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Editorial Cartoon: Alabama and IVF
Editorial Cartoon: Alabama and IVF
Published March 1, 2024

Opinion: Spirituality is more than a buzzword

How spiritual practice can change your life.
Image by Wejdan al Balushi
When was the last time you took a deep breath?

When a friend invited me to a full moon ceremony a few weeks ago, I readily agreed to attend. On a misty Thursday evening, I took the bus to Como as I prepared myself for a night of trying to keep a straight face among my spiritually-minded friends. 

To my surprise, the experience didn’t just provide an intriguing anecdote — it was genuinely restorative.

The ceremony began with a series of deep breathing and tai chi exercises in my friend’s backyard. On pieces of notebook paper, we detailed feelings of shame and anxiety, burning them one by one in an outdoor fire pit. This practice symbolized the full moon as a time of renewal and our willingness to let go of past grievances and trauma.

We then held mason jars of water up to the sky, meandering about as we visualized the light of the moon filling the glass with positive energy.

Ever the skeptic, I asked my friend if the overcast sky would reduce the efficacy of the ceremony, to which she replied, flatly, “It’s not scientific.” For the sake of my journalistic endeavor, I had to act as if the power of the full moon was real, regardless of whether I believed it or not.

Did I feel a little silly taking deep breaths as I walked around in the dark, holding a jar of tap water up to the full moon? Perhaps, but after leaning into the experience, I came back to my apartment feeling refreshed and clear-headed after a stressful week of classes. 

Broadly defined, spirituality is the individual search for something bigger than ourselves. Spirituality often intersects with religion, although it is not inherently religious. As spiritual practices like yoga and meditation become more ingrained into mainstream culture, they may feel gimmicky, but they have genuine value as a framework for self-reflection and stress relief.

Mariann Johnson, a wellbeing instructor at the Earl E. Bakken Center for Spirituality and Healing, helps to maintain serves for all University of Minnesota campuses and provides community workshops, trainings, presentations and a 32-page well-being guide with resources and evidence-based tips for holistic wellness. The center also provides course offerings for students on topics like stress reduction, aromatherapy and yoga.

“What we’re doing with mindfulness and with spirituality is to try to connect with the preciousness of the moments in our lives,” Johnson said. “Oftentimes we just dismiss them or we’re racing to do something else or worrying about something else, and we forget to see the beauty of our lives. The people that we care about are right here, smack dab in front of us.”

Johnson explained how consistent mindfulness practice can allow us to align more closely with our sense of spirituality. By grounding ourselves in the present moment, we gain the capacity to appreciate the interconnectedness of our world on a social, physical and even cosmic level.

“So maybe that means throughout your day you go for what I like to call a mindful walk, maybe a nature walk where you’re just allowing yourself to be with the sensations of your feet and be in contact with the ground,” Johnson said. 

For students with crammed schedules, Johnson explained the value of “snacking” mindfulness: taking even just five minutes during the day to sit and silently reflect can allow us to face the challenges and stressors in our lives with greater resourcefulness.

I expected to hear more about opening chakras and finding spirit guides than plain-and-simple mindfulness practice, but I learned spiritual practice doesn’t need to be explicit to be effective. While the full moon ceremony served as an important opportunity to reflect and process, just paying attention to my physical surroundings could be just as powerful.

Chrissy Mignogna is the lead trainer and director of education at Move Mindfully, an organization providing programs and resources for mind-body stress management and self-care practices in schools and crisis mental health settings. She is also the owner of Winged Heart Yoga, which offers online and in-person yoga classes to kids and adults in the Twin Cities with a specific focus on improving mental health.

“We spend a lot of time in our thoughts, and our thoughts tend to be negative,” Mignogna said. “It’s how we were evolutionarily programmed, which gets in the way of having that stillness and that quiet and that connection to something bigger than yourself.” 

Like Johnson, Mignogna explained the value of basic mindfulness practice as a way to open ourselves to spirituality. She also mentioned how any form of exercise, such as her yoga class, can help settle our nervous systems.

“If you’re able to tap into those moments of peace, you’re able to feel like there’s something outside of your daily worries,” Mignogna said.

The full moon isn’t for a few more weeks, but that doesn’t mean your spiritual journey can’t start today. Sit in a quiet room, go for a walk or just look at a tree. 

As we navigate schoolwork, jobs, social lives and the responsibilities of early adulthood, it can become hard to focus on anything other than ourselves. In that sense, spirituality isn’t just beneficial — it’s life-giving.

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated Mariann Johnson’s title. She is a wellbeing instructor at the Earl E. Bakken Center for Spirituality and Healing.

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  • Z
    Feb 14, 2024 at 10:32 am

    Great article Leo, this one reminds me of a cherry pie on a summer’s day!

  • Beth Lory
    Feb 9, 2024 at 10:48 am

    Thank you for writing and sharing such a richly informative article! Beth

  • Not Leo’s mom : )
    Feb 9, 2024 at 8:38 am

    Super helpful tips! Love the idea of mindfulness “snacking.” Another great column with informative interviews!