Tag Archives: compassion

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.

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.

Live While You Are Alive…

Live while you are alive…

Learn to be what you are in the seed of your spirit

Learn to free yourself from all the things that have molded you

And which limit your secret and undiscovered road…

Never forget that love

Requires that you be

The greatest person you are capable of being,

Self-generating and strong and gentle –

You are your own hero and star…

Be grateful for life as you live it,

And may a wonderful light

Always guide you along the unfolding road.

Who Am I Becoming Through This Practice…

Inspired by passages within: “Yoga Mind, Body, and Spirit: A Return to Wholeness” by Donna Fahri

Take time to pause frequently and ask “Who am I becoming through this practice? Am I becoming the kind of person I would like to have as a friend?”

Our whole day offers us the opportunity to practice yoga. What we learn on our mat can be a reflection of where we are – our asana can be a powerful mirror for us. During asana, rather than focusing on the external form of your posture, learn to perceive progress through “invisible” signs. While your asana unfolds, it may be helpful to ask, “Am I moving towards greater kindness, patience, or tolerance? Am I calm and centered even when other people around me are fidgeting or distracted? Is the energy I am creating within my whole entire posture grounded, attentive, and at ease?” Check in with your breath to see if it is easily and fluidly moving through your body. When I find myself pushing my body to its limits just to feel the pose more intensely, I honor where I am and without judgement, and bring myself back into a pose that feels more like a compassionate offering.

I realize that what I create on my mat is going to be carried with me for the rest of the day. If I let go of the external form, and create a focused, calm, attentive, beautiful asana practice (a dance with my body following my breath) – that’s what carries me through my day. On the other hand, if I create pressure, pushing, resistance, holding of my breath (bottling) – then that is what unfolds throughout my day. Yoga is a disciplined practice – where we take care of and tend to each moment without judgement. We are all human – we fall and we will never be perfect (and that’s not the point anyway!!) – but we pick ourselves back up – look honestly at where we are at – and start walking the path again.

Expanding the Category of “Us”…

Inspired from Rick Hanson, P.H.D and Budda’s Brain – The practical neuroscience of happiness, love, & wisdom.

Loving Kindness

Let’s be mindful of the automatic mental processes that cause us to identify with a particular group (gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, political party, nation), and then regard members of different groups as others. Focus on similarities between “us” and “them,” not differences. Recognize that everything is connected to everything else, that “us” is the whole wide world – that, in a deep sense, the entire planet is our home and the people on it are our extended family. Deliberately create mental categories that include us along with people we usually regard as not-us. For example, when we see someone in a wheelchair, consider the fact that we are all disabled in one way or another.

Be particularly mindful of the default processes of valuing our own group while devaluing others. Notice how often that valuing actually has no rational basis. Be aware  of the little ways that our minds regard others as less of a person than our individual selves. Focus on the good things about people in other groups. Regard people more as individuals than as representatives of a group, which reduces prejudice.

Meditation on Loving Kindness

Find a posture that helps you remain relaxed and alert. Settle into your breath, establish some equanimity, some mental spaciousness and balance.

Be aware of the sensations of the breath in the region of your heart. Bring to mind the feeling of being with someone you love. Keep that feeling of love. Sense that love flowing through your heart, perhaps in a rhythm with your breath. Feel how that love has a life of its own, flowing through your heart, not specific to any one person.

Sense the love toward people you know, your friends and family. Feel that loving-kindness extending further out, to people you know who are neutral to you. With them the best, wish that they suffer less, and that they truly be happy.

You may feel loving-kindness like warmth or light or like a spreading pool, with gentle waves that extend further out to include more people. Feel this loving-kindness including even difficult people and people who may have harmed you. Wish that even they suffer less and be truly happy.

The peacefulness and strength of this loving-kindness flows outward even to people who you don’t know, whether you agree with them or not, whether you like them or not.

Keep feeling that flowing love as you watch your breath enter and leave your body.

 

Our World Is a Shared Experience…

Inspired from a video by Brian Miller

Acrylic, Paint, Lucite

Acrylic, Paint, Lucite

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our world is a shared experience – fractured by individual perspective – imagine if we could all understand each other – and be open to taking in and understanding other people’s perspective. It is called perspective-taking. It seems easy enough to do, but in practice it is incredibly difficult.

It’s not enough to care about someone.

It’s not enough to understand them.

They have to feel understood.

They have to feel cared about.

Relationships are primarily about emotional perspective. How is the other person feeling about our interaction?

One of the simplest ways to understand how the other person is feeling is to ask – and too often we are afraid to do just that. We think they don’t want to share, but we completely underestimate people’s willingness to go into that “feeling” space.

And then it’s our responsibility to listen to understand, not listen to simply to reply – which we all get caught up in.

Life is about connecting. And connecting is about taking on other points of view. Our world is a shared experience – fractured by individual perspective – imagine if we could all feel understood.

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The Beauty You See In Me….

the beauty you see in me