Tag Archives: purposeful living

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.

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

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.

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.

How We Choose To Respond To Situations…

“Everything you have in life can be taken from you except one thing: your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation. This is what determines the quality of the life we’ve lived. Not whether we’ve been rich or poor, famous or unknown, healthy or suffering. What determines our quality of life is how we relate to these realities, what kind of meaning we assign them, what kind of attitude we cling to about them, what state of mind we allow them to trigger.” ~ Victor Frankl

Extraordinary Living…

By Stephen Cope, Senior Teacher at Kripalu Center

Kripalu Center is situated just across the street from Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. From early on in my tenure at Kripalu, I found myself wandering across the street, sometimes every night, to watch conductor Seiki Ozawa’s artistry and hear the genius of musicians like Yo-Yo Ma, Peter Serkin ad Kathleen Battle. What a treat!

Gradually, I began to notice something interesting – something that linked my daytime yoga practice with my nighttime revels at Tanglewood. These artists routinely entered into profound states of concentration. I recognized these states because they were precisely the same states cultivated in yoga and meditation – the same states I was cultivating in my own practice. What a surprise! I also noticed that the concentrated states into which the musicians entered affected not only themselves, but the audience as well. There was a profound “field effect” that extended to the thousands of people participating through listening.

All contemplative paths cultivate the mind’s natural capacity to focus awareness. Yoga and meditation systematically expand and deepen this ability. In highly concentrated states, attention becomes one-pointed. External, distracting sensory input is completely tuned out. As the mind penetrates the object of its attention, the very architecture of the mental process is transformed. The stream of thought becomes laser-like, narrowed but highly organized. All extraordinary human endeavors involve this same quality of concentration. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “what makes a man is great concentration of effort.” “Winners focus, losers scatter,” says Stephen Covey, author of the acclaimed Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

Yogis have another way of saying this that better conveys the spirit lying behind most extraordinary achievements: When you bring all of your energy and commitment to the table, God shows up. When you fully commit to one path, to one endeavor, then the Universe somehow responds. Mysterious doors open. We discover powers we did not know we had. Unseen beings come to our aid. We experience unboundedness – a mystical connection with the whole field of mind and matter – and act not from the individual personality but a state of unified mind.

I believe everyone has the capacity for extraordinary living. All that is required is that we bring our focus, skill, and energy together to serve on purpose. If we do it, it can lead to astonishing powers of body, mind, and spirit – powers that are note “ours” in any sense of the word, but which we simply channel into worthy endeavors.