A Challenge for Better Sleep

I want to be a sleep cat

“I will both lie down and sleep in peace;
    for you alone, O Lord, make me lie down in safety.”

– Psalm 4:8

Our friends over at RuahSpace are offering a cool free prayer and Christian Yoga series aimed at improving your sleep.

Pastor Phil Vestal is a regular guest on our PODcast and in our weekly sessions. His Christ-Centered yoga and spiritual practices ministry have been an inspiration to me and PraXis project. Basically, Pastor Phil convinced me that it’s OK for Christians to do yoga (or at least, it’s OK for THIS Christian.) Now I’m even taking a yoga instructor training.

This new program he is offering is free on YouTube, but it also has a component on his membership-based website. The challenge runs Sept 13-19. It only takes a few minutes before bed. (It ends just as our own wellness change begins, conveniently 🙂

Jamie and I get pretty rough sleep. I recently even went to a Pulmonologist to see if I had sleep apnea. He gave me a very uncomfortable wiggly mask to wear on my forehead and over my nose all night. We just an a Zoom conference this week. “The good news is,” he said. “You don’t have sleep apnea. The bad news is, if you don’t have sleep apnea, there isn’t much I can do for you.”

We are now looking at isolating more subtle elements, such a MORE exercise, regular sleep times, lowering caffeine. The usual. We all know that exercise can be critical for better sleep.

Phil sites a US Department of Health survey that indicates that people who practice yoga get better sleep. If you follow this blog that’s not going to be a big surprise. What will be interesting to see if Christ-centered yoga and prayer practice specifically designed for sleep can help even more.

Consider signing up. Jamie and I will be doing it. We’ll certainly let you know how it goes.

Take the PraXis Wellness Challenge

Sept 21 — Nov 11- Tuesday and Wednesday 6:30 pm, and Thursday at 10am, on Zoom and in-person. Sessions are approximately 1 hour, 15 minutes. SIGN UP HERE.

Jamie and I are looking for volunteers to take the PraXis Christian Wellness challenge, and we’d love your help!

PraXis is a graduate project of Vancouver School of Theology, at the University of British Columbia, Canada. PraXis involves physical fitness, mental health exercises and diet. More at PraXisWellness.Center.

Volunteers participate in PraXis sessions over an 8-week period. Participation can be as much as daily (on your own), or as little as a one session a week. Sessions occur over Zoom and on-sight in the Morristown NJ area, either at Frog Hill estate or partner locations to be determined. Volunteers take an entrance and exit survey based on the Princeton UMatter Wellness Self-Assessment. The data is kept confidential and will inform the efficacy of the practice and an organizational plan and report I will complete by Dec. 2021.

Our ultimate goal is to make PraXis a program that we can share with communities, churches and parachurch organizations.

PaXis Sessions

Sessions are approximately 1 hour and 14 minutes, will be offered weekly at 6:30 pm, Tuesday and Wednesday, and 10 am Thursday. All times are Eastern Standard. Even if you can’t make the classes, if you can participate in our own time and check-in every two weeks you can qualify.

Begins Sept 21, ends Nov 11.

Opening Prayer of Praise to God
Reading with Psalter, Canonical Scripture (we use NSRV)

Somatic prayer is a combination of light fitness and prayer readings

Somatic Prayer or embodied practice
(20 – 30 Minutes)

 Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one” 1 Corin. 9:25

This is light exercise- a combination of Pilates, calisthenics, and sanctified yoga in conjunction with scripture or hymn readings. See Demo HERE.

Noetic Prayer, or mental prayer
(20 minutes)

“keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” -Prov 4:23

This is a combination of silent prayers and contemplative traditions that have some aspect of evidence-based mindfulness, Lectio Divina, Centering Prayer, Christian Meditation or other silent prayer traditions like the Jesus Prayer. See Demo HERE.

