Recently, I was asked to write an article for The United Methodist Church on embodiment and why connecting with the body matters for Christians. Here's a short excerpt of that piece and a link to the full story. Your clicking and sharing is always encouraging to writers like me.
If you've heard my story, you know that over 15 years ago, my body went through a health crisis (a stroke and brain surgery on my 31st birthday). At this time, I did not always feel like a whole person; I often felt disconnected and broken. While my body was in chronic pain, my spirit was also discouraged.
In that time of frustration, a physician prescribed yoga. I am unsure if it was the last resort on their part, but I was hurting and willing to try exercise and mindfulness. What did I have to lose? I did not know that yoga would be an invitation for embodiment and an opportunity for healing in my whole self—body and spirit.
Now, more than 15 years later, I not only practice living embodied, I am passionate about inviting others into caring for their bodies and spirits through embodied practices. If you are not interested in down dogs, I understand, but please know that yoga is not the only way to become more connected and present with yourself (although you may also be surprised).
Click here to read more and be encouraged with ideas for connecting with your own body today.
Since our puppy, Penny, joined our family this Spring, I've taken a lot of walks. A lot. Oftentimes I use our morning walk to listen to audiobooks that grow or stretch my faith. My recently played books include titles by Rob Bell, Glennon Doyle, Thich Nhat Hanh, Austin Channing Brown, Eckhart Tolle, and Jen Hatmaker. Through these recent (and yes, varied) listens I've been inspired to practice kindness with my neighbors, smile more often (I don't mean to always look so serious), slow it down, face my fears, realize everything really is spiritual, and truly strive to practice presence.
And while books and knowledge fuel, me, I don't always read and walk. Sometimes I pray when I walk, sometimes I listen to a favorite playlist, and sometimes I simply have to stay focused on training (AKA wrangling) our new puppy.
Walking has become a habit for me - twice a day, every day. I'm not quite ready for the Tennessee winters but I don't think Penny will let me break this habit. She loves walking, it's an automatic response to the start of her day. It took some practice for me to get on her plan but quickly it became a habit. I then realized our habit was becoming routine and at moments I dreaded it. Maybe like me, you often walk on auto-pilot. Do you ever wonder... How did I get to the other side of the house? Why is my face always in my phone? Or... What was I doing on my way to the mailbox?
Our minds wander and so having a focused purpose helps me stay present in my walks and break the cycle of worry (which I've carried my fair share of lately). Presence keeps us present! But we don't always need a book or music in our ears to practice presence. We can use our own bodies and breath to practice awareness with a purposeful walking meditation.
The first time I practiced walking meditation was on a retreat with a group of teens. It wasn't easy but it stretched us all and we learned a lot about ourselves. To start, I suggest practicing in your back yard or even at home if you can't get outside. It's nice to have some privacy to allow yourself full presence so you're not worried about being distracted or even stepping out in front of a car. Yep, that happens. Practicing alone gives you more confidence to start, then you can practice walking reverently throughout your day. Walking meditation isn't about exercising yourself or your pet but it is about healing, it is about being fully and completely present in your body.
In walking meditation you feel your feet hit the ground, each and every step. You notice how mindfulness in your body can bring you into the moment. You go slow on purpose. You walk and breathe in sync and allow your body the space to be fully present. While being present in this way is not easy, it is indeed transformational.
Ready to try it? Need some help in discovering presence with a short mindful walk? Listen to the Walking Meditation podcast below. Then use some of what you learn to begin incorporating presence and breath in all of your walking - about the house, to the car, or around the block.
Walking has become a natural way for me to destress and unplug. I have a long way to grow my mindfulness while walking (especially with a puppy in tow) but I'm glad to keep practicing.
How do you practice mindful presence while walking?
Will you take a walk with me?
Oh, coronavirus, you've taken too much from us this year, retreats included. However, I am so very excited to share with you each that online retreats are here.
