I’m excited to announce that I just completed yoga teacher training with the lovely people pictured here. Prana Yoga of La Jolla proved to be a phenomenal place to learn and I am incredibly grateful for the knowledge, insight, and experience gained.
On one of our last days together, we worked on heart openers (aka back bends).
For those of you who read the term heart opener with raised eyebrows, there is an anatomical reason for talking about back bends as such. When we place emphasis on creating expansion through the chest, we tend to create a greater and higher arch in our back, taking the pressure off of our lumbar (lower) spine. People often dump into this area when they jump into a back bend; thus, the visual of a ‘heart opener’ is a movement toward a safer and healthier practice.
In our workshop, we learned this and a variety of tools to support people in protecting their spines while finding deep bends (or not so deep depending on the day, the person, and the body). After receiving all of the instructions on alignment and verbal cues to get into the postures, we spent time practicing adjustments on one another. When working on urdva dhanurasana, wheel pose, my partner placed his hand between my shoulder blades and gently lifted in and up. My reaction was immediate. Before I even processed what was happening, I exclaimed, “I don’t like that!”
Concerned that he moved my body out of alignment, he withdrew his hand quickly and asked, “did I hurt you?”
Coming out of the pose, I thought about it. “No.” I replied. “I just didn’t like it.”
Eager to learn, he pressed. “Okay… what did you feel in your body?”
I closed my eyes to consider the question. With dismay, it hit me just as suddenly as my reaction had: it opened my heart.
In asana- the physical practice of yoga- we recognize that we store memories, emotions, and experiences in our bodies. Hip openers are where this is most frequently realized, as we hold suppressed or unaddressed emotions in our pelvic area. This energy can resurface as we lean into lizard’s pose or breathe through pigeon. It is quite common for people to experience intense feelings after a class with several hip openers, or even one hip-opening posture that was particularly powerful that day.
When we do body work, there are mental and emotional processes happening which allow for breakthroughs to occur on all of these levels. We are literally able to release past trauma and emotional experiences through physical movement and alignment with our breath and life force. With three weeks of daily yoga, I am continually surfacing new insights and emotions- and my hips flexors are subsequently finding more and more flexibility.
Just as the hips invite emotions to resurface, heart openers bring vulnerability and trust.
Enter my visceral reaction to my partner’s adjustment. This moment forces me to look at the extent to which I am resistant to vulnerability. With his adjustment, I experienced the loss of my usual protection: shoulders hunched over my chest creating a cloak that veils my heart from the world’s touch.
The next day in an asana class, we were invited to hold camel pose (an intense heart and hip opener) for an extended period of time. My sympathetic nervous system went crazy as my flight response kicked in urging me to avoid such openness. Instead I took long, deep breathes. I closed my eyes. I visualized the space just behind my heart, and I crawled inside.
I found a little girl there. I told her she was beautiful. Worth loving. Strong.
You see, what prevents me from leaning into vulnerability is not only my fear of pain. It is my lack of belief in the beauty of the unfiltered me. When I see the power and divinity within, I cannot help but share her. It is when this belief dwindles and my relationship to self suffers that I close myself off to others.
It seems like no coincidence that these are my current lessons when I have not blogged for four months and my last post was an emotionally raw poem exploring relational loss. Peeling back the layers of insulation I’ve carefully woven, I returned to that heart-space after class. I reminded the little girl that she has a powerful voice that should be heard.
She smiled. The brightness in her radiated outward, luminous and warm. Body heated and chest still open, I decided to write. About open hips and open hearts… or at least the journey toward them.