Thanksgiving, Meal and sharing

“See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food.’” – Gen. 1:29 

“I had eaten no rich food, no meat or wine had entered my mouth, and I had not anointed myself at all, for the full three weeks.” – Daniel 10:3

A plant-based meal is provided in the likeness of Christian-fasting. Here people have time to discuss their practice and commune with one another and learn about nutrition, recipes and the Christian fasting tradition.

Farewell and depart

We’ll discuss the practice, support volunteers in their participation, discuss the philosophy and the science behind the practices. 

An open invitation
The program is nondenominational, open and welcoming. Christian affiliation is not required, but it is the sole spiritual context for the practice.

If you would like to participate or learn, please fill out this short confidential form and we’ll get back to you. Or if you are ready to jump in, fill out this form!

“What about demons?”– Getting into the weeds of Christian Mindfulness and Prayer with Psychologist Irene Kraegel

On this PraXis PODcast: Irene Kraegel, clinical psychologist and Christian mindfulness instructor

Irene Kraegel is a clinical psychologist and Christian mindfulness instructor. She is the author of the book, Christian Mindfulness: Cultivating a life of intentionality, openness and faith.

In her book, she states, “As we live through a season of pandemic illness, racial injustice, and national unrest- if there was ever a time that we need clear-eyed awareness, self-care tools, and effective action, this is it.”

Watch/Listen to the podcast. PraXis YouTube Channel

She defines Christian Mindfulness as the practice of:

  • Drawing us closer to God
  • Calming out uncomfortable emotions
  • And strengthening us through the challenges of this season

On this episode of the PraXis podcast, I sit down with Irene and we get into the weeds about how mindfulness works as well as:

  • How it is similar to Christian contemplation practices like Centering Prayer?
  • What are the specific clinical benefits of mindful practices?
  • What the challenges for Christians who attempt these practices?
  • And what about demons?

We explore all this and more in this in depth interview.

EP 8: Demons in your head, Christian Mindfulness, and Prayer with psychologist Irene Kraegel PraXis: Christian Wellness

Irene Kraegel is a clinical psychologist and Christian mindfulness instructor. She is the author of the book, Christian Mindfulness: Cultivating a life of intentionality, openness and faith. In her book, she states, “As we live through a season of pandemic illness, racial injustice, and national unrest- if there was ever a time that we need clear-eyed awareness, self-care tools, and effective action, this is it.” She defines Christian Mindfulness as the practice of: Drawing us closer to God Calming out uncomfortable emotions Strengthening us through the challenges of this season On this episode of the PraXis podcast, I sit down with Irene and we get into the weeds about how mindfulness works as well as: How it is similar to Christian contemplation practices like Centering Prayer? What are the specific clinical benefits of mindful practices? What the challenges for Christians who attempt these practices? And what about demons? We explore all this and more in this in depth interview. JOIN THE PRAXIS GROUP VIA ZOOM, EACH WEDS. 6 PM, PST For more about Irene’s classes, speaking engagements and writings go to TheMindfulChristian. Her book The Mindful Christian is available on Amazon. PraXis explores the intersection of evidence-based wellness and Christian spiritual practice. Podcasts are recorded during our weekly Zoom session. Join us LIVE every Wed. 6 pm, PST More at PraXis Wellness 
  1. EP 8: Demons in your head, Christian Mindfulness, and Prayer with psychologist Irene Kraegel
  2. EP 7: Faith Journey from Astronomy to Chair Yoga
  3. EP 6: How the Church is Ignoring your Body
  4. EP 5.8: Introduction to Centering Prayer, 5 minutes of silence, with Father Nicholas Amato
  5. EP 5.5: 20-minute introduction to Centering Prayer: Father Nicholas Amato

JOIN THE PRAXIS GROUP VIA ZOOM, EACH WEDS. 6 PM, PST

For more about Irene’s classes, speaking engagements and writings go to TheMindfulChristian

Here book The Mindful Christian is available on Amazon.

