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Extra Grace Required - Our Blog

Components of a Faith-Based Yoga Practice

I had lunch recently with a busy working mom who had very kind words to say about the book. Specifically, she praised an aspect of the weekly devotions that I hadn’t considered: their brevity. She confided that she and her friends don’t have time to go to an hour-long yoga class, but long for and need the calm and affirmation of faith that she found in the devotions. In response to my friend's needs, here is an outline (below) describing the basic components of a faith-based yoga practice that is easily scaled for practices ranging from as little as ten minutes to an hour or longer. The practice components are derived from the eight limbs of yoga as described in the classic yoga sutras of Patanjali. This one is for you Katie!

Components of a Faith-based Yoga Practice

Be Present
Practice Presence. Give yourself permission to be fully present during your practice. Set a timer if needed. Even if you can only practice for ten minutes, imagine putting your cares and “to do’s” away for a time, perhaps inside of an imaginary cupboard. Assure yourself that you may return to them when you are done practicing.

Practice Breath. Encourage your mind to focus by following several cycles of breath. Watch yourself inhale and exhale as you slow, deepen, and lengthen your breath. During practice, whenever your mind starts to wander, gently bring it back to the present by returning your attention to your breath.  Read More 

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Sacred Silence

In my family, we like to create traditions. One tradition my grandchildren especially like is, after seeing a movie or play each person gets uninterrupted time to say what they thought of the production. The only rules are, no judgment on the comments and no interrupting. We played this tradition out after a particularly powerful Passion Play that was so dramatic in its presentation, one felt they were really part of the story. When the time came for me to share my thoughts on the play I was awe-struck, stuck in a kind of sacred silence. I had entered the story as a 21st century believer and it caused me to pause in silence to consider what the story meant.

The Gospel accounts of the Passion of Jesus vary. The one that is considered the most problematic for folks is the Gospel of Mark. Mark’s Gospel ends abruptly with the disciples being told to go and tell the Good News that Jesus lives, but instead they leave in fear and silence, telling no one. I understand this response, I mean, who could believe such an unbelievable story let alone tell others, without seeming crazy. Yet, they did tell the story after pausing in silence, entering the story in their own way. That same invitation to make the story our own is available every Easter but rather than rushing to repeat someone else’s interpretation of the story we can pause in sacred silence to tell the story in our own way.  Read More 
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Intention and Heat

"When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground." Psalm 104:30

It’s spring time in the Midwest: the crocuses are up and the daffodils are blooming. I’ve got a big bare spot in my backyard that needs to be raked and planted with grass seed. It’s time to start thinking about putting my gardening chores back into my daily routine. Years of gardening have taught me a little about myself: 1) that I’m apt to do too much too early, itching to plant before the frost-free “safe” planting date and 2) that in my enthusiasm to be outdoors digging in the dirt I’ll put in too long of a day, and my back will be complaining by evening. So I’ve learned to curb my spring-fever exuberance, and set up a schedule for myself, working a little bit in the garden each day, pacing myself.

I suppose you could say that my daily gardening routine is, shudder, a discipline. I shudder because the word discipline by itself instantly conjures up punitive images of a naughty child being spanked on the bum, or ranks of young military recruits piping in unison, “Yes, Sir!”, to the command of a drill sergeant. The word self-discipline is almost worse, conjuring up images of rigidity, self-absorption, and obsession. But disciplines—and I’m using the word in its non-punitive sense-- can be very, very helpful. In the dog days of summer, mid-to-late July, when everything is wilting in the heat and high humidity (plants and me, both) the last thing I want to be doing is sweating in the dirt, outside, gardening. That’s when my moderate gardening routine really pays off and I’m able to coach myself, “Just put in a half hour in the garden, the roses really do need to be deadheaded”.  Read More 

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Quick to Listen - The Ethical Practice of Nonattachment

"My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry."
James 1:13

The yoga ethic of aparigrapha—nonattachment or nonpossessiveness is an idea with which I have had to grapple. At first glance this ethic or yama seems to be about materialism, and I’m all about simplifying my life. But it gets harder for me to apply the ethic to my relationships. I love my family and my friends. Why on earth would I ever try to be unattached from them?

Watching my kids grow into independent adults, moving away from home, has helped me understand this yoga ethic. As many empty-nesters know, this can be a very painful, emotional experience for the parent. There is a profound feeling of loss and grief when the formerly dependent child, who you love so much, is no longer physically present in your home. But at the same time you know, deep down, that this was your job as a parent—to nurture and allow your child to grow into their own person, to follow their own path. As your adult child detaches from you, and you from them, you don’t stop loving the child, but rather, in letting go, you acknowledge that child’s inherent right to learn from life's lessons in their own time, trusting them to become the person they were created to be.  Read More 

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House Envy, Contentment Stealing, and Yoga

"Though you may not be aware of it, you are already a vessel containing hidden light...within you are all the powers that are in all the worlds, within you is the hidden light of the first day of creation."

