If you have been around the yoga scene for a while, you have probably heard the phrase ‘yoga opens our hearts’ or something like it. I heard it when I started out in yoga and to be honest I was at best skeptical. I had come to yoga to relieve the pain of Repetitive Strain Injury (also known as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome) and this sounded a bit too much like a new age soundbite to me.
My yoga practice mitigated the pain of Repetitive Strain Injury pretty quickly and I kept coming to yoga class: I was beginning to sense that by stepping into yoga I had stepped into something that was impacting me in ways that were much more beneficial and broader than I had originally anticipated. Now, many years of practice later and whilst I still find the phase a bit vague and fuzzy, I know from my direct experience that yoga has opened my heart…
We all have to find our own words to express and communicate what we experience. And the words I want to express and explore are:
Now, this may sound a little contradictory so let’s step back and explore what goes on when we practise yoga and how it opens our hearts in this way.
When we practise yoga we create the space to slow down and to turn our attention inside. As we do this we begin to see things that we did not see before, and in particular we see all the big and little ways in which we react to things that happen. How we react – usually automatically – to the things we like and how we react to the things we don’t like. We begin to see how all these reactions manifest as our persona – very literally the mask we put on as we go out and do our thing and experience stuff in the world.
Beyond the persona
Most of us have become pretty attached to our persona, we identify fully with the reactions to all the pleasant and unpleasant things we experience: this is the “we don’t like what is going on” part of the sentence above. On our mats, as we begin to notice our reactions, our likes and dislikes, we see our persona at play. Through repetition and over time, seeing our persona at play loosens us from our identification with persona. We don’t disregard or detach from persona but we do begin to sense that there is something more, something that lies behind our persona.
Just seeing our habitual reactions, and sensing that there is something more, both opens our hearts and grows our connection with the space inside where our source of deep joy lies.
This is the “teaches us that we can enjoy the experience” whatever is going on part of the sentence above.
Connect to the source
In this way, through our yoga we become more fully embodied, more in touch with all parts of our selves. We become better connected with that space inside that gifts us strength and joy. And we become better connected with the real pain we experience as we go through life. Our yoga is not about detaching from persona but rather about having that connection with our source of joy whilst we ride the rollercoaster of emotion that comes with being alive.
To come back to the statement above: our yoga does not make the tough times any easier – there will still be things we don’t like and there will still be pain. What our yoga does provide us with is the connection to our source of strength and joy to support us through those tough times. A connection that comes from an opening of our hearts and that is worth much more than its weight in gold.
For a more detailed exploration on the above EkhartYoga members can watch my talk Yoga Opens Our Hearts.