Body / Practicing care for the body through movement and tending to pain.
What does flourishing leadership look like in the real world? Resilient Leaders Project asked alumni of The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology about how they’ve flourished while creating contextually-responsive ministry. In listening to these leaders, we found six common themes–practices and ways of being that other leaders can apply to increase their own flourishing. This blog series will share those themes, one at a time, through the stories of flourishing leaders. To see the other themes and leader profiles, read the Flourishing in Service Report. This week’s theme is body: leaders need to develop practices that honor their God-given body and connect body to soul.
Psychotherapist and Yoga Instructor
As a therapist, I began to notice that after a full day of seeing clients I experienced tenderness and pain through my sternum, and taking deep breaths felt difficult. I realized that my body was mirroring my clients’ tension. As much as I worked during my sessions to metabolize the physical intensity of whatever emotion my client brought into the room, I was always leaving feeling physically and energetically depleted. I decided to practice a form of bodywork, SOMA, that acknowledges the ways that tension in the body reflects tension in the mind.
Now, when I experience discomfort in my physical body, I recognize these sensations as my body trying to alert me to some kind of emotional or spiritual disruption in my life. When I sense this tension I can nurture my body with massage, myofascial release, yoga, dance, or breath work – in these ways I’m able to discharge the accumulated tension that is a natural result of meditating on other’s trauma multiple times a day. I have learned how to use movement as prayer, and I see how being with my body is a worshipful experience.
Movement is my medicine, but there is a heavy, oppressive force that I have to push against internally in order to choose movement for myself. It’s a very real form of spiritual warfare that I have to engage on behalf of my own personal healing. The Desire Map by Danielle LaPorte taught me to ask the question, ‘How do I want to feel today/this week/this year?” and then to consider what I need to do in order to feel that way. Framing my choices from a place of desire vs. a ‘should’ helps me to choose movement that feels authentic!
I started seminary after a hiking injury ended my successful military career. At The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology, I learned the importance of pastors being in and with the community they live in and serve. Teaching yoga became that point of community connection for me while I continued to primarily pursue and dream about being a more traditional pastor.
As this journey was beginning to unfold, I went through a divorce and was passed over by the church I wanted to work for. I had poured my “self” into both relationships, only to be left alone as an unrequited lover. The beautiful plot twist, though, is the failures and the undoing of my “self” were my salvation! While “husband” and “pastor” were things I did, or wanted to do, neither of them were who I was in my essence. Jesus emphasized how important it is to “lose your life to find it” because it’s precisely by losing our small selves (jobs, titles, relationships, possessions, accolades, etc.) that we find our true selves in Christ.
So, after “failing” at pastoring in a church, today my pastoring is teaching a person, or three, or ten in a yoga class … and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. As a yoga pastor I think of myself as a conduit for love and endeavor to help people tangibly experience the bliss of being in Christ. As we breathe mindfully we take in Spirit, as we move purposefully we integrate body, mind, and spirit, and as we unclutter our minds, we shift our experience from small selves to True Self. In a very real sense I’m never not pastoring: to pastor is to care for souls, which means journeying with people toward a beautiful and holistic existence.