Over time I’ve noticed how my heart often wants to withdraw behind a thick shell.
When expectations are dashed or hopes crushed, or when I suffer a bruise from a relationship or a deeper hurt, my heart seeks safety behind a shell that only gets thicker with each perceived injury.
I might be talking to someone and feel slighted or not heard, or a long-held dream might come crashing down, or my efforts on a project, despite long hours and hard work, might meet with disappointment (or, worse, failure), and I’ll watch as my heart retreats into its shell.
It was my yoga practice that made me aware of this thickening shell, this impulse to withdraw, this process of seeking protection behind a wall whenever I felt threatened or vulnerable.
To be vulnerable, after all, is to be exposed, and to be exposed is dangerous because the more you are exposed, the more open you are as you meet the world, and the more open you are, the easier it is for someone—or something—to pierce your heart and leave you wounded and in pain.
And so I learned over the years to build a shell, a wall, a barrier in the hope that I could block the pain and keep it at bay.
But my yoga practice reminds me that life consists of pleasure and pain, and that trying to build a wall to keep frustration, disappointment, and pain at bay is futile.
Our yoga practice is designed to help us embrace life—all of life, not just the parts that give us pleasure but the parts that are frustrating, disappointing, and painful, too.
It reminds us that life is to be lived not behind a wall but with a heart that is open, soft, accepting, nonjudgmental, and vulnerable.
If we are diligent in our yoga practice, we can develop the physical and emotional strength that we need to crack open the thick shell that we build around our hearts each time we feel we are hurt.
Yoga teaches us how to pay close attention to our bodies, how to notice when we feel tense and uncomfortable, and how to stay with these feelings rather than run away from them.
Each time we attempt a pose too challenging for our skill level, we learn simultaneously how to face the pose and how to face a challenge in our life that may be beyond what we imagine we can deal with.
Each time we confront our fears in a difficult pose, we learn simultaneously how to face the fears that keep us from living fully, from reaching out in unfamiliar directions, from pursuing uncharted paths, just as it is fear of falling (and failing) that may keep us from finding our balance in Headstand or Tree Pose.
Yoga teaches us to stay with discomfort so we can explore a pose rather than fear it. Each time we enter a new pose, we are given an opportunity to notice how it feels to step into the pose. (And we can give ourselves permission to try the pose again and again until we learn what we need to learn to stay in the pose a little longer.)
It’s this act of exploration—whether we’re exploring the pose itself or our fear of the pose—that lets us move beyond our fear of failure, of falling out of the pose, of being vulnerable or exposed to others.
Each time we step on our mats, we are given the chance to crack open the shell around our hearts a little wider and let in a little more light, more faith, more confidence, and more love than the time before.
Practice Journal: How does your yoga practice help you crack open your heart? Can you list one or two experiences that may have caused you to build a shell around your heart? And can you describe how yoga has helped you crack open the shell so that you can live fully in each moment? Write: 10 min