Archives for March 2016 | Monthly InSpirations by Fiona

InSpire - March/April 2016

For our yoga practice for the next 2 months, I would like to delve into a topic/theme that we can spend a lifetime attending to, Vulnerability and Emotional Transformation. I find the words of Bo Forbes, a yoga teacher, very grounding and inspiring. She is the InSpire this month.
Some supporting thoughts for our practice:
Recognise that movement based on will power prevents us from evolving - exchange will power for investigative attention to your body. Use your breath to be curious, especially about pain, moving from a feeling of relaxation and lightness. Move with an awareness of the space around you, letting the movements and concentration grow from a feeling of Joy.
Your body is the best possible means of experiencing yourself in this moment.

Yoga: Vulnerability and Emotional Transformation (Bo Forbes)
No matter what style of yoga we prefer, our practice helps us feel better physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Yet my students and clients often lament that yoga’s mood-enhancing benefits don’t last as long as they’d like--as one of my clients recently put it, “no longer than a caffeine high.” On the mat, yoga usually meets our expectations. Yet off the mat, yoga’s limitations can disappoint us. Yoga doesn’t rid us of our anxieties, our sorrows, our stress: at times, it can even seem to magnify them. Why is that, and what can we do about it?
Yoga doesn’t erase our emotions; it brings us in deeper contact with them. When I teach open classes, the most frequent requests I get from practitioners, by a long shot, are for hip-openers and heart-openers. The hips and heart receive the most frustration from yoga practitioners. “My hips are so tight!” people say, or “How do I open my chest--no matter what or how hard I try, it doesn't seem to respond!” Much of our efforts at emotional armoring focus on the heart and pelvic areas; these areas are repositories for painful emotions and memories, as well as creativity and intuition. Sometimes, people tell me, these poses of "opening" have unexpected consequences: an increase in sadness, vulnerability, or even anger. We love to open the hips and heart, yet we’re not always happy about the consequences when we do.

Recently, a yoga therapy client complained to me about her boyfriend, “I like that yoga makes me more open—but why should I have to be open to his inconsiderate behavior?” It’s easy to relate to her dilemma. We may expect yoga to take care of the tough stuff, to open us up to pure, unadulterated bliss. Images in popular media reinforce this expectation. Everywhere we look, it seems, we’re flooded with images of “instant Zen.” A tanned, relaxed woman dressed in white sits effortlessly in lotus position, thumbs and index fingers touching in yoga mudra. A shirtless, muscular guy rests soulfully in Child’s Pose. An attractive young couple strolls hand in hand along a beach as the sun sets. These glossy images transmit the notion that practicing yoga will make our lives just as idyllic.
When we ask for opening, we’ve usually got a clear idea of how that opening will go: only “yogic” interactions with smooth sailing, clear skies, and no difficulty ahead.  Yet true opening occurs not only with respect to enjoyable experiences, but to all direct experience, even the painful. This means embracing our fears (of not being loved, of being abandoned, of failing, even of death). It means welcoming our anger (when someone attacks us, threatens us in some way, or withholds something we want). It means accepting our sadness (when we feel lonely, rejected, or unlovable). And it means allowing ourselves to be truly and deeply vulnerable. Vulnerability is scary; when we’re truly open, we can, and often do, get hurt.

Say, for example, that you’re angry with your significant other; he or she hasn’t given you the validation and support you expect. Sitting with that anger is understandably difficult, so you take the path of least resistance: you tell your best friend about it. You create a story about how imperfect, flawed, withholding, or wrong your partner is. Your friend loves you, so she validates your story. In the meantime, what happened to the underlying anger or sadness you seem to have escaped?
Here’s the thing: Your story isn’t simply an innocent bid for affirmation. It actually activates your stress response, causing you to release cortisol and other stress hormones. Your story also reinforces and activates all the other times you’ve been “dissed” by someone you care about. Your story contributes to your world view that you are never fully seen or validated by others.  
Sitting with difficult feelings and learning to tolerate them is the hardest part of svadhyaya, or self-study. Yet it’s also the most valuable. Cutting-edge research in the neuroscience of emotions indicates that when we avoid a difficult feeling by telling a “story” about it, we’re able to escape that feeling. Yet the escape is temporary, and the emotion tends to linger over time. On the other hand, if we can be present with our anger and sadness and accompany our feelings with awareness and breath, they can lessen and, over time, even transmute into something different. A feeling of being abandoned, for example, can morph into a tolerable awareness of being alone--or simply being with oneself.

This means that no matter how challenging our anxiety, panic, depression, cravings, or difficult emotions may be, telling a story about them reinforces our cycles of anxiety and depression. In contrast, sitting with our emotions can break these cycles. The most powerful way to be present with our feelings, to get the help we need in order to tolerate them, is through the contemplative practices of yoga. These include: meditation, breathwork, and Restorative Yoga. We can use these practices as vessels to metabolize difficult emotional experiences. We can use these practices to help us tolerate these emotions until they transform into something else. In this way, they teach us about what lies at the deep 'heart' of our emotional experience; they become our inner teachers.
A Pose to consider to support this process: Supta Baddha Konasana, a restorative posture that can help you transform challenging emotional experience. Are you in the midst of an emotional “story” or experience? If so, try taking it into the chrysalis of this restorative pose, and giving it the breath—the prana—it needs to transform.

And in the meantime, here’s a poem from the Sufi mystic Rumi, one of my favorite poets, to inspire you in this deep emotional work:
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
 A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
 Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
 The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
 Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.


flexibleImage: Buddha and the peony by Jürgen Weiland