I asked Sr. Suchness, or Leslie, to be a regular guest blogger for Savor as she is a yoga teacher and former nun. She is currently studying at Harvard University’s School of Divinity for a Master’s degree in Buddhism. I am very happy to welcome her to the Savor Sangha.
One of the main reasons I ordained in Thich Nhat Hanh’s tradition over seven years ago was the beautiful emphasis placed on the joy of meditation. I had come from various paths and experiences that concentrated heavily on the discipline and austerities of meditation, which I loved but could not sustain over an extended period of time. I noticed that my mind naturally became mindful and focused when I either contemplated something I found interesting or engaged in an activity that I enjoyed. For me, movement and exercise brings so much joy. Before I knew anything about formal meditation, I was already meditating and mindful when I was engaged in movement and exercise.
I am so fortunate that I grew up in a family that supported exercise and movement, so much now that just as I have a sensation of hunger for food, I have the same healthy intuitive intelligence that tells me it’s time to move. I think so many of us have lost this “hunger” for movement as we have fasted from it for so long or have not had the supportive conditions to develop exercise as a habit. However, it only takes one short mindful walk, jog, or even a single yoga pose to reawaken the natural joy that arises from exercise, and return home to a healthy state of being.
Just as there are so many delicious and healthy foods to eat, there are so many wonderful and joyful ways to exercise. In fact, when we really love to do something involving movement we don’t even think of it as exercise. This happens for me every time I dance. Throughout the years I have had different relationships with dance, ranging from training and working as a professional dancer, to dancing in the monastery in traditional Vietnamese hat dances - teaching monastics hip hop, and now teaching Yoga Dance and Zumba. Regardless of the form, dance for me is a natural meditation - whether it’s based on learning a dance like Salsa or just letting go and moving with the body’s wisdom in a free form dance class.
In the monastery I used to go out in the evening and dance under the full moon as an expression of my joy to be alive. Now I dance in my apartment, in a Zumba or Yoga Dance class, or even when I am jogging outside or on the treadmill. As a graduate student, I take what I call five minute “dance snack” breaks during intense periods of studying to break up long periods of sitting.
While I love to dance, many of my monastic brothers and sisters, friends and family find other areas involving movement that they naturally love. Many brothers and sisters in the monastery love to play soccer, so much so that they will play together way past dinner into the dark. Others love to bike, play tennis, play frisbee, etc…We are all born to move and enjoy moving at all ages and phases through life, and there are all sorts of “exercises in disguise” out there to support us. For me, this may look like teaching yoga to children in Plum Village or leading mindful movements before walking meditation. I've enjoyed seeing Thay, in his eighties, mindfully jogging in his hermitag.
For me, the most important thing is to find time everyday to nourish my joy of movement and make it a priority. If I can nourish joy in myself then I can share this joy with others. I do this by helping others exercise and by being more present with myself. When I feel more joyful and peaceful in my body and mind, I am available to offer a smile to people on the street and be fully present for the needs of friends and family who are dear to me.
Photo by Larisa Forman