Opening The Heart…

From Kripalu Yoga by Richard Faulds

Each of us is a lake of love, yet strangely enough we are all thirsty. – Swami Kripalu

The full flowering of emotional health is the capacity to live in a web of authentic and caring relationships. As your heart opens, your capacity for empathy expands and relationships take on more meaning. Close relationships allow you to be real and genuine, sharing whatever you are feeling. They are also a place where you can listen deeply, understand another’s experience, and express true caring. When your heart is open, even casual interactions can be intimate and meaningful.

As a result of the bumps, bruises, and very real traumas of life, and through a tenancy to focus on cognitive processing, many adults suffer a loss of emotional sensitivity. The flow of feeling through our internal networks breaks down, stifling communication between body, heart, and mind. What causes this breakdown is not known. Yoga points to energy blocks that impede the free flow of life force. Psychology refers to trauma, undigested experiences, body armoring, and the suppression and repression of feeling. Neuroscience posits that overwhelming emotions may get stored in the body’s cellular memory, causing neuropeptide receptors to shrink in size, decrease in number, and leave us dull and desensitized.

Regardless of the mechanism, many of us have unconsciously erected barriers that block strong emotions like anger, sadness, grief, and loss. Sometime, or perhaps many times in the past, we were angry or hurting and for whatever reason were unable to feel and express it. Years later, we still brace ourselves from feeling it through chronic muscular tension, defense mechanisms, and patterns of behavior that dull our ability to feel. It is impossible to block only “negative” feelings, and this strategy has a notable side effect. It prevents us from feeling pleasure, happiness, and joy. If we can’t hear the low notes, we can’t hear the high notes either. Inhabiting a narrow band of feeling not only limits us individually, it restricts our ability to connect with other people. When severe, it can leave us isolated, lonely, and unable to create and sustain intimacy.

To make matters worse, there is a strong tendency for this state of affairs to spiral in the wrong direction. Suppression is like holding a beach ball under the water. As the beach ball grows in size, more and more effort is required to hold things in place. Pressure builds within the psyche and we become reactive, carrying around an emotional charge and apt to fly off the handle by responding to situations with too much intensity. Bottling up emotions also agitates the mind, and we lose clarity. Acutely aware of the pressure, we are often in the dark on what is causing it, or how to alleviate it. All this makes the prospect of opening up to feeling even more threatening, so we clamp down harder still. The path to opening the heart starts with reversing this process and regaining the ability to feel.

What Are Feelings?

The term feelings covers a lot of real estate. Feelings are the colors, textures, and tones of your response to the world around you. When you are in touch with your feelings, life is vivid and real. Cut off from your feelings, life occurs as dry, hollow, humdrum, and meaningless. You may find it helpful to distinguish between two types of feelings that arise during yoga practice, sensation and emotion. Sensation is the raw physical experience of being in a body that pulses with life and is equipped with five senses. It includes the ability to sense the body’s position in space, feel movement, and identify differences in warmth and cold, tension and relaxation, heaviness and lightness. It also includes the visual images, sounds, textures, tastes, and smells associated with the outside world. Mediated by the cerebellum and brain stem, sensations are basic messages essential for our safety and survival.

What Are Emotions?

Emotions, on the other hand, are richer, meaning-laden feelings that seem too occur at the interface of body and mind. While the biological basis of emotions is not yet fully understood, it is clear that emotions are processed by different parts of the brain – the amygdala, hypothalamus, and limbic system – known to play important roles in decision-making and memory.

Emotions convey a wide range of important messages. The flow of emotion is not an occasional occurrence, as suggested by the phrase getting emotional. The emotional system is working all the time to sustain a familiar emotional tone that governs mood, colors thought, and helps us act appropriately. A consistently angry or sad person has often grown so accustomed to their emotional tone that they are unconscious of how it impacts their behavior and their reception by others.

Emotions are complex and sometimes confusing. It is not uncommon to flip-flop between opposing emotions in response to a situation. You may be happy that you got a promotion at work, but sad that a hard-working colleague was passed over. You may feel genuine warmth for a loved one, yet be enraged at how they are treating you. You may be elated to have accomplished a major goal in life, but feel overwhelmed by yet another hurdle looming on the horizon. To further complicate matters, your emotional and cognitive response to a situation may conflict. Thoughts and feelings can diverge in different directions, leaving you confused and needing time to sort things out.

Kripalu Yoga teaches you how to hear and honor the full range of emotional messages flowing through you. By listening closely, most practitioners discover that their body is far from a mindless brute. Dancing for joy, or sobbing with sadness, the body is highly sensitive and profoundly wise. It is the seat of an attribute as old as the hills but only now being recognized as: emotional intelligence.

Regaining Sensitivity

Kripalu Yoga offers a way to safely reclaim your ability to feel. It is based on a simple but powerful truth: you do not need to do anything to change or fix your emotions. You just need to stay present in your body and ride the waves of whatever feelings arise during practice. Sensations and emotions are messages conveyed in the language of feeling. You can learn to receive the message and let it go. With each message received, you grow in self-awareness and a layer of tension melts away.

