Love?

Photo by Irina

Take small bites. (Three little breaths.)

Nibble. (Have a few cat/cows.)

Just have a snack. (One goooooood sun salute.)

Eat just enough. (Two and a half minutes?)

Sense when you are content. (Relaxation.)

Feel when you are full. (Om.)

Get used to the idea
of being
such an amazing thing
as Joy,
and feast
when it is feasting time.

Contentment is big enough

And so are you.

Photo by NaMaKuKi on Pexels.com

Mindful Moments: 3 Chocolate Practices for Ash Wednesday & Beyond

Mindfulness is the practice of noticing what’s happening in the present moment without judgement.  It’s being aware of your sensory experience: sight, sound, scent, touch, taste. It’s offering your kind attention to your emotions and thoughts, all without analyzing or criticizing.  In my Catholic experience, chocolate has been associated with Lent and Easter for decades, and it’s possible some of you have memories of giving up chocolate for Lent and then eating a basket full on Easter Sunday.  Mindfulness is a big part of my yoga practice both on and off the mat. And chocolate is a big part of my life, both during Ordinary Time and during Lent. So, I thought I’d share a few mindful Lenten prayer practices that I have found useful at various times in my life.  

1. Give Up Chocolate Mindfully

When I give up chocolate for Lent, it’s a big deal.  Seriously. Because I love chocolate, the dark kind. I savor it daily.  When a person enjoys chocolate the way I do, it really is a sacrifice to give it up.  Non-chocolate-lovers might not have a felt experience of this. If that’s you, think of a special treat or snack you really enjoy and imagine not enjoying it for 40-ish days.  It can seem near impossible, excruciating, or completely pointless! However, it’s comforting to remember that the point of not eating chocolate (or any food or beverage of your choice)  is not so that we suffer, so that we lose weight, or so that we check the box of “giving something up for Lent.”  

2. Don’t Give Up Chocolate Mindfully

We don’t have to give up chocolate. In fact, we can choose to eat chocolate during Lent, and eat it mindfully.  Mindful eating is a practice of paying close attention to the experience of eating your meal by noticing the details of your food, how it looks and feels, its aroma and flavor.  Mindful eating slows us down and allows time to contemplate all the needed resources for the food to grow, such as healthy soil, the the sun and the rain, as well as the many people who made the food available to you: the farmers, harvesters, packers, shippers, and sales attendants.  And finally, mindful eating gives space for your lived experience of enjoying it: noticing the shape and color, then the scent, then the texture, then the taste, and as you swallow, offering thanks. This practice has a way of slowing us down to savor, to acknowledge that we don’t stand alone as individualists, but are an integral piece of the interconnectedness of all life.  

“This practice might allow
the act of eating to become
a prayer in itself.

These moments of mindful eating can create space to grow closer to Christ through an experience of profound gratitude for the many blessings we enjoy.  We often begin our meals with prayer, and some of us end our meals with prayer, but this practice might allow the act of eating to become a prayer in itself.  Try it out with your favorite piece of chocolate after your next yoga practice, or anytime!

3. Mindfully Explore Your Relationship to Chocolate 

What happens when we look closely at our cravings?  (Remember, it doesn’t have to be chocolate. It can even be cravings for non-edible things like attention or acknowledgment.) Consider this breath practice for Ash Wednesday:  

  • Identify a specific food, drink, or experience you have everyday.  Decide to be curious about your relationship to this item.  
  • When you notice a craving for it, acknowledge it, perhaps by labeling it with a name.  Then pause. Take a long, slow, deep breath. And wait. Does the craving pass?  Are there any emotions present here?
  • Take four more breaths, and if you like, link your breath with your favorite prayer or favorite name for God.  Then, look again. Is the craving still there? What emotions are present? Where do the emotions manifest in your body?  Are there any thoughts moving through your mind?  

Remember, in the moment of mindfulness there is no judgment, only awareness of the experience.  After your five breaths, decide to satisfy the craving or decide not to, remembering that neither of these actions is necessarily bad or good.  Mindfulness is noticing, and this noticing might give you interesting information. Stay curious. Breathe deeply. Pray well.  

For me, mindful moments are a pathway to prayer. They offer space and time for me to connect to my self, to my God, and to others. And that’s really what the Lenten journey is about – growing closer to others through prayer, through Christ, through a loving relationship with your own inner being. God has plans for you this Lent. Spend Ash Wednesday being open to possibility, open to connection to yourself and God’s Divine presence within you. And from there, move out from contemplation and into doing. In the words of Richard Rohr, ask God, “What is mine to do?” Listen and look closely for the answers and allow your prayer life to become an access road to action.

I’ll leave you with four prayer quotes for Lent gathered by Sr. Melanie Svoboda on her blog Sunflower Seeds:

“God is hiding in the world. Our task is to let the Divine emerge from our deeds.” Rabbi Abraham Heschel.

“Lent comes providentially to reawaken us, to shake us from our lethargy.” Pope Francis.

”No act of virtue can be great if it is not followed by advantage for others. So no matter how much time you spend fasting, no matter how much you sleep on a hard floor and eat ashes and sigh continually, if you do no good to others, you do nothing great.” St. John Chrysostom.

 “Lent’s not what you give up; it’s how you reach out.” Regina Brett.

What do you think?  Do any of these practices sound interesting?  Do any of these quotes inspire you? Perhaps you’ll start with the practice of exploration on Ash Wednesday, and then decide how (or if) the other two practices will be a part of your Lenten journey this year.  You might like to make up one or two chocolate practices that are unique to your own experience. If you do, be sure to share your experience here.

Happy Fat Tuesday, Happy Lent, Happy Practicing!

For in Him We Live and Move and Have Our Being

It is Holy Thursday, the first day of the Triduum.

For Catholics, “the summit of the Liturgical Year is the Easter Triduum—from the evening of Holy Thursday to the evening of Easter Sunday. Though chronologically three days, they are liturgically one day unfolding for us the unity of Christ’s Paschal Mystery.  The single celebration of the Triduum marks the end of the Lenten season, and leads to the Mass of the Resurrection of the Lord at the Easter Vigil.  The liturgical services that take place during the Triduum are the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion, and the Mass of the Resurrection of the Lord” (usccb.org).

It also happens to be the eve of our Body Prayer practice, and I wanted to share with you Mother Teresa’s thoughts on prayer:

“There is only one God and He is God to all; therefore it is important that everyone is seen as equal before God. I’ve always said we should help a Hindu become a better Hindu, a Muslim become a better Muslim, a Catholic become a better Catholic. We believe our work should be our example to people. We have among us 475 souls – 30 families are Catholics and the rest are all Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs—all different religions. But they all come to our prayers.”

I pray that our Body Prayer practice is a blessings to all who attend and that our moving meditation would be a gift to God who sees, hears, and knows our hearts, “for in Him we live and move and have our being” (St. Paul).

Many blessings for a Happy Easter!

The Catholic Yogi