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Paying Attention is the Beginning of Devotion ~ Mary Oliver ~

When I was doing my yoga teacher training at Yogaview Chicago over ten years ago, there was an ongoing discussion in our cohort of students around the question, “What makes a yoga practice feel like a spiritual experience?” Or “Why do I leave a yoga practice feeling the same way I feel from a good church service?” What is it about the physical yoga practice that puts me in a frame of mind to let the smaller, petty things in life fade away temporarily, regain a sense of peace and calm, release stress, feel gratitude for what is good in my life, focus on the light and love in me and others and feel a sense of wonder at the unknowable source of that light and love?

A series of events got me thinking about this question again. Recently I came across a quote from the late poet Mary Oliver who said, “Attention is the beginning of devotion.” Which is what she spent her whole life doing, going out in nature every day with her pen and notepad, paying attention, and translating that into poetry. That quote inspired me to build a yoga workshop around the work of Mary Oliver. And as I started to engage in developing the workshop, of course, out of the ether flowed many other sources of inspiration drawing on the notion of “attention.” I was reminded of a quote I sometimes use in my classes from the Buddhist teacher, Lewis Richmond, who says, “Meditation is paying attention to the things that really matter.” And yesterday when I was at an inspiring funeral mass for a friend’s spouse, my ears perked up during the eulogy when the beloved former parish pastor, Father Dominic Grassi, said,

“Paying attention is like praying.”

Paying attention is at the heart of what we do in a yoga practice. We pay attention to the breath, body, joints, muscles, tendons, our aches and pains, our thoughts and so much more. And drawing from Mary Oliver, Lewis Richmond, and Fr. Grassi, paying attention is devotional, paying attention is meditation, paying attention is like praying. For me, that adds some insights to the question, why does a yoga practice feel like a spiritual experience.

If you want to explore that question and more, please consider attending my workshop this coming Saturday, December 10, The Wisdom of Mary Oliver Half Day Retreat at Bloom Yoga in Lincoln Square, Chicago.

Also coming up in the New Year, I’m offering my 5-session workshop, Movement, Meditation and Conversations on Healthy Aging at Dancing Feet Yoga in New Buffalo, MI.

Wishing you many moments filled with attention during the holidays,



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