(breathe deep) find hope

inhale, rise. exhale, fold. 
stretch        float        flow
repeat. beyond your window 
winged wonders chirp, twitter, tweet

you, too, salute the sun, rest in its golden bright
before they wake, limbs tangled in the sheets,
before the headlines make you clench your jaw if
“hope is the thing with feathers,”
what is dread
a clawed predator,
lurking in the very air we
breathe deep, remember:
you’re safe in this nest

meanwhile essential birds flit to and fro
till the earth, tend the brood, fight death—
(breathe deep) what you’ve been asked to do
(nest) barely feels like sacrifice

still
you bow your head, weary
you close your eyes, wet
you fold your hands,
pleading
for miracles.
indoors,  your little one wakes
outside, a robin warbles

What I mean when I talk about living gratefully

It’s been a difficult year for our family. So difficult some of our stories have been too painful to share here. My husband is healthy again, but inside we’re still healing from the trauma.

Reflecting back on it all, however, my heart remains full. I’m deeply grateful for the blessings God has placed in my life my family, my friends, my work, my home. I’m deeply grateful for this space, for the opportunity to connect with you. I’m deeply grateful for everything our family experienced this year — our joys and hardships.

I know giving thanks isn’t always easy.

We might be in a season of life where the lows outnumber the highs. We carry a heavy burden, we’re not sure how much longer we can lift it.

We might be looking at the world around us, seeing all the pain and suffering and hate, and feel utter despair. We might be watching our loved ones fight illness and feel utter helplessness.

We might be battling mental illness, addiction, depression, crippling anxiety or seasonal affective disorder. Happy pictures on social media make us envious or melancholy.

We might be feeling the weight of waiting. We’ve been waiting so long for the one, the promotion, the baby, the big break, the move, you name it — and we are tired.

We might be broke. We might be grieving. We might be barely holding it together. We are wrung out.

But.

We are breathing.

Let me tell you something about gratitude: I think living gratefully is an act of resistance.

In a world that tells us we are not enough, that what we have is not enough, gratitude pushes back and says the opposite. Gratitude says we are more blessed than we could ever imagine. When we live gratefully, we look beyond ourselves, rediscovering the invisible threads that stitch our lives together and calling them good.

You know what helps me cultivate gratitude? Yoga. When I practice yoga, I am reminded of everything within me I often take for granted:

  • My heart, beating strong and true as I execute a chaturanga jump back on my yoga mat.
  • My breath, heavy but comfortable as I flow in and out of shapes.
  • My mind, clear and sharp, listening to the instructor’s voice, tuning out to-dos and deadlines. Tuning in to my body, this space, this moment.

Gratitude, like yoga, is a practice. It’s the practice of tuning in, opening our eyes to the gifts around and inside of us.

Sometimes we become most thankful for blessings that were ripped away. We got sick. We got hurt. Someone else did. We moved. Someone else moved. We started a new thing; we miss the old one. Our car broke down. We broke up.

Through loss and hardship, we often develop a new perspective that helps us better appreciate all we have.

The lows I experienced this year gave me a deeper appreciation for my loved ones and my good health. I have a renewed sense of contentment with the life God’s given me. And I’m trying to use my blessings to bless others with love and kindness. I don’t always get it right. I mess up a lot. But I’m aiming to live gratefully.

This Thanksgiving and every day, my prayer is this: May God grant me the attention to pause and give thanks for all my blessings, big and small. May I live my life as an act of gratitude.

I think G.K. Chesterton sums it up quite nicely here:

You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.

Amen.

Keep practicing

crow pose yogaWriting is a lot like yoga. Want to do crow pose? You have to put in time on the mat before taking flight. So you practice & practice & practice. You come to your mat and put in the work. It takes courage. Discipline. Some days you fall. Some days it seems like you’re never going to reach it—you tell yourself you’re not good enough, it’s too hard, you just don’t have the coordination. But you keep showing up. You keep trying.

One day you decide to test your balance. So you lift one foot. Then the other. And suddenly, for a moment, you start to fly. The more you practice, the easier it gets, and soon you’ve mastered the pose and you’re moving on to other, more challenging inversions—side crow & hurdler’s pose & headstand.