YES! We're finally ready to begin our journey of online retreats at Exploring Peace Ministries. It's been a challenging season for all of us to find new ways to interact and connect in our businesses, churches, communities, and relationships. After pausing all in-person retreats for 2020 due to COVID-19, I wasn't sure what was next. Yet after much discernment and lots of prayer and help, I've discovered and created a safe online space that I think you're going to love. Yes, it's possible to connect in safe space amidst a pandemic and I can't wait for us to begin. I'm more than thrilled to be hosting my online retreat book experience for you in a new space, our Peace Seekers Community. You'll find me there now along with our community moderator, Lauren, and a handful of Beta Testers. If you register for the Holy Listening with Breath, Body, and the Spirit book retreat, you'll gain access to our community and see exactly what's in it for you (encouragement, connection, community with other Peace Seekers just to name a few)! The retreat and our new community is open as of TODAY!
Retreat materials will be available for pre-work beginning August 17th. Our 40 Days together and live teachings begin September 1st! Don't miss out on this chance to offer your body and spirit a reboot in community. I am so excited to journey through the book with you!
We often get tips for our bodies or our business at the start of each new year. But, what about tips for your soul? We're not talking goals, we're talking soul care. What makes your soul sing?
Below is a transformational tip that if you embrace this one habit this year, I believe your soul will indeed sing. I use the practice of a morning ritual in my own life and encourage you to as well.
Already have a morning ritual? Share it with me on social media! Tag me at @WhitRSimpson and show us how you're #ExploringPeace in your daily life.
How to create a morning ritual:
Set aside a few minutes to ponder, what draws you nearer to God? Then make a list (journaling, savoring silence, reading, watching the sunrise, meditating on scripture, a healthy breakfast, practicing centering prayer, movement, etc.) and place that list in your planner, journal, beside your bed, or on your bathroom mirror (somewhere you will see it!).
Enjoy your morning ritual:
Once you have your inspiration, take action for your soul and enjoy it! Here's the tip: each morning dedicate the time you have set aside to one (or more than one) thing on your list. Whether you have 5 focused minutes (not every morning is slowly savored, I get it and remember the toddler days) or a slow and savory 75 minutes (on the best day ever of you being the only one to care for), enjoy YOUR morning ritual. Consistency is my key to a soul-filled morning ritual. Contrary to popular belief, there is no time limit required for drawing near to God and you do not need to do everything on your list at once (it may actually be better that you don't). For the benefit of your soul, choose to BE with your ritual rather than DO your ritual and start with just a few minutes at a time.
So what's my morning ritual look like?
My morning ritual:
It feels important to share I'm not what some would call a "morning person" which is why I believe my morning ritual is so valuable to my soul. This time set apart helps ground me and enter in to a day with a heart and a body that is set on God and not how little I love mornings.
Before my feet hit the floor, I explore a few simple yoga stretches and place my hands on my body for prayer. The normal morning hygiene routine takes place (Ayurvedic medicine has taught me about tongue scraping and I include this most days too, ever tried it?), then I cuddle into my prayer/meditation chair for either a few minutes of breath prayer, centering prayer, or a time of journaling (as an Enneagram 4, I like variety in my quiet time but I don't do all of these - I pick one). If it's a slow and savory morning, I include devotional and/or scripture reading. Note: while I prefer to draw out my mornings, many mornings are more hurried than others so this may take as few as 5 minutes, it's the intention of being present with God that is the focus of my morning ritual. Commit to pick one thing from your list and practice it daily, that's it.
