Smell the Roses

It’s rose season!

I take a lot, and I mean a lot, of pictures of flowers. Roses especially, but any beautiful flower that captures my attention.

Taking pictures—just on my iPhone, nothing too fancy—is for me a joy-filled discipline of noticing.

I stop. I lean in. I frame the subject. I go for a better angle. I see the flower, its unique bloom. The way the petals curl, the nuances of color, the contrast with its foliage and/or background in the frame. This flower, in this moment, this beauty.

I allow the bloom to give me pause, to be present to the goodness in the world. It is good for my soul.

And then, generally, if the picture captures anywhere near the truth of what I saw, I share it. Because we all need more beauty, more goodness, more joy and peace in our lives.

This may seem an obvious omission, but what I don’t always do? Smell the rose.

I read recently (because I’m always reading) that someone took a breath so deep that it was like inhaling the smell of a rose all the way down to her toes.

Yes!

That phrase captivated my imagination. I could see myself leaning in even closer, phone down, sticking my nose inside a gorgeous, single white rose in full bloom. Inhaling all the way down into my toes. What a way to slow down and become present.

So I’m adding “smell the roses” to my discipline of noticing, whether or not I have my phone in hand.

I discovered this blessing the other day, and it seems appropriate to share here:

May you recognize in your life the presence, power, and light of your soul.
May you realize that you are never alone, that your soul in its brightness and belonging connects you intimately with the rhythm of the universe.
May you have respect for your individuality and difference.
May you realize that the shape of your soul is unique, that you have a special destiny here, that behind the facade of your life there is something beautiful and eternal happening.
May you learn to see your self with the same delight, pride, and expectation with which God sees you in every moment.
Amen. Let it be so.

(John O’Donohue’s Blessing for Solitude, from The Road Back to You by Cron & Stabile, p230)

Humble. Yoga. Go!

Friends opened a yoga studio and invited me to try it.

I’d never tried yoga and, other than mandatory (despised, humiliating) PE classes all the way through college and some neon jazzercise in the late-80’s/early-90’s, group exercise—team or class—hasn’t been my thing.

To be honest, exercise hasn’t been my thing. I’m branching out in middle age! (Literally: tree pose, growing branches)

I would have chickened out, but I bumped into my friend. She looked at me, pointed dramatically, and declared: “YOU! It’s time!”

I went. I loved it.

Because my son took a year of yoga in high school, I had heard that final savasana (lying flat on your back as in sleep) is supposedly the hardest yoga pose. Seriously, what’s so hard about lying still?

Proud of myself for making it through an hour of yoga, I was surprised when my yogi-friend grabbed my foot, then lifted, wiggled and pulled on one leg and then the other. I realized: I didn’t even know how to properly lie still. My body had been holding in stress and my legs weren’t fully stretched out. Talk about humbling…

At the end of class, I gulped one big sob: I had found a form of exercise that could unite body, mind, and spirit. Through this practice, hard and humbling as it might be, I could physically practice the greatest commandment: to love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, strength, and mind.

Though my body ached, I had to go back. This time, I couldn’t keep still during final savasana as sobs shook my shoulders. Yoga tapped so deeply into my inner being that I felt like I should go home and journal. I knew I needed more yoga in my life.

One of my favorite things about this studio: humility is built into its name. Humble Yoga. As a total newbie, I have no choice but to enter in with humility. And when I wiggle or shake or fall flat on my rear, I laugh at myself. No judgment, always options to modify, and at least I’m trying! (One of our yogis said, “Oh, you just laugh all the time!” With humility I agreed, and laughter is good for the soul).

Another favorite thing about yoga: what I learn on the mat applies to life off the mat. Listen to these phrases I hear in most classes:

What is your intention?
Where is your foundation?
Ground down.
Inhale your intention. Exhale, commit a little deeper.
Engage your core.
Notice your body. Release any feelings of tension.
Grow tall through your crown.
Drop your shoulders.
Find your edge. Breathe through your edge.
Relax your face.
Shake it out.
Find your active pose.
Find something new in each familiar pose.
Gaze up.
Find a focal point.
Are you still breathing?
Option to modify.
Come back to your breath. Come back to your intention.
Give yourself a gentle squeeze.
This is your practice.