PraXis explores the intersection of evidence-based wellness and Christian spiritual practice. Join us LIVE every Wed. 6 pm, PST

www.meetup.com/PraXis-Contemplative-Meditation-Group/ 

www.facebook.com/PraXisWellness 

praxiswellness.center/ 

Check out the Body Scan Meditation below

PODcast: The Church is Getting Wellness all Wrong

It’s an incarnated religion about an incarnated God. But there is much the Church offers for YOUR body.

Our three regular guests, Pastor Andru Morgan of Parkrose United Methodist, Pastor Phil Vestal of RuahSpace and Pastor Aaron Miller of University Hill Congregation discuss how the Church is getting the body wrong. The human body that is.

What is the Church missing out on when it abdicates the wellness space to secularism and the New Age? What are the social justice implication of “fitness?” How do you treat the F word (fat), in world where there is so much judgement and shame associated with weight-gain? The pastors dive into all these topics and more.

Or join us live each Thursday, on Zoom via MeetUp, at 6 pm PST/9 pm EST.
https://www.meetup.com/PraXis-Contemplative-Meditation-Group/

EP 8: Demons in your head, Christian Mindfulness, and Prayer with psychologist Irene Kraegel PraXis: Christian Wellness

Irene Kraegel is a clinical psychologist and Christian mindfulness instructor. She is the author of the book, Christian Mindfulness: Cultivating a life of intentionality, openness and faith. In her book, she states, “As we live through a season of pandemic illness, racial injustice, and national unrest- if there was ever a time that we need clear-eyed awareness, self-care tools, and effective action, this is it.” She defines Christian Mindfulness as the practice of: Drawing us closer to God Calming out uncomfortable emotions Strengthening us through the challenges of this season On this episode of the PraXis podcast, I sit down with Irene and we get into the weeds about how mindfulness works as well as: How it is similar to Christian contemplation practices like Centering Prayer? What are the specific clinical benefits of mindful practices? What the challenges for Christians who attempt these practices? And what about demons? We explore all this and more in this in depth interview. JOIN THE PRAXIS GROUP VIA ZOOM, EACH WEDS. 6 PM, PST For more about Irene’s classes, speaking engagements and writings go to TheMindfulChristian. Her book The Mindful Christian is available on Amazon. PraXis explores the intersection of evidence-based wellness and Christian spiritual practice. Podcasts are recorded during our weekly Zoom session. Join us LIVE every Wed. 6 pm, PST More at PraXis Wellness 
  1. EP 8: Demons in your head, Christian Mindfulness, and Prayer with psychologist Irene Kraegel
  2. EP 7: Faith Journey from Astronomy to Chair Yoga
  3. EP 6: How the Church is Ignoring your Body
  4. EP 5.8: Introduction to Centering Prayer, 5 minutes of silence, with Father Nicholas Amato
  5. EP 5.5: 20-minute introduction to Centering Prayer: Father Nicholas Amato

PraXis PODcast is now on Apple Podcasts.

More from PraXis
https://praxiswellness.center
https://www.facebook.com/PraXisWellness
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCFPNdO3YxEhHee9qItKbZPA

Our friends
Pastor Andru Morgan
Parkrose United Methodist Church

Pastor Phil Vestal
RuahSpace

Pastor Aaron Miller
University Hill Congregation

Introduction to Centering Prayer with Father Nicholas (15, and 5 minutes of silence)

Here is a quick introductory PODcast for those interested in Christian contemplation. Father Nicholas Amato, a Christian Wellness Guru, takes us through the exercise. Below are two options for 15 minutes or just 5 minutes of silence. Father Nicholas goes over breathing techniques and how to use a short prayer to help you “float like a feather on the breath of God.” We’ve added a little music to help you get use to the silence.

GET THE PODCAST VERSION: HERE

Below, version with 15 minutes of silence. If this is your first time, you might be better off trying the version with only 5 minutes of silence.

For the full interview with Father Amato


Links to Father Amato’s books Living in God: Contemplative Prayer and Contemplative Action and Happiness and Joy: Can the Spiritual Life have Both?

