Saturday, May 05, 2007

YOGA | Heart Openers

A while back I mentioned my yoga studio is offering Anusara classes. I've been to a few classes, and they have been enlightening.

I'm not an expert on Anusara, but at the moment it reminds me of Iyengar ― with its emphasis on structural alignment. Anusara seems to me a good foundational practice, and you can apply the same principles in any style of yoga elsewhere.

What is different in my Anusara class is how B. ― the Anusara teacher ― always has a theme for each class. I'm not sure if this is how other Anusara classes are taught around the world, but the thematic structure does help remind us of the philosophical aspects of yoga, beyond the physical.

The theme for the last Anusara class was "Fearlessness", with the emphasis on backbends and chest opening poses.
Trikonasana by Ana Forrest

How does one overcome the fears in our lives? Through the practice, B. led us into heart opening variations of familiar poses, and backbends (like Camel pose). The pose that I enjoyed the most was the Trikonasana with the heart opening variation, [See picture at the left, demonstrated by Ana Forrest]. It requires a solid, firm foundation in the legs, and then you twist, shoulders open wide, the heart towards the sky.

I happen to be more flexible than muscular, and I do better at the backbends and the heart-openers. I am not exaggerating when I say, backbends and heart-openers invigorate me. They fill me up when I am empty.

I had a bad day at work that day. I was emotionally drained and I almost skipped yoga class. But something forced me to show up anyway. After class, after the several sets of heart-lifting chest openers and backbends, I felt good ― elated ― I was beaming. I couldn't wipe the smile off my face.

It's days like these that make me keep coming to class. That yoga can make the difference between a bad day and a good one.

I try to pay attention to the body during poses, and I feel my backbends most acutely. I wonder if I like backbends because I do them well, or I do them well because I love backbends? Something in my body yearns for these heart-opening moves. Something within me wants to breathe in deep and expand through the chest, to face the world heart first.

Sometimes the body knows better what it needs, and we just need to listen.

What has this to do with fearlessness though?

Fear is often due to a sense of separation from the rest of the world. It is a condition of the mind, either due to past trauma or conditioning. Fearfulness can be read from the body; a person who hunches, as though shielding the heart, reveals something of their state of mind. B. encourages us to sit and stand tall, with heart lifted. I wonder if it is really that easy to conquer fear.

I was at a meditation class a few years back. The teacher told me that I hold on to a lot of fear, and it is hindering my progress in meditation. I know what he is trying to tell me. I have felt afraid my whole life, but how it came to be so, I can't remember. But my inability to open myself to the experience is hindering my growth in my spiritual progress. And it will also hinder my growth in other aspects of my life.

Perhaps it is like a backbend, which can be very vunerable for some people. You fall backwards, trusting your body to support you. And in the process you expose your heart, the most vunerable part of your emotional being. Some students are afraid of backbends. They prefer not to try. To them, B. asks: Be fearless. He goes up to help them in their endeavour. Fear is not an excuse for not trying.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

well said! I like what you said about yoga making the difference between a bad day and a good one. That is very true. Thanks for sharing your views.