Once I've enjoyed the quiet, I move from contemplation into some self-care action with prioritizing care of my physical body. Before bed, I try to prep my favorite green lemonade so I can sip on something good for my body first thing in the morning (my green lemonade recipe is lemon water with spearmint chlorophyll and green juice powder - it's an acquired taste and I love it now). A brisk walk does me good but it's true for me that my soul must be awake first. So while exercise is part of my day, it comes after my soul is awakened! Once I'm dressed and ready for the day, I visit the kitchen for two more important hydration elements. First, I brew my herbal tea then I blend my favorite smoothie (hemp protein, spinach, banana, frozen blueberries, frozen butternut squash, raw cacao, collagen, flax, chia, or whatever else I may have on hand). So yes, caring for my body is a vital part of my morning ritual. With practice, these habits have become a soulful experience to start my day for spirit rather than chores I must check off my list.
What do you do for your soul in the mornings?
Create a ritual of caring for your soul a few minutes at a time and you'll find encouragement to care for your self and grow in your spiritual practices in 2020.
You need a pause.
That may sound presumptuous but the reason I write it is because well... it is especially true for me this time of year.
How about you?
You are entering the busiest time of the year, on top of your already busy life. There are meals to host, parties to attend, gifts to find, memories to share, and more. THESE ARE GOOD THINGS so please don't hear these words in the spirit of guilt or condemnation. What this means is... you're going to need a pause soon amidst the celebrations. It's okay to rest. You can not continue pouring into the world without also filling yourself up with rest and space for contemplation. Your soul needs pause. Your body needs pause. Your mind needs pause. And sometimes we need to be reminded, it's okay to rest.
Need some ideas to help make space for a pause in your daily life?
- Turn off social media alerts on your phone to ease distraction and be more present in the days to come.
- Pick one day a week where you choose to log off and avoid screen time completely, savor some silence.
- Plan time in the new year to get away (want to join me on retreat in January in Nashville? - click here) for sabbath time apart from daily life.
- Practice some quiet and slow meditative and purposeful body movement (especially after a day of turkey or ham!) by going for a mindful walk or unrolling your yoga mat for meditative movement.
- Quiet your mind and start with 5 minutes a day of Centering Prayer, let that time grow with practice.
Pauses do not happen on accident. Even Jesus took naps! I hope you will make time to pause this season - your body and your spirit will thank you!
Summer is winding down but the taste of summer doesn't have to leave you. One of my favorite drinks is a healthy, fizzy, flavorful treat called kombucha. Kombucha is a fermented tea and...I love it! It's good for my body and therefore, it's good for my soul. You can find kombucha in your local grocer (typically in the refrigerated produce section). My favorite store- bought flavor is GT's Trilogy Synergy.
However, my kombucha "habit" quickly became too expensive for our family's grocery budget. So about a year and a half ago, I began brewing my own kombucha at home. It's really not as intimidating as I imagined (I am working through my limiting beliefs about my abilities in the kitchen) and it is VERY inexpensive once you gather your supplies! I researched and read lots on kombucha before starting the process. One of my favorite online resources for all things food and health related is Wellness Mama. You can read how to brew your own tea and read more of those benefits at her blog.
After my research, I traveled to my favorite tea shop in Nashville to pick up my first SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast). I know, it sounds gross. But, it's magical! Your SCOBY is the key factor in the fermentation process. You want it to come from a reputable source to keep your brew safe! If you're near Nashville, High Garden Tea is a perfect place to grab your SCOBY and ask questions as they have master brewers on staff. They will even taste test your brew!
If you've read this much about my favorite tea, you're either already brewing your own or maybe you're interested in getting started with home brewing. So, I'm sharing my favorite flavor thus far on my brewing adventures...keep reading.
Once your first fermentation is complete (after about 7-10 days), you can flavor your tea and bottle it to create a soda style drink with a second ferment (this increases the fizziness and adding the flavor is amazing!).
So, here's my favorite summer flavor for my home brew.... Cherry-Limeade!
When ready for your second ferment (follow Wellness Mama's instructions to get to this point), remove your SCOBY and save one cup of liquid to store it until next use (I store my SCOBY in the fridge between brews).
Pour 1/4 cup fresh or bottled organic lime juice (I like Santa Cruz brand) and 3/4 cup fresh unsweetened tart cherry juice (I like R.W. Knudson) into your tea.