During practice, uncomfortable or even painful emotions should not be rejected. Instead of evidence that you are doing it wrong, their presence is a strong indication that you are doing it right. There is simply no way to free yourself of an emotional burden without feeling the weight, bit by bit, of what you have been carrying. Buried emotion rises from the subconscious and unconscious to be fully felt, pass through you, and leave you lighter and wiser. When you really catch on to this, strong, painful, and even neurotic emotions become your light in the darkness. Watch them enter your consciousness. Feel them in your body. Breathe into them. Notice as the sensations shift and change. When held in the light of awareness, what was feared as an obstacle often befriends you and reveals a profound secret.

The Practice Of Being Present For Experience…

Inspired from Yogi & Author Stephen Cope

Most yoga practitioners can attest to having a similar experience: While practicing asana, feeling a wave of energy arising during a pose. Muscles ripple and dramatically open. Feelings begin to overwhelm our whole being, and turn raw, real. Maybe it’s sadness, grief, elation. After the experience, we feel better: quiet, present, and soft. This is the real secret of yoga – the practice of being present for experience.

Through yoga, we find an orderly, safe, contained technique for making forays into our deeper inner world within ourselves. We first learn to have a full experience of feelings in the body, learning to tolerate the depth, range, and realness of this life force moving in us. We learn how to ride the wave – to be present for the wavelike movement of energy – acknowledging, experiencing, and bearing the inner world of sensation. Through this experience, we can shed the layers that are preventing us from living our best truest version of ourselves. We can cultivate a deep bond with our bright inner light – our wholeness.

Riding The Wave – The Technique (Breathe, Relax, Feel, Watch, Allow – repeat)

  1. Breathe – to connect with the wisdom of prana (life force) is conscious breathing – using full yogic breath, or diaphragmatic breathing. The breath immediately penetrates the frozen structures within ourselves. Yoga postures done with conscious breathing are ten times more powerful than they otherwise might be. Because the breath is the switch that integrates the emotional prana-body with the physical body, postures done with conscious breathing open parts of the body that may have long been shut off from the life force. When the wave of breath moves into these exiled areas, the results can sometimes be instantly dramatic. The breath opens our emotional body and through it we can experience a deep reintegration of exiled sensations, feelings, thoughts, and memories.
  2. Relax – Muscular tension in the body prevents the flow of energy, sensation, and feeling, keeping areas of the body defended against the wave of energy. Even in the more strenuous postures, find parts of your body that you can relax, while still keeping your body safe and while continuing your full yogic breath. This automatically shifts our entire energy experience. It grounds us – what appear to be dense and solid thoughts and feelings become permeable to the wave of energy. We break up locked areas, our inner world becomes transparent to us, and we feel alive again. Relax and keep relaxing.
  3. Feel – Feeling in this technique is an active state. It doesn’t mean just “having feelings” – it means actively moving toward sensations, the energy, the emotions – and then moving into them. Breathe into them and develop an acuity of our awareness by feeling the whole range of sensations – their color, their texture, their intensity, their mood. We let go of our evaluations and judgements and focus deeply on the sensations without telling any stories to ourselves about what’s happening. We develop a curiosity – where in the body is the feeling most intense, what is the exact texture – are there patterns of movement? As we bring more awareness to exiled aspects of our energy body, we open these previously unconscious areas to the flow of prana. More consciousness results in more wave of life experiences – allowing life to happen.
  4. Watch – When we watch, we develop our witness consciousness – the zone of neutrality, where we aren’t choosing for or against any type of experience, but we are just being with experience exactly how it is. As we develop witness conscious, intuition arises – a knowing that cannot be experienced through the mind alone. Our attention is focused on “how is it” – not “why it is” or “do I like it”. Witness conscious is worth every ounce of effort to develop.
  5. Allow – we begin to surrender to the wave of sensation, feeling, and energy. We develop a remarkable freedom to let life as it is touch us, because at our core, we know that everything is already OK. We relinquish our resistance. We don’t have to “make” the wave of life happen – we can just “let it happen”. We don’t have to understand it. Insights may come later, and they often come when we stay present in the experience. This allowing is where life can change us – there’s an amazing sense of freedom – a deep letting go of our grip on life. This kind of surrender requires a willingness to be changed. A willingness to trust life, and to keep our awareness on the energy in motion instead of trying to understand what is happening.

Breathe, Relax, Feel, Watch, Allow – Repeat.

Yoga Lowers Blood Pressure…

High blood pressure contributes to many medical problems including heart attacks, kidney failure, and strokes. Activation of the stress response elevates blood pressure via such mechanisms as constricting arteries, conserving salt and fluids, and increasing the contractile force of the heart muscle. The exercise and the weight loss that commonly accompanies regular yoga practice also tend to independently reduce blood pressure. Yogic relaxation, in particular, appears to be effective. (source: Timothy McCall, M.D.)

