A Versatile Prayer Mat

"Our bodies are apt to be our autobiographies." -Frank Gillette Burgess

"And the Word became flesh and lived among us….From his fullness we have all received grace upon grace." - John 1:14,16

I love thinking of these two quotes together. There is the idea that our bodies are the best medium for telling our life stories and the notion of a God who takes on flesh and invites us to conform our bodies as an ever-expanding dwelling for the holy. Such a coupling of thought seems to spread a wide prayer mat upon which we can prostrate ourselves in countless postures and cultivate a sort of prayerful storytelling with our flesh and bone.

I recently started Afro-Cuban salsa dance and yoga. I am not exceptionally good at either of these practices, mainly because I have spent most of my life cultivating the steady and active voice of my mind, and very little time attending to my bodily expressions. Boyfriends and therapists alike have accused me of thinking too much. In many ways I love and treasure the fact that I have a thriving and endlessly hungry intellect. But lately I've been intuiting what feels deeply like a spiritual invitation to learn a new language, a more incarnate way of engaging and narrating both the sacred and the mundane.

Speaking into the world with my body is essentially a new form of prayer for me. And like breath, prayer can come from different internal spaces that usher embedded emotional, intellectual, and spiritual assumptions to the surface and beckon your body to acknowledge and deal with these new insights.

So far, in yoga my prayerful storytelling is being cultivated through soft, gentle, incremental movements of my body that are adding up and stretching out into deeper self-awareness and widening possibility..

I am learning to practice rooting my feet into the earth, attending to present sensations and releasing the habitual but unnecessary ways I hold tension and tightness in other parts of my body.

I am learning to listen to small aches and to sit with them till the pain or discomfort subsides.

Savor the warmth of a crackling fire on a cold, gray day. Pay attention to the birds outside your window. Listen for the giggles of a child. Walk in the moonlight. Acknowledge the countless blessings of everyday life.

I am learning that if I am quiet and attentive enough to eavesdrop on the conversation my body is trying to have with me then there will be moments when transformative energy seems to sweetly and seductively seep out of my organs, cleansing and healing and empowering all at once.

Using Dance, Yoga to Pray

With dance, it is a different kind of bodily prayer. It is not comforting and enveloping like yoga. Learning to dance Afro Cuban salsa is at times like playfully swinging my hips around the prayer mat, delighting in being made flesh and paying homage to a God who created us as sensual, sexual beings. But honestly, right now, most times it is simply about trying to attend to what's before me through my body, through feeling, intuition and perception more than through my head. This is very hard for me, hard on the dance floor and hard because it is revealing things to me about how I have chosen to and made habit of existing in the world.

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