Use a ladle and a funnel to pour your flavored tea into your sealable bottles.
Seal and leave on the counter for 2-3 days at room temperature then refrigerate.
CAUTION: Do not shake. It will explode! You may even want to open your bottles and test your second fermentation readiness over the sink or outside with a towel (spoken from experience).
ENJOY and savor summer with your homemade deliciously flavored cherry-limeade kombucha!
This past month has been turned upside down, full of surprises! Our family is moving back to the town where we built our first home (in the same county, not that far down the road). Everyone keeps saying, "I didn't know you were moving!" Guess what? We didn't know we were moving either! We weren't expecting it. We weren't planning it. Yet we are leaning in and very excited to settle in our new-to-us (100 year-old) home.
Since last month's blog post (which quite a few of you told me you've been using, yay!), I have had so many opportunities to practice mindfulness and not only while packing up our current home. Recently, my body has experienced some new health challenges which have pushed me to a place of discomfort and pain in my abdomen and pelvis. Mindfulness, breath work, my physical therapist, yoga, and naps have been my friend this past month. And amidst my self-discovery, I realized I have been mad at my body and my digestive system. I have been mad at myself for things over which I have no control (and some of which I do have control). It saddens me, I have not been kind and loving to myself.
In my teaching, I share lots of love. Love for those tight hamstrings, love for that achy back, love for wandering minds in meditation, love for yourself. In class today, one of my students from Rest Stop Ministries, repeated my words back to me when I could not model for her the full expression of a posture (due to my physical limitations). She looked right at me and reminded to send some of that love I teach to myself. Note to self: love yourself, all of yourself!
Is it hard for you to receive love sometimes? What about in certain parts of your body or with your body image? Do you throw love around like confetti to the rest of the world? Are you kinder to your neighbor or even that stranger than you are to yourself? Do you overlook the imperfections in someone else and then analyze your own imperfections? Do you see yourself as God sees you?
Friends, I am not perfect. You are not perfect. The one who loves us and created us, loves us like crazy. Yet our Creator did not create us to be flawless. We are perfectly imperfect, even when life is upside down and we forget to love ourselves!
Thank goodness God's love never lets go. Thank goodness when I spot the imperfections and the failings and the pain, God sees love and light and hope, upside down or not.
God sees creation.
God sees me.
God sees you.
God sees love.
Do you? How will you love yourself today?
Your faithful love lasts forever, Lord!
By the way, yes that is me upside down in front of some local Lebanon Love! This amazing mural is on the side of one of my favorite boutiques in Lebanon, TN (around the corner from Bloom Yoga Studio). Iddy & Oscar's is a "Give Back Boutique" educating Kenyan orphans. If you have not yet strolled and shopped the Historic Lebanon Square, come visit us soon!
For the past year, I have been writing. Actually, let me preface that - I have been writing since I learned to write! Recently, I found my first book which was bound by yarn, created in the shape of a panda bear's head (I collected stuffed panda bears as a kid and this book was ALL about pandas). I also uncovered boxes and boxes of journals in that purge, filled with pages and pages of thoughts, words, and even some poems. So, you could say writing has been part of my life for a very long time. It is one way I connect with God. And writing a published book that draws others closer to God has been a dream for many of those years (hint, hint!).
To the point of this post! For the past year, I have been writing a 40-day devotional for body and spirit. The seeds for this book idea were planted during my 500-Hour yoga teacher training with Holy Yoga Ministries. The idea kept growing to the point that I wrote the entire book before I ever shared it (although if you've been in any of my yoga classes in the past year, you've probably gotten a sneak peek without realizing it as I've shared some of the themes, scripture passages, yoga postures, and reflection questions with you!).
