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Holy Habit: How to Stretch Your Soul

Not only is stretching good for the body, it has a place in your spiritual life as well.

Edward Grinnan and Gracie
Credit: Katye Martens Brier
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By now you know that I learn more from my golden retriever, Gracie, than she learns from me. Take the healthy habit of stretching, a good habit trainers and doctors have urged me to do to ward off stiffness. Do I listen to them? Not usually. I’m too impatient. I just want to get moving.

Except I’ve been watching Gracie lately. Every morning before our daily hike, Gracie does a graceful, luxurious stretch. She totally elongates herself, stretching her lower back first, then her hips, then her hind legs, lifting each in the air one at a time, spreading her toes wide. Then she does the real downward dog, opening up her chest and forelegs. She does a big yawn, stretching out those jaw muscles for better barking, perhaps. Then she rolls over and gives herself a little back rub, springs up, shakes off and she’s ready to rock’n’roll. Let’s go!

Why can’t I be as smart as my dog? So, I’ve taken up the healthy habit (finally) of stretching before exercise. Quads, hamstrings, hip, lower back, shoulders. I even waggle my jaw, though I haven’t started barking yet. I stretch along with Gracie. If anyone peeked in the window, they’d think Gracie was teaching me basic yoga.

You know what? Gracie is onto something. Not only do I feel more limber when I’m on the move, but I don’t get so stiff later in the day and the next morning. What Gracie does naturally—because God instilled her with the knowledge—I have finally learned.

What other ways can I stretch? Can I stretch my soul too? Here are a couple of soul stretches I’m trying out.

Stretch Your Soul with Bible Verses

Unlike some of my friends, I didn’t grow up memorizing the Bible. I memorized a lot of Latin as an altar boy (and even understood some of it) but not much scripture. So, I’ve taken to memorizing a bit of scripture every day, opening the Good Book at random and finding words that speak to me. Today it was Exodus 34:6. See? I made you look it up. It’s a good one.

Stretch Your Soul with Poems

I don’t read poetry as much as I used to, which is a shame, for a good poem is a bouquet for the soul. It can stretch the heart and imagination. We shouldn’t let ourselves live without poetry, so I memorize a short poem whenever I can. There are tons of sites where you can find short poetry. Or you can try committing a longer poem to memory one stanza at a time. Today, in Gracie’s honor, I memorized a lighthearted poem by Marilyn Singer called “April is A Dog’s Dream.” You’ll be surprised how quickly you can train yourself to memorize verse, and once you do, that poem becomes part of you. The practice is also good for keeping your memory sharp.

Stretch Your Soul with Love

This is a simple one. Tell someone every day that you love them. That may seem obvious, as if any idiot should know this, but no day is complete without that word slipping from your lips. Just saying it expands the heart. When I am alone all day writing whom do you think I say that lovely word to? That’s right. And I know she understands.

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