This week in yoga, we are working on opening our Heart chakras. On Tuesday, during one of my classes, I had a revelation. Putting my revelation to paper seems simple enough, but when I said it in class, it was suddenly very profound for me.
In order to open our Hearts, we need to have a strong backbone.
Now say that out loud and repeat it a couple times. Does it do anything for you?
We can break it down more. In the physical sense, we need to improve the strength of our backs to open up the chest, the home for our Hearts. So we practice small backbends like lifting our Hearts in mountain pose, and then adding some chest expansion poses like standing Camel pose. We practice chest expansion in our warrior poses and perhaps even in our balance poses, like Dancer pose. We take our chest expansion poses onto our knees and continue practicing kneeling camel in various stages of progression. Each time we work with opening the chest, we feel our back muscles talking with us, as we improve their strength. Of course, we balance these poses with Cat pose and Child’s pose and shoulder stretches, because when we work with strength in the back, we also want stretch the back. This describes the physical reference of a strong backbone needed to open our hearts.
Mentally, having a strong backbone to open our Hearts addresses our emotional senses. Some of us have found ourselves blocked from opening our Hearts from time to time. Either recovering from a bad marriage or having suffered the loss of a loved one can drain us from being open in our Hearts for another shot at love. I know of a couple of friends who are emotionally blocking their chances for love right now. They are fully capable of love, as they love me and I love them. But getting into an intimate relationship is not going to happen when they have this block going. Both of them are working on getting physically stronger, of building a stronger backbone as well as other areas of strength. I know that when they are stronger, they will then be receptive and open to an intimate, loving relationship. They know this as well, by the way. And so we do the physical work of strengthening the spine to increase our chest expansion, which will allow our Hearts to open.
Finally, there is the spiritual aspect of strengthening our backbone to open our Heart. Being strong in the back is a metaphor for being who we are, in the deepest sense. For many of us, we have to go back to our late teens or early twenties to remember who we are. Somewhere between that time and now, we picked up so many labels which we realize we need to shed. Labels like wife, mother, [career title], [social standing title], etc. We have been letting others (and ourselves) define us through labels, and then we have had to fit that mold.
I recall my first year of retirement from teaching. First, I have to add that I knew that I would be changing and moving toward who I really am. Part of my retiring was that I was sick of carrying around the title of Teacher. It stuck with me 24/7. In the grocery store, even at home, my kids will say they were raised by a teacher. They know what that means and could probably explain it better than me. The first thing I wanted to do was swear! When you are a teacher, you refrain from swearing too much because you really don’t want a swear word to slip out while in the classroom. So those first few months, when Jeff and I were alone, I would use swear words and laugh (and he would laugh with me) because I was like my teenage self once again, just saying the best words to enhance the meaning for what I was trying to say.
So when we start reverting back to who we are, it is a gradual process with sometimes the most obvious choices occurring first, like my swearing. But then we start noticing ourselves changing in other ways. We start to let go of those topics and issues that were so important when we held our labels. I was considered a reading “expert” in our district because of the education and teaching/ leadership experiences I held. And so any topic on kids’ reading and reading scores, etc., was very important to me. That first year out of education, I was still hanging on to that label, after all, I had invested a lot of time and money into having the honor of being recognized as an expert. But by my second year out, the appeal had started to wane. I was still teaching college classes in that subject, but I was starting to care less. By my third year of retirement, I decided I no longer had enough interest in continuing my teaching at the college level, and when budget cuts forced the University to cut non-tenured staff, I was relieved to be let go. I had already moved past that label.
Today, I am me. And the me that I AM is very connected to the me of my younger years, before I allowed labels to shape me. I continue to change and be open to change. I recently was asked to officiate a friend’s wedding, and so I became an ordained minister recognized by the State of Minnesota. Some people want to label me “minister” now, and I just laugh at them. That is just a PART of who I AM. I will continue to grow and change as I peel off the labels, one by one, that I have placed on myself over the years. I am like the onion, always peeling away layers to discover what is underneath this last layer.
When we begin the work of strengthening our backbones to open our Hearts on the physical level, we can find ourselves changing mentally and spiritually. And that is what yoga taught me this week.