Then last summer while attending a writer's workshop at SoulFeast (a spiritual retreat hosted by Upper Room), I was nudged to submit a proposal for this project. Since summer is nearly here again, you can guess that this book has been many many months in the making. For the last couple of months, I have known we were moving forward yet certain details had to be in place in order to finalize and share. In that timeframe, I also submitted devotionals for the Disciplines 2017 publication. And finally, I can share with you that my 40-day devotional (title and details coming soon) will be published in 2017 by Upper Room Books!
Honestly, my heart beats fast as I share this news with you. One reason for this is that when I submitted the proposal for the devotional, the publisher specifically asked me to include more about me - my stroke and brain surgery story and how that led me toward work fostering care of both body and spirit. It's vulnerable to tell your story. But I believe it is important. I will tell parts of (because all those journals would never fit in one book!) my own story to escort you on the journey of body and spirit and to encourage you to embrace your story, after all.......these are God's stories!
Another reason my heart beats fast is because our son has been sick for weeks with sinus problems - which usually seems simple to heal - yet he has had many allergic reactions to medicines and it has simply been a very slow journey toward wellness. His body is tired and worn out. My body is tired as his caregiver (my awesome Fitbit helps me see how well I've rested and when I've moved, lately both have been lacking) and yet it proves I am ecstatic and full of energy at the same time (elevated heart rate!).
Recently, my grandmother (who is almost 95 and slightly frustrated with her body - as she broke a shoulder and hip last month) told me she always wanted to be a writer and that she could not imagine anything more important to write about than the spiritual life with God. My heart beats fast as I honor my grandmother and lean in to writing a book that I hope will help you draw closer to God with the gift of your own body!
My heart beats fast because God uses the gift of our bodies to help us listen and embrace our journeys (no matter your stage of life).
If you've made it this far in the post, surely you have questions because this is a unique approach to a devotional and emphasizes holy listening with your body. It will include yoga postures, breath prayers, aromatherapy, scripture passages for lectio divina, and of course journaling questions (tools we often use in spiritual direction and yoga)! I truly look forward to sharing more details with you soon! In the meantime, I'll be putting finishing touches on the book, finalizing lots of tiny details that most do not realize take place in publishing (I surely didn't), and gaining hands on experience caring for our son - in body and spirit.
Thanks for allowing my heart to beat fast as I share the news that #IAmWriting with you today! If you want to stay in the loop on details of the book (and I hope you will - there will be freebies along the way), sign up for my monthly(ish) newsletter below. The Upper Room has been a formational part of my faith journey, I'm ecstatic to be part of the Upper Room family of writers and look forward to what is to come. Hope you'll join me on the journey.
The Lenten season is a symbolic journey toward the Cross. For many today, that journey has become an opportunity to let go of certain foods, activities, or habits that distract us along the path. For others, it is a time to cling to disciplines that give life and draw us closer to our God. You may have given up chocolate or let go of your grasp on Facebook, yet this invitation is much more than cocoa or status updates (both of which I cling to often). No matter your plans for Lent, I invite you to consider this a season of receiving God’s healing and wholeness offered us through the gift of his son, Jesus.
For over a decade of my young adult years, I was plagued with chronic health problems. During an appointment one day, a practitioner asked me a profound (and what I honestly thought at the time to be rude) question. She asked, “Whitney, do you believe you can be well?” My response was silence. She shocked me and I couldn't believe she would ask me such a blunt and obvious question. Of course, I wanted to be well; I had taken the time to make an appointment to prioritize my health! My efforts proved I was working hard at it by investing time, energy, and plenty of resources.
But guess what? After my initial shock wore off, I realized I wanted to be well but didn’t believe I could be. It did not seem possible that I could live a life free from the pain that plagued me. And suddenly, as that truth sank in, I began to believe I could be well in a much broader sense than she could have understood. Her words slowly and steadily seeped into my soul.
Since that question, I have changed my thinking. I don’t believe I will always be physically well on this earth, but I will always be whole in Christ. There is nothing wrong with seeking guidance for health and wellness from wise practitioners (as a matter of fact, I recommend it), yet we can only seek true healing and wholeness within from our God. My practitioner knew this fact and planted that seed in my heart.
