Checking In: Yoga & Lenten Practices During a Time of Unknowns

My Dear Yoga Friends!

It’s great to be with you today. I have more time available these days, and I’ve been taking advantage of the opportunity to do some new things that I want to share with you. Also, this letter was going to be a “Lenten Check-In” as a follow up to my last post. But now it’s a check-in to see how you’re doing in all areas, not just Lent, and see if I can offer some resources that you might find useful.

  • First, thanks for being here.
  • Second, thanks for your practice.
  • Third, I love you!

Shhoooo! I feel better. Try that out:

  • First, thank yourself for being present.
  • Second, thank yourself for practicing.
  • Third, send yourself some L-O-V-E Love!
  • Seriously, take 3 breaths and do the above.

…Better…? Nice.

Resources for Difficult Times

Now, the Resources. Click or tap here to visit my new page, Resources for Difficult Times.

The Check-In

Now, the check-in. Lent is still happening, and though it has taken quite a backseat to the current situation, it is such a beautiful time of practice weaved into our liturgical year that I feel we can still honor it, even if only in a small way. Lent is faithful. It comes back to us each year as an encouragement, to get us to try out some different behaviors, to notice things, ourselves, our thoughts, our emotions, in a different way than the usual. In other words, Lent comes around to open our eyes. Lent gets us to be mindful, to pay attention, to be and remain very much awake to our own experience and so to the experience of others. Lent is empathy building.

The current global situation, however, has created the circumstances for everyone to be immersed in a kind of Lent, whether we like it or not, and we’re forced to pay attention to our behaviors, to wake up to our interconnectedness, to move through a kind of desert landscape with which we are wholly unfamiliar. We didn’t choose this; this chose us. But we can move through it together, and this is empathy building.

We get to choose
how we want to live it out.
We can choose to savor the good.

We get to choose how we want to live it out. There’s not much we can control in this world. But we can choose where we let our mind dwell. We can choose to savor the good. Please do not think that I mean for us to ignore suffering, or deny the hardships, challenges, fears, and overall sense of unease that has descended like a fog. In fact, I encourage us to welcome those emotions, facts, and realities, the unclear, heavy, burdensome unknown. Acknowledge every bit of it with your kind attention and a welcoming sense of curiosity. What do these challenges teach us? I know that might seem strange and maybe crazy. But I’ve found that pretending, denying, or burying my head in the sand has never been helpful and has only compounded difficulty. Because of this, my invitation to us is to be curious. Embrace the not-knowing, try living the questions, and notice where we let our mind dwell.

Adjusting The Practices

I was going to encourage us to revisit our plans for Lent and modify, change, add, pull back, or adjust, in any way, any part of our plan for these 40 days. However, I want to emphasize that our global situation truly is a kind of Lent in its own right, and one that will last well beyond 40 days. So if we feel compelled to throw our Lenten promises to the wind, we should do that. If we feel supported in continuing the practices we set in place, we should carry on. And Yes, Absolutely Make Some Adjustments.

Taking a Moment to Pause, Breathe, & Notice Our Sacred Humanity

Where there’s space,
there’s love.

There is a hushed peace that has enveloped my family, and it feels sacred. I’m just going to say it: the cancellation of all the fun, joyous, hard-worked-for and practiced events, while disappointing, has created an enormity of space in the life of my family, an amount of space unfathomable in our normal day-to-day. And, where there’s space, there’s love. You know, actually, it feels like Christmas. The kind of Christmas when heavy snow dampens noise into hushed tones, when the darkness of evening shines with circles of glowing light. The kind of Christmas that has the weight and heft of Holiness, the mind-boggling sacredness of the God of Creation bursting forth into our world.

The kind of Christmas that has
the weight and heft of Holiness, the mind-boggling sacredness of the God of Creation
bursting forth into our world.

Indeed, there is beauty springing up all around us, and I’m not talking about the crocuses and daffodils that are greening. I’m talking about the outpouring of support I’ve been witness to and have been blessed to be a recipient of. I’m talking about the people who are taking action, and the people who are letting go, living the questions, and making adjustments on the fly — people like you. I bet you’ve taken positive steps on behalf of someone already, and maybe that someone is yourself. There is a sacredness here, in this mess. Our common humanity is sacred ground on which we move forward together with compassion and empathy, carrying what is ours to bare, and setting down what is ours to let go.

Keep Practicing

I try hard not to be naive. I know this Christmas-y feeling will fade away and difficulties will take its place. I’m not out to paint the clouds with silver, but I refuse to deny the good. I can’t pretend I’m not absolutely loving the slow pace, the swaths of time laid out in front me, the inordinate amount of opportunities to play. It feels good and right to delight in the hours I get to be next to my favorite people.

I try hard not to be unrealistically optimistic. I know the weight and heft of Holiness can start to feel weighty and hefty. But I have faith in the practices. Times like these are what we practice for. Uncertainty, difficulty, change, and unknowns are the hills, curves, valleys, and distances of our lives. When I see marathon stickers on the backs of cars (26.2, 13.1, and my personal favorite 0.0) I think, Man, I’m just training for life! I wasn’t built to run marathons, so I don’t train for them. But yoga was built for me, and I use it to train for whatever comes my way each day.

Online Yoga, Mindfulness, & Meditation

I’m trying to throw together a little library of practices on YouTube. I’ve no idea what I’m doing; I’m just trying to do my part to put some resources out into the world. (Feel free to laugh at my novice attempts to record and post!) My in-studio classes are on hold for now, but look for some more robust online opportunities from Mind Body Align in the near future. If you have requests for practices, themes, or meditations, please send me a note.

The Wrap-Up

  • Acknowledge every hardship.
  • Notice where your mind dwells.
  • Steer your thoughts toward the positive.
  • Play.
  • Love & be loved.
  • Savor the sweetness.
  • Do your practice.
  • Use your resources; ask for and receive help.
  • Serve in love from a place of grounded spaciousness.

More Beautiful Resources

Keep practicing, Sweet Friends!

The Catholic Yogi

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!

A New Year Mantra for Lent

Three months removed from the start of the year, and embarking on the first week of Lent, it seems fitting to revisit our new year mantra (with a twist into first person):

Seek to bring out the good in those around me,
and I will find the best in myself.

How does this look manifested in our real and very daily lives?

Sometimes it is what we don’t do that creates change.  Seeking to bring out the good in others might best come by way of self-restraint.  Practicing silence, aside from many other benefits, can allow those around us to blossom.

These next weeks as we move toward Spring, let’s be patient, dig into the last of Winter, and embrace a kind of dormancy of speech.  May we be delighted by what we find growing all around us come Eastertime.