More from PraXis and Facebooks PraXisWellness Or join us live each Thursday, on Zoom via MeetUp, at 6 pm PST/9 pm EST.

Christian Wellness Guru? Talking with Father Nicholas Amato [POD and Vlog]

Watch or listen to the interview in the embed below

Father Nicholas Amato is a catholic priest, contemplative and author of several books including the 2021 book, Happiness and Joy: Can a Spiritual Life Have Both? He’s 80-years young, runs three miles a day and walks another 15,000 steps. After talking with Ftr. Amato for a short while, you get the impression that he is just about the wellest person you’ll ever meet.

Get the podcast HERE

Ftr. Amato is also the creator of the Mepkin Wellness Program, a diet, fitness, mindfulness and community support training for parish priests run from Mepkin Abbey Monastery in South Carolina. Mepkin was founded by the same Trappist Order that founded Gethsemane Abbey, in Kentucky.  Ftr. Amato is a contemporary of Thomas Merton, Basil Pennington and the founders of the Centering Prayer movement. Ftr. Amato is a graduate of the Shalem Institute in Washington,  DC.

If you like Richard Rohr and Cynthia Bourgeois, you will love Ftr. Amato. He is like a cross between Thomas Keating and a fitness coach. We talk about “the four legs” of the table of wellness practice, dreaming big and thinking small, tips on how to stay awake during contemplation and the differences between chasing happiness and waking up to joy.

The interview ends with a ten minute breathing exercise and 5 minutes of sitting silently in God’s presence.

For more on Ftr. Amato check out his highly instructional book, Living in God, Contemplative Prayer and Contemplative Action

This a lovely practical, concise and specific book, written in a gentle voice and filled with step-by-step advice for cultivating a closer relationship with the presence of God.

Happiness and Joy is an excellent book designed to function as a retreat guide or book club focus. It brings one through a spiritual journey to discover the wellspring of joy that pours out of our hearts when we “finally fill the God-shaped hole” inside ourselves.

Ftr. Amato still runs retreats and “days of recollection.” You can see his writing at FatherNicholasAmato.Blogspot or by emailing him at fathernicholasamato@gmail.com

PS- Correction: It was Irenaeus not Tertullian who said, “the Glory of God is a hu[man] fully alive.”

More from PraXis and Facebooks (of course)

Or join us live each Thursday, on Zoom via MeetUp, at 6 pm PST/9 pm EST.

What Good is it if You Do Not Have Love?

The Rabbis say, “love thy neighbor, everything else if commentary.” FYI Jesus was also a Rabbi. Image from SantaBanta

He is Risen!

Happy Easter to all of you. At a time we are celebrating the bodily resurrection of Christ, and remembering the promise of our own eternal bodily life in the age to come, it is important to remember the real goal of the Christian life here on Earth.

Easter is always a little bit of an awkward time for us here. It is the most important time of the year for Christians, but being on the Orthodox calendar (resurrection being on May 2nd this year) we are always a little out of sync with the rest of our community. In the Christian East we do not use the term Easter, we use the term Pascha. This is just the Greek word for Passover. For us, the resurrection is part of the ancient thread of remembrance of the passing over of death promise of eternal life promised to us found in the Way of Christ Jesus. Which is…the same things for all Christian. We just sort of use different words and say it with a Greek or Russian accent. Ha!

The assembly of Christians (the Church) is one that is lived in corporeal (bodily) spirituality. It is one that is found in corporate (groups of bodies) worship. Unlike other religions that focus on spiritual practices, such a Buddhism or the Vedic Yogas, Christian unity with God CANNOT be achieve from one’s own efforts alone, nor can Christians acquire the Holy Spirit alone. We rely on participation of God in our Soteria. By that I mean our spiritual salvation and our bodily and mental wellness. For spiritual salvation we need the will of God. For everything else, we need each other for support. By the same measure, Christians are somewhat unique in their call for group worship– where Christ dwells in our midst [Matt 18:20].

