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.
Did you notice the Exploring Peace Meditations podcast offering more and more Yoga Nidra practices as the year went along? That's because you kept asking for more! And, I heard you when you said you were amazed that it brought so much peace into your body. I've been studying and practicing Yoga Nidra more in this past year and I'm glad to hear your response to the practice. My body and mind love Yoga Nidra and my spirit loves offering it in ways that help me (and your) connect with our Creator.
What is Yoga Nidra? Also known as yogic sleep, this conscious relaxation and meditation practice offers space for your body and your mind to unwind. It feels good all over! Clearly, this is an oversimplified definition but it's the best way I know to explain the practice...until you have practiced it for yourself!
When I shared that this practice would be a bonus in our online advent retreat, I had multiple messages from those of you who were concerned you didn't know how to practice Yoga Nidra. Here's the great thing... You don't have to be able to know anything about it, you simply need to have a willingness to listen and relax!
Yoga Nidra is often practiced in a reclined resting position (think savasana pose in yoga) but can be practiced sitting up as well. It's a form of meditation, body awareness, and true relaxation. Richard Miller (yoga teacher, author, researcher, and psychologist) teaches that "in yoga nidra, we restore our body, senses, and mind to their natural function and awaken a seventh sense that allows us to feel wholeness, tranquility, and well-being."
It's a practice that has helped me connect body, mind, and spirit and I hope you find it helps you too.
Have you practiced Yoga Nidra?
Ready to unwind? Click here or listen below.
The live music ceased.
The hugs disappeared.
The worship paused.
The businesses wavered.
Give Thanks Anyway.
The table is empty.
The shoulders are tight.
The friend is struggling.
The account is dwindling.
Give Thanks Anyway.
The mask helps.
The Zoom introduces.
The commute is less.
The family is present.
Give Thanks Anyway.
The quarantine teaches.
The neighbor offers.
The alone time is reflective.
The pause is not so bad.
Give Thanks Anyway.
The divide is real, not imagined.
The conflict continues within.
The work God is doing is evident.
The choice to embrace it is mine.
Give Thanks Anyway.
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?
All Saints Sunday, November 1, 2020 from 12:30 - 4:30 PM at Lebanon First UMC in Lebanon, Tennessee.
You're invited to join us for a reflective day apart offering space for God's wisdom through presence, intentional silence, and words from the Saints before us.
Space is limited to 20 participants, please RSVP to save your spot. Your registration and $15 check must be received by 10/23/20 (or until the retreat is full). Our day retreat will be socially distanced with plenty of room outdoors (bring a lawn chair, a blanket, pillow, or anything that makes you comfortable settling in for reflection). You'll receive a journal, guided prayer prompts, access to a hot beverage station and a warm fire. In case of inclement weather, please bring a mask for safety of all participants so that we may enjoy reflection time in the sanctuary and chapel.
This event is open to the entire community and is hosted by Lebanon First UMC. Our time in reflection will be facilitated by Whitney R. Simpson of Exploring Peace Ministries.
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!
Need a mindset shift? Believe it or not, you don't have to be amidst the perfect place to recenter and refocus. Interested in an exercise to practice presence in just a minute or two, anywhere? You just have to notice.
Recently, I've had quite a few opportunities to share mindfulness tools with others. One of my favorite tools for sharing is an exercise some call 5 Senses. I like to think of it as 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.
This exercise, whatever you call it, is an opportunity to use your five senses to practice mindfulness quickly and in most any situation! From kids to adults, it really is an easy way to for all of us to practice presence.
Notice five things you can see.
Look around you and bring your attention to five things that you can see around you. Try to notice the less obvious things or 5 things in detail (i.e. the green couch cushion rather than the couch).
Notice four things you can feel.
With your own touch, notice things you can feel. It may be your hair, your shirt or pants, the wind, your own skin, the chair you're seated in, or anything else you can feel.
Notice three things you can hear.
Quiet yourself and listen then notice three things you can hear. You may notice your own breath, the chirping of a bird, the sounds of an appliance, or cars passing by.
Notice two things you can smell.
Breathe in and notice what you smell - pleasant or unpleasant. This may be your own scent or a scent nearby.
Notice one thing you can taste.
Is there a taste in your mouth right now? If so, notice it. If not, consider savoring a taste, just one taste.
To recap, notice....
5 things you can see
4 things you can feel
3 things you can hear
2 things you can smell
1 thing you can taste
This mindfulness exercise is quick and a fairly easy way to shift your presence and state of mind. Then notice what you feel, sense, experience after this exercise. What do you think? Have you tried this one? Will you notice? What might it offer you to take just a moment and notice right now?
Whitney R. Simpson
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Whitney R. Simpson,
Exploring Peace Ministries, LLC