Give Birth To Yourself…

When you accept you are here for a limited amount of time, you will find yourself paying more attention to your heart’s wisdom – what feels good, what makes you happy – rather than what your head and intellect tell you to do or what others demand of you. Don’t wait for a disaster to awaken you! Let your untrue self die – and give birth to yourself. – Bernie Siegel

Complete Mastery Over The Roaming Tendancies Of The Mind Is Yoga…

By Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

Complete mastery over the roaming tendencies of the mind is Yoga. (Yoga Sutra 1:2)

The mind is a repository of all our thoughts, feelings, and memories. It is a storehouse of our likes and dislikes. We see the world – and ourselves through the eye of our mind. When the mind is clear and peaceful, we see the world as bright and peaceful. When the mind is convoluted, our understanding of the world and our relationship with it becomes equally convoluted. Our concepts of good and bad, right and wrong, depend on the quality of our mind, as do our likes and dislikes. The quality of our mind, in turn, shapes our thoughts, speech, and actions.

Memories pertaining to our deeds and experiences are deposited deep in our mind. These memories – subtle mental impressions – agitate our mind from deep within. Propelled by these impressions, the mind thinks and acts. Impressions and the thoughts and actions propelled by them are endless. That is why we find our mind constantly chasing one object after another. It has almost forgotten how to be still and be aware of its thoughts and actions.

The mind is disturbed because deep within the elements of attachment, desire, anger, fear, and doubt are active and the mind is operating under their influence. The mind is stupefied – dark, dense, and dull – because deep inside the elements of worry, grief, dejection, and hopelessness are active and have rendered the mind inert. The mind is distracted because disturbance and stupefaction are mingled with enthusiasm, courage, motivation, clarity, and purposefulness – and all these elements are randomly active. As a result, the mind is partly focused and partly dissipated.

A mind caught in any of these three states lacks clarity. It has no confidence in it’s own powers and privileges. It is indecisive and only halfheartedly willing to act on its thoughts and ideas. It seeks validation from external sources. When propelled by a disturbed, stupefied, or distracted mind, our endeavors, no matter how noble, bear little fruit. The fruit they do bear is invariably tainted by doubt, uncertainty, and fear.

This is where the quest for (samadhi) a perfectly still state of mind begins.

The mind becomes one-pointed when the elements of purity, clarity, and peacefulness are active deep within. Acting under the influence of these elements, the mind regains its power of illumination (sattva). A one-pointed mind is stable. It no longer grieves over the past nor worries about the future. The elements of disturbances, stupefaction, and distraction have been put to rest. The mind is serenely active and flowing peacefully inward.

Now the practice of Yoga, in its truest sense, has begun.

Yoga As A Life Practice…

By Donna Farhi, Bringing Yoga To Life

Yoga is not Woodworking 101 but Japanese carpentry. Our teachers may show us precisely how to bevel the edge of a table or chair, but there is only one person who can bevel that edge. No matter how clear the teacher’s description or careful her demonstration, it may still take a hundred crooked, crude, and rough attempts to become proficient and produce that smooth edge. Just as a poorly sanded surface will splinter fingers for years to come, false understanding will continually sabotage a life. What we produce through such patient artistry is a spiritual understanding of enduring beauty.

We may find that when we begin our practice we have a low tolerance for frustration. We may use any slipup as evidence that we have unwisely placed our faith in such a practice. Through our cultural conditioning, we may falsely believe that things should come easily, that life should be as it is on TV; a series of climatic moments where everyone is having a birthday. Or we blame someone else; “If the teacher were clearer, I’m sure I would get this.” But nothing can replace the minutes, hours, and days of practice, observation, and just plain old trial and error involved in a lifelong apprenticeship. It is the very slowness of this apprenticeship that is the healing, for in slowing down we fall into a more natural rhythm with life and with ourselves. Thus we gradually change, gradually understand, gradually integrate the unconscious material of the psyche into the conscious mind, and the incremental nature of these changes ensures that we metamorphose without losing anything in the equation.

Working Towards Compassion and Acceptance…

Compassion and acceptance of yourself and others is a yogi’s core value – actually we could consider it part of the first core value, or yama, called ahimsa – which is non-violence to yourself or others and includes not judging yourself or others. When we live in a place of judgment, we tear out a part of our human heart. We can even witness the ill effects through the energy shift that takes place. Think about it the next time you judge yourself or another person and pause for a moment to feel the energy that takes place. If you stay there and witness it, there is a level of toxicity and contraction and restriction. Then also witness and hold onto the understanding of what happens when we shift into compassion and non-judgment of self or others – everything opens, flows – positive radiant energy flows and is beautiful. The message of every yoga asana could be a grounded and compassionate and curious: “I love you.” As a teacher I try to always be in this place – but as a student I also try to be in this place – where I am building love, acceptance, compassion – for myself and for all others in the room. Try it out, and see if it changes your experience.