This week has been a challenge for me, and I’ve had a hard time pinpointing exactly where my leak in peace is coming from. My frustrations and doubts had intensified each day until I finally felt more overwhelmed than anything else.
As I left for yoga class Wednesday morning, I worried that this heavy feeling would come through and I would be unable to offer a truly inspirational and rejuvenating practice for my wonderful students. Because the class is a power yoga class, I try to be especially conscious of the many reasons people come to their mats. As I pondered what I would WANT from a teacher if I was on my to TAKE a class, my heart softened and I felt open to the peace that comes from mindful stillness. I did not know ‘what’ I was going to teach, but I knew my heart was open and ready to find, and offer, peace.
Because I have some old shoulder injuries, I spend time in class coaxing students to pull their shoulder blades into their spine, stack their shoulders, and open their chests. As we entered our first down dog, I encouraged the class to pause and really set their posture in strength and stability. Though I have said the words many times, at this moment this gentle guidance spoke to my own soul: pull your shoulder blades back, open your chest, square your shoulders; let your head hang as your spine finds length and space in the strength of your shoulders, arms and legs.
I realized that in the uncertainty of my husbands current unemployment and the urgency I felt in knowing how to proceed with my own goals and desires, I had done what we often do in yoga–> shoulders begin to round and jaws are clenched… we might hold our breath as we power through, collapsing in stress in Savasana! When postures get challenging or are outside of our personal practice, it is not uncommon to see a student leaning forward and closing up their chests. This closing down, shrinks the capacity of both the chest and heart. The common phrase, “My heart’s just not in it” is a representation of both a mental and a figurative state of mind. When our heart is not in the game, ability decreases, motivations vanish, and joy is diminished.
A Warrior II/Side Angle flow can lead into Bird of Paradise, a more advanced posture! Often, in a students haste to challenge themselves and attempt this advanced posture, they sacrifice the very form and shape that will give them the strength and stability needed for balance. With rounded shoulders and chest towards the ground, a student is looking down–> they may get into Bird of Paradise, but chances are it will be short lived and feel a little chaotic.
I have always appreciated the value and importance of chest openers- of opening that very special space that houses our hearts! It is our hearts that share love. It is only through an open heart that we can accept love. A’ softened heart’ is full of compassion, forgiveness and mercy. A ‘gentle heart’ radiates kindness and tenderness. Common idioms suggest someone might have a ‘Heart of Gold’ or the ‘Heart of a Lion’; our best efforts are accomplished ‘with all our heart’, and when we truly want to be sincere with someone, we have a ‘heart to heart’. Any security or confidence we feel comes from our heart- it is through our hearts that we access our greatest strength. In life’s greatest challenges, danger lies in closing down our hearts and powering through. Life lessons are learned when we trust ourselves to trust the process; this trust comes from the heart, a strong heart that knows the way when all paths seem dark or dangerous. Trust in yourself, trust that your heart will lead the way!
Last week in class, I shared this thought while my class was standing in tree:
Later, I found a beautiful thought about a baby bird being pushed out of the nest so it could learn to fly. The author continues offering this application to our own life struggles:
“Many of us have been pushed out of the nest. Something unexpected happened, and our world changed. We may have fought valiantly to get back in the nest, to return to the safety of life as we knew it. But life had pushed us out. We had no choice but to flap our wings and learn to fly the best we could… . You flailed around a bit, wondering who to trust… Finally, you understood. The very lesson you were learning was that of trusting yourself. When life pokes and prods you, it’s not punishment or abuse. You’re being pushed out of the nest. Spread your wings and take flight. See how well you can fly!”
Melody Beattie, Journey to the Heart, pg. 50
If balance seems elusive, confidence is waning, or joy is nonexistent- take a quick check in on your heart. Have your shoulders sunken, your eyes cast downward, your heart compressed? Open up! Like an eagle preparing to soar through the skies, open your arms wide, set your chest forward and allow your heart to do the rest- as you leap out of the comfort of the nest, you just might take flight for the journey of your life!