PraXis is about supporting your Christian life with spiritual practices that also improve health outcomes. That’s because Christianity is bodily religion. In many ways the Church has lost sight of that fact, and is trying to get back on track. Christian wellness is emerging in the US as a new category in the industry. We welcome that fact and hope to be a part of the resurrection of bodily focus in the Church.

Fitness wellness is not a goal in and of itself. Having a spiritual life is not a goal in and of itself. To be fit or to be religious can easily lead one to pride and vainglory (spiritual pride). As Jesus tells us, we are to live the Jewish law of Shema, to love the Lord your God. And as is said in John 13:34, we show this love by loving one another. Not an easy task. But, one that Paul puts into perspective for any who might rest on the laurels of their fitness, religious or spiritual accomplishments.

Here Paul is speaking to the church he has planted in Corinth. This is a particularly unruly group of Greek converts. They have acquired a lot of spiritual powers (gifts) but still, they behave badly, committing acts of pride, adultery, and selfishness and with divided loyalties. Paul puts it all in perspective:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, 
I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 

If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.

If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind.
It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 
It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, 
it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. 

But where there are prophecies, they will cease; 
where there are tongues, they will be stilled; 
where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 
For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 
but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 

For now, we see only see through a darkened window; [When God comes] then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known [by God].

And [for] now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. 
But the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

It’s a lesson I often need to remind myself of. I’m not doing it for myself. I’m doing it so that I can love and help others.

Plant-Based Diets are Christian Diets

God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food.'” Gen. 1:29 

Great Lent is a wonderful time to start integrating the practice of Christian fasting into your life.  As you know, Lent (the lengthening of days) is a time of spiritual reflection in remembrance of Jesus’s 40 days fasting and praying in the desert. Here the Christian fasting tradition aligns nicely with the healthy benefits of plant-based dieting. This plant-based diet includes avoiding highly processed foods, heavy portions of carbs and lowing sugar (including alcohol).

Fasting is one of the oldest known Christian spiritual practices. The origins are, of course, Jewish. The extremity of these fasts vary greatly throughout Christian history. The “Angelic diet,” as it is sometimes referred to looks back to the what Adam and Eve ate in the Garden of Eden for its inspiration.

We only recommend a reasonable diet, which includes eating only plant-based foods on Wednesday and Friday. This is a typical practice in the Eastern Church for all lay Christians. This practice is so old it is mentioned in the Didache [did-ah-kay], a first-century manual for training Christians.

Here is a fun article on how the Greeks eat during the Lenten fast. It looks delicious. Remember that some fasts include seafood and fish on certain days. We recommend skipping all the complexity of Orthodox fasting and just go plant-based. It makes it easier on everyone.

Also, the Daniel Fast has become very poplar in some circles. That is more often a cleanse diet, or people take on a fasting challenge for a given period of time. Here is a link to a spreadsheet of recipes compiled for you by A Couple Cooks.

Science-wise, the jury is in on the health benefits. This quick read from the University of Texas Cancer Center covers it nicely.

A healthy immune system is essential for reducing your risk for cancer because it can recognize and attack mutations in cells before they can progress to disease.

Plant foods reduce inflammation. Plants’ essential nutrients work to resolve inflammation in your body. The same tiny phytochemicals and antioxidants that boost your immune system also go around your body neutralizing toxins from pollution, processed food, bacteria, viruses and more.

University of Texas Anderson Cancer Center

Some tips include:

  • Use healthy cooking methods
  • Whole grains
  • Lower sugar intake
  • Plant-based means a majority of your food is plant-based not all

Try to change your diet SLOWLY. People who are go big, or go home, ussually wind up going home in the long haul. We want you in this thing until Judgement Day. So, slow and stead wins the race on this tome.

Lastly, as we always say, the key to changing daily habits is community support. Your church is the best one. See if you can encourage them to support Christian fasting. You are also welcome to join our PraXis group that meets weekly to practice, diet, fitness and mindfulness in the Christian tradition.

