Whenever I go to France, I light up like the Eiffel Tower. Something inside of me starts to twinkle and I feel like I’m the most myself I know how to be. My recent trip to Paris was no exception. It was everything I needed it to be and so much more.
I started each day at Café de Flore enjoying my morning ritual of café crême and pain au chocolat. I rediscovered some of my favorite spots: Le Bon Marché, the flea market at Porte de Vanves, Musée d’Orsay, Musée du Louvre, and the Marais. I found style inspiration everywhere I looked, from the chic street style of Parisian women to the beautifully curated home collection at Merci (where I bought my beloved linen apron years ago). I returned to my neighborhood restaurant, Le Bistrot de Paris, where my favorite waiters greeted me with a warm hug and a glass of champagne. I ate a lemon tart that changed my life. I wore red lipstick everyday. I taught yoga in Franglais at Be Yoga Paris — “Mette ton pied gauche entre tes mains et tournez your ribcage towards le ciel.” I consumed nothing but bread, cheese, butter, and wine and I’ll be perfectly honest with you: I’ve never felt happier or healthier.
My favorite sculpture, Victoire de Samothrace, at the Louvre.
Since my return home, I’ve been meditating on what, exactly, is the je ne sais quoi about France that makes me feel at h(om)e. I’ve run through several theories in my mind, including the possibility that my soul is actually French. It’s always surprising to me how difficult it is to put my finger on what I know—to articulate something that feels intrinsic to my soul. (This phenomenon, by the way, is exactly why it’s often harder for a teacher to explain that which they can easily do, and why the process of struggling with a posture or a concept can give a teacher the vocabulary to explain what they’ve worked hard to understand.)
Shopping at the Porte de Vanves flea market.
Yes, I love the food, the language, and the style, but my love for France and all things French is so much more than that. I find their entire approach to life deeply inspiring. The French treat daily life with genuine reverence. Everything is important. Everything is a ritual, from their morning coffee to how they wear their clothes to setting the table for dinner. Rituals lift our spirits and connect us to the heart of our experience. Anything can become a ritual—a meal, a conversation, a walk. You can make the unceremonious act of taking out your trash a spiritual act by paying attention. It’s not so much about what you’re doing as how you’re doing it.
Anyone who’s sat at a French table knows this to be true. Meals are cooked with simple, fresh ingredients using classic techniques that celebrate the food. The ritual of eating is sacred. When I traveled to Tours to visit my French family, each meal unfolded at the table with loving attention to life’s necessities: good food, good wine, and good company. I visited my friend, France, on a Tuesday, which coincidentally is the day when all of her children and grandchildren come to her house for lunch. The kids leave school and sit for a two hour meal with their family. Someone picks up the baguette. There are no cell phones. Everyone is engaged. To me, this is what a good asana practice feels like—when you’re so engaged, so present with what you’re doing, you transcend the chatter of the mind. You feel embodied. No, you feel ensouled (thank you, Genny Kapuler, for this little gem). That level of engagement is the hallmark of mindful living.
Place Plumereau in Tours, France.
Beyond the pleasure of making and savoring a meal, I’m also in love with the ritual of French style. Every time I go to France I’m reminded of how much I love the process of getting dressed. I’ve been working hard to break my stretchy pants habit ever since my last trip to France when my best friend staged a style intervention over a bottle of rosé. The act of getting dressed is a practice in mindfulness. It requires me to connect with how I feel and then make a conscious decision about how I’m going to reflect my inner Self to myself.
Paris seems to bring out my sense of style because my outfits always come together in the most creative and unexpected ways. In Paris I’m no longer trapped by my belief that I’m not worth the effort it takes to get dressed and feel beautiful. The ideas I have about who I am suddenly fall away and I feel free.
Patanjali tells us in Sutra 1.36 that peace of mind can be found when we focus on the light within ourselves. This has always been a challenging tool for me, personally, because sometimes it’s hard to connect to that light. How am I supposed to focus on something that I can’t always feel, especially when the winds of life threaten to dim my spirit? Sutra 1.36 is a powerful practice for me; it’s something I turn to when my light feels dark. I know that if I go to my kitchen, or dive into a creative project, or get on my yoga mat, I will remember the light of my soul.
I came home from my trip inspired to devote more attention to the rituals that make me feel at h(om)e with myself. When I approach my day with mindfulness, I find more meaning in my life. Ordinary moments are transformed into sacred rituals simply by bringing my whole Self to whatever it is I’m doing. France is always alive in my heart when I commit to the practices that turn on that big, bright Chrissy light deep within myself. Then, la vie is truly en rose.