I’m sure you can imagine countless scenarios where those phrases would be helpful advice… In a tense work meeting, or conversation with a neighbor, spouse, or grumpy teenager. Any time life feels challenging. Any time you feel stumped or stifled. Any time you feel run down or discouraged. Any time you need a gentle nudge towards growth. How many times off the mat have I reminded myself to notice my body, to remember my intention, to relax my face and drop my shoulders, and just breathe?

Yoga reminds me to be present to this moment. This breath. This stretch. To breathe into the pain or pleasure of this moment without anticipating what will come next. Whatever’s next will surely come, and I will breathe into that moment as it comes, but this is Now. We can do hard things if we are present to what each moment requires and remember to keep breathing.

We do together what we would not do alone. I still walk or run most days in between yoga work outs, but yoga pushes me in ways I wouldn’t push myself. And in the studio I make new friends and connect in new ways with people I’ve known for years. In the studio we build community within our community, and it will strengthen the community beyond its doors.

Currently, my goal is to go 2-4 days a week; eventually that will become 3-5 days a week as I get stronger and ache less between. Still, even the aches remind me to breathe; that I have done and will do hard things; to be intentional.

I may not have a “yoga body,” but this body does yoga.
I am not strong. I am growing stronger.
I am stronger than I was. I will grow stronger still.

With practice.

[Yoga with me! gohumbleyoga.com]

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Thankful Thursday – Every Breath I Take

The last few weeks have cycled through deep soul excavation, self-reflection, confession and forgiveness, and difficult, honest conversations. These weeks have been hard, tearful, and also so good, resulting in helpful new insights. Growth can be hard work.

One of the healthier ways I’ve managed all the feelings has been to get active. Moving my body has helped shut down my ruminating mind. But movement comes with its own risks. I went for a two-hour seaside walk in the wrong shoes and developed a blister on the ball of each foot the size of a 50-cent piece–ouch! And last weekend I took a wrong step during a run that strained something in my ankle and has had me limping since.

Last week I patted myself on the back–six out of six days I either practiced yoga or ran. This week not so much. This week I’m a lame stress ball, one that should bounce but instead lands with a thud.

My yogi friend suggested her chair class, which enables deeper stretches since you don’t also have to support your own weight. I rearranged activities to make it at noon today, grateful to have an opportunity to move safely without pain.

Little did I know how grateful I would be…

Confirmation #1: Written on the studio whiteboard: “Today’s Intention: Gratitude”
Confirmation #2: Yogi-friend said, “Everything happens for a purpose. If you weren’t injured, you might not be here right now…”
Confirmation #3: The only other class participant? Also a pastor’s wife, also dealing with an injury.

At that point, I just started laughing. Clearly, God put me where I needed to be!

Honestly, I would have preferred to move hard, to sweat, to get my blood pumping. I’m not good at stretching and, left to myself, I don’t take nearly enough time to do it properly. Still, it’s good, helpful, necessary.

For this near-private lesson, our yogi had created a routine and playlist just for us. She asked different questions, not “What is your foundation?” but “WHO is your foundation?” The music also took us beyond our bodies and focused our minds. Two gimpy pastors’ wives and our yogi-sister shared an hour of stretching, breathing, and praying. We shared yoga worship.

I breathe, but I need reminders to breathe deeply.
I move, but I benefit from reminders to move intentionally.
I pray, but I stretched differently into this hour of focused, physically-expressive prayer.

I entered the studio slump-shouldered. I exited with shoulders back, a smile on my face. I received this shared yoga experience as a gift, and I am indeed grateful!

Doesn’t yoga frog make you want to smile?

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