Baring My Body, Opening My Soul

Yesterday, I took an important step toward greater self-care and acceptance: I went to my first-ever yoga class. It was a wonderful, life-enhancing experience.

yoga man in silhouetteSome years ago, a doctor told me I needed to work on balance issues, and suggested yoga. And several spiritual guides in my life have suggested that yoga would be a good addition to my other practices.

So, after church in D.C., Jonathan dropped me off at a yoga studio in the northwest part of the city*.

But this class was not your typical one because all the participants–about 10 of us plus a teacher–were male, and we were naked.

yoga-men
bamboomovesfh.com

Before getting to the naked part, I want to answer a question some readers may have: namely, why yoga? As I investigated this for myself, I realized that yoga is a practice of integrating spirit, mind and body–bringing together through exercises, positions, and meditation that which Western culture (and especially its Christian parts) has worked so hard and for so long to separate. I want that integration, and the greater sense of being and wholeness it brings.

But why naked yoga?

As I read up on the practice before going, I kept encountering the idea that being naked during yoga promotes both body awareness and body acceptance. So, sure you can do yoga at home while naked (if your house is warmer than ours usually is). And that will be good.

naked yoga mens class
nakedyogasf.com

One purpose of yoga, clothed or naked, is to honor and connect with your body. What I found yesterday is that practicing yoga naked, even in a beginning way, freed me from a layer of negative feelings about my body and allowed me to be more accepting of, and deeper connected with, myself.

After strenuous work in various positions, working up a good sweat (another joy of being naked is your clothes don’t cling to you), we moved to more meditative work, and I found myself so very aware psychically, even spiritually, of my body. Earlier, during various poses, I was also very self-aware, with aches from stretching yes and certainly getting off balance at times (I toppled to the mat twice!), but also other awareness ranging from how my genitals felt hanging out in the air as my arms and legs were aiming in all sorts of directions, and how my elbow felt seeming to hold half of me up in a pose whose name I cannot remember.

naked male yoga child pose
washingtonian.com

Being naked in public is a fear a lot of people have and being naked and practicing yoga can be intimidating. Some say the hardest part of the first time at naked yoga is undressing! Our society is driven by an unrealistic ideal of physical beauty, which can fuel an array of insecurity and self-doubt. Most people don’t have the body of a model and yet, we hold ourselves to those standards.

I certainly am not built like a model, never was, and I do not have the “parts” required for a career in porn even were I younger, but when we were lying on our backs breathing deeply under the guidance of our teacher, a wonderful and kind man named Brian, I began to feel an amazing connection between my brain and my penis.

yoga-men.tumblr.com
yoga-men.tumblr.com

Yes, when we finished, I had some arousal showing, but more to the point during the breathing,these two potent parts of me began a new level of connection–very different than you might expect. I don’t exactly know how to describe it but as Brian led us through breathing and visualizing our breath going down our windpipe and into our lungs, and then upward through our nostrils to our brain, including the hypothalmus, I felt a strange and wonderful calm, a peace I am not sure I have ever known before, come over me. Sensual calm, sensual peace, maybe even sexual calm and peace? I no longer fretted about my appendage and did not much notice anyone else’s either; these parts of me, so often driven by anxiety, actually felt integrated.

I can’t be more precise than that, but the good news is that I seem to feel it a bit yet today. Which is why you will find me, God willing, next Sunday stretching my body and my soul again. And why during the week, I will be looking at some YouTube videos to practice a few yoga poses.

I might even do so naked. Unless Cocoa (our standard poodle) objects!

[* The particular studio, a lovely space, does not want their name listed because naked yoga is not part of their studio calendar.  If you are interested in the class, you can contact DC Men’s Naked Yoga here]

The Destination Is the Journey

I am listening right now for the words to come, trusting that there is something that needs me to say it, write it, today. Unnerving to realize I am not totally in charge of this process, that a greater force, and a more intimate one, plays an indispensable role–without which whatever I type or pen will lack some essence of life.

road in autumn lightIt is one thing to string words together in an artful way, and something else far more rewarding when they sing with soul. I imagine even technical writing, if approached with humility and openness, can sing at least a little–even if it is the goal of such writing to be in total control through the mind.

I don’t want my mind to be in total control, I don’t even want total control however it might come, even though it is tempting at times. The ego wants so much to be in control, but that means severing or at least limiting a relationship with God, among others, and I don’t want that.

dark roadMy relationship with God is built on the willingness to remain open to what comes, to be willing to experience all that life offers, and to trust God to guide me through in ways it is good for me to go.

The destination is not an ending point, not a place. The destination is the open, trusting journey that never ends.

Because Quiet Time No Longer Exists?

If you had repented and waited patiently, you’d have been saved; if you had been quiet and trusted me, you’d have found strength. — Isaiah 30:15 (The Inclusive Bible)

Because quiet time no longer existsI remembered this verse, in its more traditional form (In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength), as I walked on 7th Avenue in Brooklyn yesterday. The prompt for my memory was this sign (left), an advertisement for Seamless, a food delivery service in New York and Washington, and probably other major markets, too.

