I would not necessarily say my heart is closed.
I am one of those people who tears up at corny TV commercials. I just really love love. In fact, until yoga teacher training I thought I had a bleeding heart.
Five years ago when I started working with urban youth, I was told I would burn out faster than the others because I was weak. I was “weak” in the sense that I loved them too much, that if I did not learn how to distance myself from the children, I would be in too much pain of their reality and have to quit. Some fancy doctor labelled this syndrome “compassion fatigue.”
The outdoor industry, especially those who work with “at-risk” youth, has a burnout rate of six months to a year. This May marks the beginning of my fifth year with no end in site…and I do not take seasons off.
Heart problems, I think not.
In February, I began my six month yoga teacher training. I am blessed to have two of the most amazing people as my teachers. They are fantastically connected spirits with their feet firmly planted on the ground. My main teacher seems to believe in order to be a good yoga instructor, we have to sludge through the dirt, and—hopefully—get to the other side. I say hopefully because it’s not over yet and I am not exactly sure what her grand master plan is for all of us.
I do know that by the third day I was sitting in the circle crying my eyes out over painful memories I tried to hide away. As we continued learning the traditional 200 hour lessons like sequencing and safety, it occurred to me that I may still be seriously undergoing some healing.
A week or two later the anatomy fella came. He was a trip. In the first 12 minutes of interaction he recounted all the bones of the body and eyed us up as if to say, what’s the problem? Can’t you comprehend and memorize as fast as I speak?
Anywho, he asked for a volunteer and explained to us how her hips lean forward because she is brave, always forward thinking, and strives to challenge herself. He continued teaching us about her personality through her posture. He got to her shoulders and said “see how they lean forward? That´s because she’s really sad inside.” Hmm, so sad. The room got eerily quiet. Do not forget, by day three, we all shared our deepest pain with one another, and the only person who was not in the room that day was this fella.
I was blown away with the concept that our bodies hold our emotional pain.
I spent the entire night after class staring at myself in the mirror. I was trying to see what my posture said about me. I noticed my shoulders also rolled forward. It is a protective layer; I am literally attempting to use my chest to create a protective shell around my heart. I was afraid to open up, let people in, get hurt. It was an interesting piece of knowledge, but nothing that really sat with me for too long.
Fast forward to week five, to our assisting portion of training. As assistants, we learned how to touch people for correction and enhancement. Our teacher singled people out to demonstrate a posture and had our assisting coach teach us proper alignment.
We were like this teacher’s little puppets. I knew nothing about her methods, and besides, she was more intentional than any of us could even begin to imagine. She pointed to me and told me to go do backbends. Yes! I love backbends! There is a little plug for my ego. I rock at backbends—bridge, wheel, wheel on my forearms. Yeah, I’m bad ass.
So, Miss Assister showed everyone how to assist me in all my bad ass-ness. Then she told me to get into Fish Pose. Fish? Fish is my lethal enemy. I have no idea why that is, but I would rather do yoga naked than attempt Fish Pose. I looked desperately at my yoga teacher, pleading with my baby blues to pick someone else because I had been up there for three poses already. Please—please! She gives me her non-emotional Buddha eyes back at me.
Damn you Guru. Damn you.
So, I calmly looked up at Miss Assister and told her I was unable to do Fish Pose, that my body simply did not do it. She smiled her brightest whites at me and said, “Great! Than we´ll teach everyone how to assist in this posture for beginners.” As Miss Assister did her thing on me I felt excruciating amounts of pain. She asked, “does that feel better?” I meekly replied, “no, it doesn’t—please let go of me.” She put me down, patted me very sweetly on the back and told me not to worry, eventually my heart would open.
What? My heart is open; it bleeds for the children, sappy commercials, and human injustice!!! It must have hit a real nerve because within minutes I was a sobbing mess in the back of the room. What´s wrong with my heart? I asked my teacher. She looked lovingly back into my eyes and told me my heart is open. I did not believe her. I had proof—my paranoid shoulder activity was justified by Miss Assister.
So I actively work on shoulder and chest openers. I will open my heart. I will. One day, after two weeks of intense work, I felt my chest crack. I froze in place. Did I just break my chest? I have not studied my anatomy texts enough, but I feel like there is only one large bone in the front of my chest, so what the heck just cracked? I slowly moved my arms and neck to ensure I am not paralyzed. I am scared but nothing really happened, so I let it be.
Within the next few days my chest starts cracking a lot. In fact, when I touch my chest I feel like I am pushing on a sensitive bruise. Had I somehow broken myself? I have heard about this sort of thing occurring, yogis working too hard, breaking themselves with their egocentric asana obsession. Had I become so fixated on shoulder and chest issues I took it too far?
I cannot wait to ask Mr. Anatomy. So I walked up to him after one of his classes and explained my serious chest problems. His eyes lit up with puppy dog excitement, and the direct words out of his mouth were, “wow, so cool”. This guy, I tell ya. He goes on to explain all the joints in that area and how I must be broadening my chest.
It clicked, my heart is opening!
I screamed that in his face and he looked at me the way you look at a two year old who introduces you to their imaginary friend. I could not care less, it was working, my heart was opening. I ran into my main teacher and told her my heart is opening and she just smiled, like a Buddha, and gave me a supportive hug.
It has been a little over a month since then, and there continues to be daily cracking happening in here. Being the observer to the opening of my heart is a terrifying experience. It does not get any easier to hear, I still feel like I am breaking bones and I worry I am messing up my chest. But other things are starting to happen in my life. I am becoming slightly—every so slightly—less terrified to stand in front of a group of people, become vulnerable to their experience and teach yoga. I am also becoming less afraid to step out on that fine battlefield of love.
It is a work in progress, and I do not know how the story ends. Hopefully I am becoming a person who is not afraid of being vulnerable and believes they are worthy of love. Hopefully it is a person who holds their shoulders back and says to the world:
Alright, I’m in, let’s do this crazy ride together.
It does not get any easier to stand up in front of others and pour out my heart on the mat. It definitely does not get any easier telling that special someone you want to see them. I cannot say that I have successfully mastered either lesson yet. What I do know is that I do not feel like crying prior to teaching, I told Fish Pose what’s up, and I reached out to spend time with someone who makes my heart flutter.
That is a pretty good start, right?
Disclaimer: I take no responsibility for those who attempt to sit in fish until they have similar chest problems.
Olga is a traveling vagabond goddess currently trapped living a full time job lifestyle in Boston. She keeps her soul smilin’ with her dedicated yoga practice, running away to the wilderness in her free time, and practicing gratitude. She loves finding things to climb, people to hug, and harnessing her inner domesticated side. If you like what you see, you can catch her meandering inspirational tidbits at http://awwsnapnews.blogspot.com.
Editor: Anne Clendening