Protecting an Open Heart

Yoga can open you up in all sorts of ways, and that's good, but it can also leave you vulnerable. To protect a newly opened-heart, turn right back to your practice.
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Yoga can open you up in all sorts of ways, and that's good, but it can also leave you vulnerable. To protect a newly opened-heart, turn right back to your practice.

By JC Peters

When we get into yoga, something magical happens. We strip off our work clothes and turn off our smartphones. We open our bodies and lungs, we listen to poetry or ancient yogic wisdom, we breathe with a room full of strangers who become our community for an hour or so. We step out of the daily grind, and step into postures like Natarajasana, Dancer's Pose, which opens the hips and the heart at once. The yoga studio offers a refuge where we can release tight spots, facilitate healing, and feel feelings. When we leave class, we don’t want to work. We just want to bang on our drums all day!

And that’s great. But as we open our minds to yogic philosophy, our hearts to emotional release, and our entire being to energetic expansion, we become much more sensitive. We feel more with our hands and our feet, but also with our hearts and our guts. We begin to notice right away when a friend is upset, and we are uplifted by the energy of a roomful of strangers breathing in unison.

We also notice how stressful traffic is. We feel deeply hurt by something our partner said over breakfast. We experience a pang of guilt by the sight of a homeless person, and we worry about their dog. We notice everything, and we care, deeply. Cultivating sensitivity and compassion can be exhausting.

There’s no manual on how to make a graceful transition from numbness to walking about with a wide-open heart. While our teachers encourage us to become more vulnerable, they don’t usually tell us how it will affect us or how much it can hurt.

Reining in some of that energy and channeling it through appropriate boundaries is a vital part of yoga practice. When we learn this on our yoga mats, we can take it with us into our lives.

When we try to convince the body into a pose like the elegant and challenging Dancer's Pose, there's a lot going on. We are sweating, we are breathing, we are aware of other yogis who may or may not be watching us and judging us. It's a struggle until the teacher instructs us to find a drishti: a focal point. We gaze steady, we focus, we lean and lift. We stop thinking about everything else that’s happening around us, the world goes quiet, and, miracle of miracles, we get into the balancing posture.

Natarajasana represents the god Shiva dancing in a ring of fire. He’s blissful, he’s open, and his constant flow of movement keeps the world alive. But he’s also in a ring of fire. He needs to contain his energy so he doesn’t get burned.

Just like Shiva, we want openness, we want joy, but we also need focus and boundaries. We know that opening the body without muscular integrity can create joint instability and potential injury. So too, openness in our lives without focus can leave us vulnerable to toppling right over and getting burned.

Having a drishti in our lives can also help to keep us stable. If we get clear on our values and goals, we take all that openness and sensitivity we cultivate in yoga and choose where we want it to go. Steadying ourselves between joy and integrity keeps us dancing in that ring of fire, on and off the mat.

Julie (JC) Peters is a writer, spoken word poet, and E-RYT yoga teacher in Vancouver, Canada, who loves to affectionately mash these things together in her writing-and-yoga workshops Creative Flow. Learn more about her on her website, or follow her on Twitter and Facebook.