BECAUSE QUIET TIME NO LONGER EXISTS . . . could it be true? Do they know something I have missed?

I know it is true in public places. The television blares while I wait for my car to be repaired, and at the airport, alwaysSeamless at bars and even in many restaurants. Even when the sound is turned off, the words of the speakers go skipping across the screen. It is hard not to look.

So often when walking in the park or a woods, someone is playing music. Of course, people (and this includes me more than I want to admit) are always on their cell phones. When not on the phone, many watch television at home for hours. Some people get up in the morning with the radio and it plays all day long.

Egyptian President Mubarak's speach broadcast live on a television set to CNN at Kennedy Airport where terror alerts are back on there highest level. While thousands celebrated in Thalir Square anticipating his speach where rumor had it he was stepping down, the crowd grew angry when he didn't resign. The protests in Cairo fueled by the protests in Tunisia were fuled by social media.

It seems that maybe we are afraid of quiet? Unwilling to allow silence for even a few moments. I am often frustrated in church or other gatherings where the leader invites us to have a moment of silence, and we don’t even get a moment. Before even a real breath, we are told, “Time’s up! On to the next thing.” I think most people are relieved.

Silence, quiet, is challenging of course. We have to sit with ourselves, with our silly thoughts and our scandalous thoughts and what seem like our empty musings.

But how anyone expects to hear the divine, or even wisdom greater than that offered by the media, or how we expect to really hear eachman and woman screaming at each other other in the deepest sense, without turning off, or at least down, the volume (and the constant video pictures), is a mystery to me.

I wonder if our lack of national cohesion is related to all this noise. Clearly, our leaders do not listen to each other. They just talk past the guy or gal on the other side of the aisle.

There is little wisdom because there is so little quiet. How can we learn from nature if we talk over it all the time? How do we learn from our children when we don’t listen to them, when we actually teach them that listening is not worth the bother (go turn on Sesame Street or something, dear…..don’t bother Daddy right now, please).

Isaiah 30-15bI yearn for the strength, the wisdom, that comes from quiet, from waiting for God. I sit for 30 minutes every day, and my great struggle is to be quiet. I don’t speak, of course, but oh my mind always wants to go, flitting from one thing to the next, nursing some obsession, thinking of something I “need” to look up online. But the lack of sound helps, and before the 30 minutes are up, I have achieved some measure of serenity, sanity–not perfect, but better than none at all. I recommend it for everyone.

Now, I am trying to create small patches during my day, a minute or two or even five, where I am quiet again. When I succeed, things are much better. I even discover wisdom and strength.

Imagine that. Old Isaiah was on to something.

It’s Okay if We Need Coffee, but the Real Deal Is Waking to the Love

[Note: this follows from a post on January 2, 2015, “God Is not the One Who Needs to Show Up”]

“I awaken to Your love, God.”

That is how I begin my morning meditation.

content young man sitting meditating in comfy chair

Well, actually, first I say “thank you” a few times, then “help me” a few times, then thank you a few more times. That is to remind me where the day comes from, where the blessings have already come from, who can be the most help, and then a few more thank yous for the blessings that are coming later.

But awaken is what I seek to do. I used to begin with “await,” according to the practice of Julian of Norwich, the 12th Century English mystic. But over time I became aware that I need not await. The love is already here. My job is to wake up to it–not just wake up from physical sleep but also to wake up from spiritual sleep and become aware that God’s love has never left, is still here, and remains with me always.

This has implications beyond 30 minutes of morning meditation. Awakening is a day-long enterprise. I can so easily fall asleep in God’s presence, forgetting the gift of love which is not only a spiritual gift, but also, as Teilhard deChardin wrote, “the physical structure of the universe.”

black-men-arguingThis morning, Jonathan and I had a disagreement and it became tense, even a little ugly. It need not have been so, at least on my part. I realized, later than I wish, that I had forgotten the reality of love right here in our home, between and among us, not just our love for each other but the fact–the fact–that we are enveloped in God’s love. How much better, more affirming and life-giving, our exchange could have been had I remembered and acted on that fact.

This love is practical and present, powerful and actually predictable (not in how it will manifest itself but in how we can count on it all the time).

As noted at the beginning, I have written about this before. But I find I keep learning to be more open. Just yesterday, while I was performing a daily task that requires very little of my attention other than a repetitive action I realized I could awaken to God’s love, that in fact, God was in the activity with me. Before this, I had sought all sorts of ways to distract myself.

Turning to God was not a distraction, but actually made the time go far faster and more importantly I felt very positive about the time spent. I actually gained more than the benefit of performing the task (some day I will write more about this).

black men older huggingBut there is more. I still honor Julian in my daily practice, but it is God’s love that I seek. I cherish Presence, but for me God is very specific. God is not only present, God is present in a particular way, loving, and hoping as only God can do that we allow the love in, that we accept it, and that we use it, too.

I will write more in days to come about love, about how it is the most powerful force in the universe, and how if we are truly open to it, everything can change. But of course, the change begins here, with me in my case, with you in yours.

Here’s to waking up! Here’s to the love we find when we do.

It’s okay if you need coffee, but the real deal is love.