I’m going to talk about something that I don’t typically talk about in a CF setting . . . or even in a general public yoga class setting.
I’m going to talk about a four letter word that starts with S.
I’m pretty private about my faith, and don’t often share much about it. But as we’re focusing on mindfulness in March, I would be remiss if I let this month go by without broaching the subject of spirituality, and the role of the soul in our yoga practice.
Stick with me here . . . I’m not trying to get preachy or pedantic, and this isn’t a conversation about religion, per se. If you believe you have a soul . . . or that you are more than just the body you inhabit . . . then this conversation should be relevant to you. You don’t even have to believe in God.
While in the Western world most people recognize the more physical practices of yoga – particularly the poses, or asana – it is a practice that’s about much more than just our physical bodies. In Sanskrit language, the word “yoga” literally means “union.”
Yoga practices help to unify body, mind, and spirit.
Yoga is not a religion (though those who are unfamiliar with it sometimes misunderstand it as such). Yoga is a practice, and a philosophy. It is a lens through which to understand the world and your place in it. And if you do have a religion, or spiritual practice of any kind, it gives you a set of practical tools that can help to deepen your faith.
These yoga practices meet you where you are, no matter your system of belief, and anyone can use these tools to deepen their own spiritual life regardless of their faith tradition.
The practices of yoga originated in the Hindu monastic tradition, thousands of years ago, as a way for spiritual thinkers to deepen and more fully experience their faith.
For me, when I practice yoga it also helps me to deepen my faith, and fully awaken God’s presence in my life.
You are made of literal stardust.
This is where I’m taking the leap, and talking about my own faith . . . which I seldom do in a public, non-church setting.
For the season of Lent, as part of living intentionally and mindfully during these 40 days before Easter, I’m making a daily effort to be more vulnerable by sharing my writings and creations. Things that I would otherwise be reluctant to share because they’re just too personal, too imperfect. (Like this blog post, to be honest.)
The first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday, is about recognizing that our presence on earth is only temporary. We are temporal beings, defined by limited time.
Every year on this day, millions of people around the world contemplate their own limited time on this Earth. We are verbally and physically reminded as ash is placed on our forehead:
“You are dust, and to dust you will return.”
It’s an annual reminder of our own mortality, of our limited time to be a part of this physical world . . . a time to contemplate our purpose and mindfully participate in each day.
In no community does that message of limited time hit closer to home than in a community like ours. Cystic Fibrosis is a daily reminder of the fragility of our human bodies and the preciousness of life. (Truth be told I love the season of Lent, because suddenly more people around me become as attentive to their mortality as I often am.)
And yet, we don’t often talk about spirituality in our CF community.
In our doctors offices we talk about our physical bodies. Increasingly, we’re also talking about our mental health. But it’s not often that someone in the medical setting asks you about your spiritual health. Evidently that topic is reserved for end of life conversations, for hospice care, for chaplains visiting in the hospital to administer the last rites.
I believe that we are spiritual beings, who need to pay our souls some attention long before that final day comes.
We are short-changing our human experience on this planet if we don’t think to ask the big questions before those last days. What is important to us? What do we want to see in the world we leave behind? In the time we have, what opportunities will we miss if we don’t realize our finite nature until it’s too late to live the life we truly wanted to live?
Claire Wineland said it so perfectly, “Death is inevitable. But living a life you can be proud of . . . that is something you can control.”
I miss Claire. I didn’t know her personally, but I miss her. Her honesty, and her focus on the whole person that she brought to the forefront of her life and mission. I think she would have loved this yoga community that is growing here. (And we’re honored that the Claire’s Place Foundation thinks so too, as they have been sharing our posts in their #SelfCareSunday series on social media this past month.)
So what does this have to do with yoga?
Yoga is about the unity of body, mind, and spirit. All that we are. Asana – the physical pose – is only one out of eight limbs of yoga (which we’ll get into more later). Through all of those 8 limbs, or practices, we can explore and deepen that unity. Yoga meets you wherever you are, and one of these other limbs might end up being just as meaningful to you as the physical practice of asana. One of those limbs is Samadhi (the complete integration of the whole being – body, mind, and spirit), and another is Dhyana (or meditation).
In our Meditation Mingle last weekend, we were talking about what meditation looked like in our own lives.
For me as a Christian, I experience meditation like the listening side of prayer. A conversation involves both speaking and listening. You can’t hear what the other person is saying if you don’t shut up and listen. So for me, meditation is about creating internal stillness and silence, so I can do that listening.
Another member of our community said that for them, meditation happens in physical motion. In this presence of mind that emerges when full aware and attentive to the physical sensations of their body.
How delightful is that, to be so fully awakened by your physical body that in motion you feel most alive and present?
And another person shared that meditation through their Buddhist lens was like creating a space between themselves and that which is outside of themselves. A buffer between the impulse to react in anger, to contemplate your actions before you respond.
What a beautiful practice of mindfulness is that? In this world of conflict and crowded emotions, all of us imperfect people with our imperfect actions bumping up against each other, to practice recognizing the impact that the world has upon you, and that you have upon others?
We human beings always have something that we can learn from one another. It saddens me that we have so many walls and divisions between us, when we all are pursuing the same truths through the lenses of our own experiences and faiths.
Setting an intention to nurture your whole self.
Tonight, in our Ash Wednesday service at my church, we were invited to light a candle as we set an intention for the month of Lent. To many Christians around the world it’s tradition to “give something up for Lent,” as that small but meaningful act of deprivation can make you re-examine what is truly important. But in our service tonight we were invited to consider that an equally valid practice may be to do something new for Lent . . . something out of the ordinary, cultivating that same intention of mindfulness.
Even if you don’t believe in God, it can mean setting aside the time to acknowledge that this incredible physical life we have will one day come to an end. I don’t see this as a morbid thought. To me, it is blissfully, profoundly joyful even in its bittersweetness.
Maybe you want to join a Gentle Yoga class or set aside a few minutes every day this month to practice meditation . . . or savasana. (like we do at the end of yoga class.) By practicing savasana, we practice stillness, we practice presence, we practice letting go. You don’t have to believe in God to do savasana, but for the spiritual among us, it is an opportunity to experience God’s presence.
Or maybe you just want to write in the journal you’ve been neglecting. Or to sit in silence and watch the sun rise in the morning instead of looking at your phone.
Maybe you’re like me, and you want to set aside time every day to find contemplation in creation. Something that you might not otherwise give yourself the opportunity to create. Sharing it, even if it is imperfect, even if it scary, because it’s real and vulnerable and honest.
Creating space for the soul
Whatever mindfulness looks like for you, this is an opportunity to create that space for your soul. We are body, we are mind, we are spirit. We are unified. We are yoga.
There is a reason that we end our yoga practice with the word Namaste. Because it means, “The light in me sees the light in you. My spirit acknowledges your spirit.”
We may have CF, but we are whole people. Sometimes with flawed bodies, anxious minds, battered spirits. But always with that divine breath that resides inside us, that can soothe our souls if we are only attentive enough to notice it.
Namaste, my brothers and sisters.