Most of us can recall at least a few early instances of a broken heart.
Maybe it was a group of kids on the playground who wouldn’t let us play with them and we wore our grief on our sleeves, crying loudly with big tears pouring down our faces. Maybe it was when our first pet died and we discovered how much we could cry over an animal not being there to warm our feet or lick our hands. Maybe it was something more serious, something we’ve tucked away in the dark corners of our minds and haven’t thought about for years—and we do everything we can to keep it that way.
The average human heart takes a lot in a lifetime and for most of us it takes a lot of strength to not just shut down or build walls of protection to keep others out for fear of being hurt again.
A yoga practice, especially one that includes deep back-bending, works to heal the tender heart from all that pain and teaches us to stay wide open, filled with compassion and forgiveness.
We can come to understand that holding on to those old events keeps us stuck in the pain of the experience. Dwelling on the past over what happened and playing it over in our minds again and again robs us of our ability to be present and content in the now. Dwelling also denies us the ability to forgive, to open up to asking for help, to giving and receiving love fully and to being able to connect to others.
Anyone who has worked to develop a back-bending practice knows first hand, breathe through that discomfort and to work incrementally towards making change. Over time, we learn how to trust the process, realizing that, while sometimes uncomfortable, we can face anything. This process helps to create a broader understanding of the nature of life in that all life involves being hurt at some point and we needn’t shut down completely when we are.
Back-bending also helps us approach the same process as forgiveness and learning how to ask for help.
When we’ve been hurt in the past one of the most uncomfortable feelings is vulnerability to being hurt again. Back-bends expose us, show us where we are stuck and give us opportunities to soften in the face of such intensity, allowing us to trust that with time and patience we can all make progress.
By approaching our old wounds, learning to forgive those involved and focusing on the present we can let go of our past traumas, potentially freeing up enormous amounts of energy to put into creating a life filled with new opportunities to experience love.
For some, the yogic process can also wake up repressed feelings and memories and make us more sensitive to the pain of others and world situations. It can also wake us up to the beauty all around us in the natural world and increase our ability to see our loved ones for who they are rather than who we want them to be.
This is no coincidence.
When I began practicing yoga more intensely I distinctly remember driving home and seeing the trees and sky in a new way, smiling at strangers more easily and being more patient and forgiving with my kids and other people in my life. My family, friends and co-workers suddenly started suggesting that I make a regular thing of yoga classes…gee, I wonder why?
The yogic process wasn’t always fun or sweet.
I found myself crying easily over ASPCA commercials, feeling the pain of the animals as they peered out from their cages scared and confused. I found I couldn’t tolerate violent movies or images the way I used to, wanting instead to watch heartfelt stories or goofy comedies. I also stopped watching the mainstream media news, searching out instead the positive things that humans were doing in the world and not just witnessing the violent acts they were committing or wars that were being waged.
I began to feel my friend’s pain directly when they were grieving or hurt, my inner Mama Bear coming out to protect them from those who were so careless or insensitive to them.
Through it all I kept going to yoga practice, setting intention to stay focused on seeing the positive in humanity and myself, to staying open to love and to being vulnerable, to learn how to ask for help when I needed it.
I set intention to forgive those who had hurt me in the past, and to seek and attract a community of people who were doing the same so I could live in a world where I was both hopeful and proud to raise my children.
Yes, bad things would still happen to good people. No, the world’s problems would not be fixed overnight. Wars would still rage, hearts would still break, but I would never give up.
I found that during this process having support helped a lot to keep me committed to continuing the hard work of healing. A yoga community of like-minded seekers is often a great place to find such support. Next time you make it to class maybe take a chance and connect with some of your fellow yogis—your heart will be glad that you did.
With time, the human heart is resilient and can heal from things we never imagined.
The payoff for such courage in staying present with that discomfort is a richer and deeper relationship with the entire world around us.
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Apprentice Editor: Alicia Wozniak/Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: elephant journal archives