Christian Yoga and Centering Prayer Session with Phil Vestal

This week our group had a great PraXis session lead by Pastor Phil Vestal of Ruah Space.  

The group started off with 20 minutes (recording below) of sanctified or Christian Yoga, and then went right into 20 minutes of Centering Prayer. For the last week, Jamie and I have been using the coupon code (PRAXIS) for Ruah Space classes and combining a morning workout with Centering Prayer. Here are the results we have been getting:

Here’s our session on 2/25/21. Christian Yoga realigns Yoga with Christian spirituality and combines movement and prayer.
  • The morning routine, about 40 minutes, is grounding us in a daily practice that helps us reset each morning
  • Both of our fitness practice have gone to pot during COVID, so we are finding the Yoga is a great way to rebuild core strength before we relaunch into weight training or more rigorous exercise.
  • After the Yoga, our bodies are very relaxed. In Centering Prayer, all my bodily awareness sort of melts away. I’m much more centered and resting in my heart and mind on being still with God.  The urge to scratch, wiggle in my chair, or move around disappears.
  • In this state of mental relaxation, I also am not as frustrated by thoughts arising in my mind.  In Centering Prayer or Ceaseless Prayer, thoughts will come and go and when they do we observe them and then return back to our sacred work or short prayer. This can be frustrating when it happens over and over and over again for 20 minutes. But after Yoga, I find myself in a relaxed, excepting state of awareness. I am much more at peace with my body and thoughts.

You can try to practice along with on with this video, or join us at our new time, Thursday nights at 6 pm, PST, via MeetUp and Zoom.

As we move deeper into Lent, we will also try to include a little shared plant-based fasting meal after our sessions. Keep following for more.

Afraid of Yoga? More about the dos and don’ts of Christian Yoga.

Check out our YouTube Channel, FB page and Podcast.


Ash Wednesday, Lent and Fasting Challenges for the Lengthening of Days

Fasting is not a salvific issue, but it is both a spiritual practice and a healthy way to live

Today is Ash Wednesday, the official beginning of Lent, the 40 days leading up to Easter (for the Western Church). Lent comes from a German word for “lengthening.” The spring is coming and the sunlight days are lengthening as life returns. This is a time for introspection and mediation on the Lord, in honor and communion with Christ. It is also an excellent opportunity to talk about Christian dieting and fasting. For the Great Church, Lent was the beginning of the Great Fast. This great feast is still observed in the Eastern Churches. Basically, that means that you follow a vegan diet. Orthodox Christians still observe vegan fasting or dieting on most Wednesdays and Fridays of the week. It’s more complicated than that, but over time the fasting tradition in Christianity slackened or disappeared entirely. Today, many Christians will observe Lent through some form of abstinence, AKA “Giving up something for Lent.” That is great, but here at PraXis, we emphasize that Christian Fasting is a spiritual practice that moves you towards God AND is healthy for you, if you do it right.

Now is the best time of the year for Christians to look at mindful eating and a plant-based diet as part of spiritual practice. In the coming weeks, we will post more about fasting. But for now, consider a Lent fasting challenge of your own. Considering following some of these guidelines for a fasting challenge of the length you chose:

  • A strict ancient fast (no dairy, meat, alcohol, seasonings, or oil)
  • Plant-based diet of whole foods, “angelic diet” or Genesis diet (Genesis 1:29, 3:18)
  • Try the Daniel Fast
  • Eliminate meat, dairy, processed and high carb/sugar foods a day or two each week

Whatever diet you chose, combining it with not eat to “satiety.” This is a great way to exercise portion control and become mindful of your eating and your body. You simply stop eating before you feel full. Remember, most first Christians were poor, and most poor people did not eat meat or eat until they could not get one more bite in. Official feasts were usually the time when they got to overeat and had the luxury of eating meat. Today we feast every day and rarely fast. But the two were meant to go together.