Want to get published? Keep writing. Keep coming back to your notebook, your keyboard, even your smartphone and put in the work. Keep showing up. I have dozens of half finished essays, half baked blog posts and rejected submissions in my files. I know it stinks getting rejected. I know how hard it is to silence your inner critic who says you aren’t really an artist. I know what it’s like to be afraid, to stall.

Today I received some good news; today I felt as if I might be starting to to take flight. I know I’m not there yet, but I’m making progress. And I’m more determined than ever to keep writing.

So I’m saying this to you as much as it is a reminder to myself: Keep practicing. Keep trying. Keep showing up. One day you’ll surprise yourself and soar.

Back on my mat

IMG_0024The studio is quiet, hot and dimly lit. Walking on tiptoes, I locate what seems to be one of the last open plots of space and unfurl my teal-colored mat to claim it. The flip of the mat hitting the ground feels weighty, and loud. I look around but no one else has noticed. I take a seat.

This my first *hot* yoga class since I became pregnant. I am six-weeks postpartum and my body still aches from labor and lack of sleep.

At home, my husband is watching our newborn son. I am here, at this class, for some much-needed me-time.

At least my body is here. My mind seems to be elsewhere.

A thousand different thoughts crowd my mind: I worry I will not make it through the heated class. I worry about how my postpartum body looks in the studio mirror, new curves and extra padding. I worry about what my son is doing right now. Is he sleeping? Is he eating? Is he OK?

I am anxious and impatient for class to begin, and, just when I feel I can’t wait any longer, the teacher comes in and instructs us to begin to “settle into your space.”

Settling in is the last thing I want to do right now. I want to shut off my mind and move. I am in the middle of a major life upheaval and I’m still figuring out how to cope.

Looking back, my life before baby seemed so calm, so simple. Weeks were punctuated by work, workouts, nights out with friends.

Now life’s a whirlwind of feedings, playtime, napping, diaper changes; it’s enduring sleepless nights and thankless chores; it’s . . . complicated.

And it’s also incredible. As a new parent, every moment of the day is amplified by my little one’s existence. The pure joy and love I have for my son is bigger than anything I’ve ever felt before.

Class is starting now and I try to focus in on my breath, on the gentle instructions our teacher provides. We begin to flow from tadasana (mountain pose) to uttanasana (forward fold) to ardha uttanasana (halfway lift), and I feel a sense of release as I move through these familiar motions.

My heartbeat pounds, my limbs lengthen, the chatter in my mind goes mute. I’m keyed into the sequence now, and my muscle memory takes over as I swoop from urdhva mukha svanasana (upward facing dog) to adho mukha svanasana (downward facing dog).

As we progress, poses that once felt easy are hard. I push through, acutely aware of each sweaty minute.

I struggle as I strive to maintain composure during a particularly difficult sequence. My teacher offers modifications and I take them all with confidence. There was a time when this sequence would have been easy for me, but now it is not. I surrender to what my body needs today, resisting the urge to work too hard too soon.

When the instructor finally invites us to enter savasana (corpse pose) I collapse on my mat with a smile, knowing at least I’ve nailed this last pose of renewal and relaxation.

My body feels heavy, glued to the ground. I am tired AND energized AND already ready to come back again.

In the six weeks that I was recovering from giving birth, I missed the simplicity of my mat and the comfort of this routine. At a time when it seems as if everything has changed—my strength (or lack thereof), my family, my body, my mind—yoga is one constant.

As I relax in the darkness, I think about why yoga is called a “practice,” an act you master with time. It is not a performance, but a sharpening of the mind and body, a discipline that requires mental resilience and acute body awareness.

After years of practicing yoga I’d forgotten what it felt like to be a novice. Having a baby, taking a break from my mat, reminded me.

Life—like yoga—has a way of ebbing and flowing. In this season of life, I am novice parent, trying to make sense of the new complexity raising a child brings, I’m again a novice yogi, rediscovering my strength on my mat.

Coping with a BIG life transition—whether it’s a breakup, parenthood, a new job or moving—is never easy. When we make time to embrace old routines, however, they lift the burden of foreign and for a moment, ground us in the familiar.

Just sixty minutes ago, my life felt so off balance. Now I felt grounded.

We sit up and begin to seal our practice with a community breathing exercise. “Inhale to the count of three . . . now exhale deeply,” the instructor says.

I breathe in deep, I breathe out a sigh of relief.