January 30, 2013

How to Set Your Heart on Fire.

It’s funny how two days in succession can be so vastly different.

This morning I didn’t want candlelight and quiet for my morning yoga practice. I didn’t want to flow peacefully through my practice. I woke up and wanted to be on fire—body and soul.

Every single time I pressed up into Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward Facing Dog) I felt this odd sensation in my heart. It was somewhere between bliss and pain and bursting open. It was a fire, almost. It was the start of a fire when the kindling is dry and ready to burn. It was uncomfortable. It was exactly what I needed. As I continued into my practice, when it hurt a little, I pushed a little harder. When it required much of me, I gave a little more. I wanted to make a fire.

Last year was the most difficult year of my life so far; it was also one of the best.

Some of the things that made it difficult are still difficult, but I’ve learned that what I want—regardless of whether it hurts—is to be open, to be present with all of life, good or bad.

When things are difficult or transformational, often times our instinct is to hide from them a little, to pull away from what feels like it might burn us, to cool things off, to be soothed. This is true physically in our practices and emotionally and spiritually as well. Parts of us want a fire—we want muscles burning, sweat dripping, hearts open, true change and transformation. Other parts of us shy away. We want it to be easy.

The way to peace isn’t piling a blanket of shiny happy faces and Eckhart Tolle quotes on top of everything. The way to peace is through the fire, so everything that doesn’t serve us can be burned away. If we want that agni, that fire inside, it isn’t always a pleasant process.

Think of the physical body: When we want to build muscle, there is a process of breaking down, of rending and tearing what’s there to make something new. This isn’t a bad thing; it’s a necessary thing. If I want to be stronger, sitting around looking at pretty yoga pictures and thinking about how nice it would be able to perfect a certain asana isn’t the way to get there. If I want to be stronger, I need to do the work.

It’s true for our hearts too. When it is open, Anahata, the heart chakra, is a huge source of strength.

Whether you believe in chakras or not, I’m going to tell you a little story. Everyone likes stories…so even if chakras aren’t your thing, suspend your disbelief for minute and listen.

The image of the Anahata chakra is a beautiful 12-petaled flower. Each petal matches a particular upheaval or vritti of lust, fraud, indecision, repentance, hope, anxiety, longing, impartiality, arrogance, incompetence, discrimination and defiance. Some of those things are good things, but they are not stillness. In yoga, we talk about stilling all of these waves of the mind and not being too stirred up all the time. We want to be somewhere at peace, in the middle, instead of constantly being tossed about.

When I was in massage school, we worked with using pendulums in our energy work to assess and balance our clients’ chakras. The science part of me said, hmm…I’d rather just work on their muscles. But, the open-minded part of me that realizes I don’t know it all gave it a try. One thing I notice, without fail, when I work on clients is the strength and extent to which their heart chakras are open.

It’s a sense that when cultivated, you begin to physically feel in others. It’s those moments when you are speaking with someone and you feel them. You see them. We can only get to this place of seeing that light in others by going through our own fire. We can only open up to life if we let some of the things that don’t serve us burn away.

So how to set your heart on fire?

Start with your body. Be present inside yourself. Feel where emotions come up—positive or negative—when you move through your practice. So many people take the opposite approach here. More time in our heads doesn’t help! It’s like Iyengar said:

“Penetration of our mind is our goal, but in the beginning to set things in motion, there is no substitute for sweat.”

We may want to get to a place where everything is calm. We want to return to our state of childlike bliss. It isn’t healthy or beneficial to live in a perpetual state of arousal and upheaval, but to get through it, we need to feel the fire. When we’ve gone through the fiery times of life, we are left with a rich and beautiful glow inside.

This isn’t the glow of forced smiles and fake positivity. This is the golden mean of a truly open heart.

May you have just as much fire as you need today. May it burn away anything that doesn’t serve you. May the spark that’s left in your heart be wildly contagious—may you set the world on fire.

What was your practice like today? Are you doing #yogaeverydamnday this month? Check back for my updates and follow along on Twitter @kate_bartolotta and Pinterest.

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Image: Marcela Xavier/Flickr 


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