Diane Bloomfield, Torah Yoga

Most of the time, I am a really lousy Christian. Do I love my neighbor as myself? No. Do I give all that I can to the poor? No. Do I welcome the stranger? No. Do I comfort the sick? No. For me, living my Christian faith as Jesus taught is hard work. Some days it seems like the only thing I’ve got going for me, is that I love God, and that I am hugely grateful that I am loved back, warts and all.

But I do try. My Judeo-Christian heritage and the ten commandments help ground me. I like to think I’ve got most of the ten commandments covered (admittedly I’m wobbly on keeping the Sabbath), and therein lies the issue. But there’s one commandment in particular that drives me to distraction: I’m a coveter. Specifically, I suffer from periodic episodes of extreme house-envy.  Read More 

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Guest Blog! Lent & Yoga:Exploring Connections

A Reflection
by Michel Le 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 Child's 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.
 Read More 

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Tea, Lent, and the Ethical Observance of Purity

"Blessed are the pure in heart
for they shall see God." Matthew 5:8

I love tea. I find the process of making tea a spiritually cleansing practice. It requires my full attention, and brings me out of my life's busyness, and into the current moment. Coming home from my former office job, I would make myself a cup of tea, my focused attention on the tea-making effectively removing the residuals of the day's unfinished office business from my head, so that I could be present with my family.

Purity is different from cleansing, although the two are often confused. Cleansing is the act of removing impurities, while purity is the result of release—freedom from that which binds. Recall the beauty of a flower that blossoms from a constrained bud, or the pure sound of a beautifully sung note, unencumbered by straining vocal cords. Jesus' teachings guide us to focus on releasing the pure love found deep in our heart and not confine ourselves to practices that merely clean the human vessel. He taught that what ultimately defiles a person, making them impure, is not unwashed hands, but the thoughts and actions that constrain and try to separate us from God. (Matthew 15:18-20)  Read More 

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Storytelling and The Ethic of Truthfulness

“See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.”
1 John 3:1

One of the ethical principles of right action in yoga is truthfulness or satya. Simple enough at face value. Truthfulness is one of the first virtues that we teach children. A wide-eyed toddler tells a story of the teddy bear that picked up a crayon and drew on the wall, prompting a suppressed smile from a care-giving adult during the telling. Undoubtedly a lesson will follow from the caregiver equating truth with reality, separating truth from fantasy. Eventually there will follow a moral lesson for the youngster, that truth is good and untruth, a lie, is bad.

The fact is we don’t stop telling stories when we get older—although they probably will become less fanciful. We are storytellers throughout our lives.  Read More 

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Led Forth in Peace: The Ethic of Nonviolence

“You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.”
Isaiah 55:12

To my great frustration, as I’ve aged, I have developed knee issues. If I don’t take care of my knees by the regular practice of strengthening poses such as chair, utkatasana, they ache and bother me. A byproduct of my lifestyle, my mind is also often over-taxed: thoughts whirling between uncompleted tasks, family concerns, and my full calendar. A yoga practice that allows me to focus on the bodily sensation that I feel in each pose calms and soothes me. I love my asana practice, but my practice intention is often directed by the clamoring needs of my stiff body and cluttered brain. It is easy for me to forget that asana is more than movement and sensation awareness for physical and mental benefit. Underlying every yoga practice are ethics that help transform the asana from exercise to a spiritual practice, a practice with the power to heal, to bring into union body, mind, and spirit.  Read More 

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What's Your Name?

Encouraged by a friend last December, I joined an Interfaith group in St. Paul, MN. Our group began, prompted by the facilitator, with sharing our name and something about ourselves. I relaxed into familiar territory. Then the woman next to me introduced herself as Cynthia. My stomach clutched, my eyes widened and I tuned in: that name meant something to me. That name signaled trouble! Next it was my turn and I of course introduced myself as Cindy and we all chuckled at two very different people having the same, kind of, name. During the break Cynthia and I discussed our names. Cynthia preferred the more formal given name as she felt it held more mystery. I shared that the only mystery for me in the name Cynthia, was the mystery of what had I now done wrong? Cynthia was the name used whenever my mother needed to draw my attention to the error of my ways.  Read More 

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