Guest Post by Michel Gribble-Dates
I go to my mat to wonder about whether a connection exists between Lent and my yoga practice, and if so, what that connection is…and I am filled with wonder.
I begin in Childs Pose and consider how during Lent my Christian tradition encourages me to pray, fast, and give alms.
Prayer, fasting, almsgiving…three disciplines that my yoga practice also leads me to.
Of prayer: To speak or sing a prayer, to stand or sit while praying all require my body. And yet, it wasn’t until I embodied prayer on my yoga mat that I came fully to God in prayer.
Of fasting: Like Lent, Yoga moves me to let go. Loosening areas of the body that tend to grip when I experience stress makes fasting, or letting go, a daily focus on my mat.
Of almsgiving: As I transition through postures on my mat I focus on keeping the entire front of my physical body open…the side that I approach all of life with. My heart softens and I become more generous just as Lent calls me to do.
I move to Corpse Pose. Close my eyes and allow my body to find stillness. I begin to notice the places of my body that feel tense and tight.
I consider more thoroughly now how both the season of Lent and the practice of Yoga move me to let go of or give up behaviors, emotions, thoughts that don’t serve me. I breathe into and soften the tense, tight places…shoulders, jaw, back. I notice that some areas release right away and others don’t…just as setting an earlier bedtime for myself has come much more easily than not snacking after dinner.
That’s ok. I am committed to this season and this practice and release will come.
I reach my arms overhead and bring my feet close together. Inhale I lengthen through my finger tips, point my toes, feel my body get long. Exhale I reach more through my right side and then inhale and come back to center. Exhale I reach more through my left side and then inhale and come back to center.
Now, flexing my entire body, then softening. Letting go. Melting.
Again. Inhaling, flexing everything. Drawing my belly in, pressing my lower back into the earth, interlacing my fingers and reaching through my palms.
And then…exhaling. Completely releasing…completely.
Inhaling…this time pointing my toes, pointing my fingers. Exhaling…bending my knees, bending my elbows…curling my body in.
And repeating. Inhale and extend. Exhale and draw everything in.
As I continue moving with my breath, expanding and contracting, I consider in a somewhat different way how Yoga is a practice of unifying or yoking mind, body and soul. It is also a practice of unhooking or unyoking attachments, thought processes and behaviors that do not serve me. It’s a lot like my Christian faith and the approaching Lenten season.
I come to my side and then to hands and knees in Table Pose.
Lent reminds us to connect mind, body and soul.
I flow many times, back and forth, between Cat Pose and Cow Pose and am reminded that…
you can not practice Yoga without connecting mind, body, and soul.
Downward Facing Dog now for five long, slow, deep, life-giving breaths. Hop my feet to my meet my hands. Swan dive my arms up.
I think of something that doesn’t serve me, something I know that needs to be released.
Thinking of the tension it creates I draw my shoulders up next to my ears, squeeze my fists, my face, my jaw, my chest, my legs, everything…
that is the feeling of this thing in my body.
Exhale: Let it go. Inhale: Again draw everything in, squeeze! Exhale: Release.
Pause. Be Still.
Widening my feet I twist from side to side, arms are so loose they slap the sides of my body and I chuckle. (Is this movement too fun when considering Lent I wonder?!)
Time to flow in and out of Star or Goddess Pose. With feet still wide, toes turned out to the corners of my mat, arms extended so that I form the shape of an X. Inhale. Exhale bend knees, bend elbows and draw everything in. Inhale and rise up, expand…GIVE of myself…give alms. Audible exhale this time, tongue sticking out as I squat & draw elbows in. Repeat 3 times to release the stagnation in my body.
Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, a time to revisit the work of my soul, take stock of what God has done and is doing in me, align once again with my hope in Christ.
Downward Facing Dog…look back, revisit, take stock, align.
To embody this I lower down to the mat and set up Sphinx Pose, giving myself a time to pause, bend backward, and reflect.
I let the words "look back, revisit, take stock" become a moving mantra throughout my body as I move into Table Pose and gaze over my right shoulder…look back, revisit, take stock. And then gazing over my left shoulder…look back, revisit, take stock.
As I slowly shift my gaze back and forth I consider how turning my body on the mat prepares me for coming off the mat and turning in order to be made whole in Christ. For in Christ, God is shown more perfectly to my soul.
With that the time comes to turn toward God…to come back to center…to align.
My body now in a neutral Table Pose position I sink back into Child’s Pose. With each inhale I breathe into my back body. With each exhale I relax heavier and heavier into the earth, into God’s embrace.
This Ash Wednesday, and throughout Lent, may I see and be made whole in God.
Namaste. And Amen.
This reflection originally appeared on www.beombrella.com, 2017. Reprinted with permission from the author.
Photo Graphic by Michel Gribble-Dates, 2017. Cover photo courtesy of Alice Aukeman, 2016.
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