What is wholeness?
In order to live whole lives, we need to put to death thoughts that are not life giving. When putting to death old ways and embracing life-giving alternatives, my biggest barrier is often myself. Scripture tells us, “in Him you have been made complete” (Colossians 2:10, NASB). Did you catch that? God has already completed us. The creator has made us whole. It is not about stripping away; it’s about receiving that promise. That is what we are moving toward this Easter season—wholeness. And we must believe it is possible.
What’s your story? Do you long to be whole? Do you believe it is even possible? No matter your story, God is offering you healing and wholeness this season.
While there is no one answer for each of us regarding what wholeness looks like, there is one response: say yes. Yes, I want to be made whole. And trust me, you can say yes before you understand how it may even be possible. What are you afraid of? What might happen if you let go of the old patterns of unbelief this Lenten season and embrace God’s promise of wholeness?
How can I embrace God’s wholeness?
Read the following Scripture, slowly, three times. Ask yourself if there are any words or phrases that stand out to you as you read. You may even choose to read aloud or listen to an audio version of this passage. However you listen, truly hear the words Jesus spoke, as if they are spoken aloud to you today:
Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” (John 5:1–9, NIV)
Do you want to be made whole?
Do you believe you have already been made whole through Jesus’ gift to you? Do you believe you can be well? How many years have you been sitting at the pool’s edge of healing waters? Are you just sticking your toes in the water? Who or what are you waiting for? Grab your mat and walk toward Jesus this Easter season.
Giving something up is thematic for many people across Christian tradition during the Lenten season. Yet for me, giving up has been less of my focus over the years. Traditionally, I have been more likely to add a spiritual practice during the season of Lent rather than take something away. And I now realize how much I have added over the years and how "doing it all" often blurs my ability to open my heart and soul. Let's be honest, fasting is hard.
Yet sometimes we need to strip away, let go, fast. Recently I have been in a season of "letting go" in regards to my sugar addiction. I now have a new perspective on giving up and am embracing it in the kitchen. I've been on a whole foods (Whole30) plan for the past several weeks that has stripped away many of the unnecessary extras that cause my body to experience brain fog, fatigue, and anxiety. It has taken several weeks to see the fruits of my work but my body (and my soul) are thanking me for the new found clarity. And I must admit, it has taken me two rounds of this process to truly find the beauty in the letting go of my beloved sugar for a season!
I read the poem below this morning and in my reflection realized quickly that as I've let go of the extra sweeteners and not-so-natural flavorings (as well as the junk I had been feeding my body) my tastebuds can truly experience the flavor of food in new ways. We chew, we eat, we swallow. But, do we take the time to truly savor and taste? If we did, how could that change us? When we fast (not simply from food) we are invited to taste/feel/experience more deeply.
The poem is from St. Catherine of Siena, a Dominican nun, mystic and poet from Italy, who lived from 1347-1380. Her words speak to me on this journey of wellness, they remind me that God gave us the gift of food as more than nourishment, that we can see God in all things/people/situations, that our hearts and souls really do need to be fed. I hope her words offer your heart encouragement as well this Lenten season.
How will you feed your soul this season? How could "giving up" actually give your heart more strength? Are you letting go of any specific foods or activities for Lent? How are you hoping to taste, smell, experience God?
Give the Heart More Strength
(from Love Poems from God)
Herbs can help the body and give
the heart more strength
When my sight became clearer,
I could see auras around different foods.
and I now know — should I say this? --
that everything can sing.
The songs of fruits and grains will calm,
why not put them into yourself,
a new language you
And just from touching life’s requirements
close to their source
will add grace to your
More generous eyes we need.
The songs of light
Whitney R. Simpson
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Whitney R. Simpson
Exploring Peace Ministries, LLC