Vulnerability…Yikes!!

Almost all my classes in the last couple weeks have had heart opening themes.  This all started with a workshop I led on September 11th that I called “Keep Your Heart Open at All Costs.”  I’m not sure I realized how much of a challenge that phrase would present to me.  IT reminds me of the phrase “all you can eat.”  Really?  You want to see how much I can eat?  You think you can keep your heart open at ALL costs?  Try this one, girlfriend…

I don’t need to explain how the events of September 11th pushed a lot of us into a closed heart space.  Being attacked on your home turf by an unseen and, to a great degree, unpredicted force generally sends you into a fight or flight response.  To fight, you need to protect your heart and other precious organs.  You harden.  To flee you do the same —  you shut down, then run.  And given the amount of suffering, tragedy and sadness we all experienced on that day, those reactions make a lot of sense.  We’re left wondering why keeping an open heart is so important.

Good question, huh?  Especially after you do a big heart opening yoga practice.  It’s dang hard!  I led a couple last week where we really focused on the bottom tips of the shoulder blades, on drawing them in towards the spine in order to really dissolve the toughness that sits in that spot at the back of the heart.  We were only doing basic level 1 poses, but with this focus in mind, people were breathing really hard – even gasping — and sweating.  You could hear significant effort and genuine discomfort in the room.  Anyone with half a brain has to ask why it’s worth it to keep trying to melt the gristle around the heart when it’s so challenging to do so.

For me, there are two reasons.  One is me.  I think I could stand to benefit a lot by being more receptive, open, and soft.  The other is everyone else.  I think they as individuals and we as a community will grow if I keep my heart open.

So, okay, I’ve been working on this project with more concentration for the last few weeks.  The result?  I got myself into a number of situations where I felt vulnerable.  I actually said the sentence “I feel vulnerable” several times in one week (definitely an all time record for me!).  One of the friends to whom I said it replied, “yeah, you know, Bridget, you are good at a lot of things, but “vulnerable” isn’t one of them.”  Ouch!  Well, she’s right of course…but still.  I decided I should get to know this new word a little better, to see if I could maybe get good at it.  I started with the dictionary, and here’s what I found:

“Vulnerable”

1. capable of being physically or emotionally wounded

2. open to attack or damage: assailable

Wow.  Open to attack? Capable of being wounded?  That’s what happened when the Twin Towers were hit.  We were open to attack, and were attacked.  We were wounded.  And we take that situation and apply it to our own lives and say “no thanks.”

Where are the positive aspects of vulnerability in this definition?  I wasn’t seeing any.  So I looked in a few more dictionaries.  It didn’t get any better.  Actually, it got worse – check this one out  – “liable to succumb.” Yuck!

I decided that if I am going to do this vulnerable thing, I am going to have to take back this word and redefine it with a positive spin.  Here are some attempts:

1. available for connection and meaningful interaction

2. supple, pliable, and flexible enough to engage productively with seemingly separate  forces

3. capable of receiving and reflecting the full spectrum of experience while still maintaining integrity

The dictionary definitions say “capable” of being hurt – they don’t say you WILL be hurt.  You open yourself to that possibility, but there are measures you can take to protect yourself.  In Anusara Yoga we do muscle energy to protect ourselves from being vulnerable in the joints.  We do outer spiral to keep our lower backs from being exposed to pain and suffering.  Those two principles bookend inner spiral – the principle that exposes us.  The space is still made, but it’s bounded on both sides.  In life, we protect ourselves with good self-care practices like our work on the mat and the cushion, exercise, healthy food and daily connection with nature.  That kind of protection may well be much more effective than building a fortress around your heart.  That kind of protection won’t crumble – and yet it allows other people, other thoughts, and other experiences in.  That seems like a much better option.  Not an easier one, but a more beautiful one.

We worked with these ideas this morning in Level 2 Flow as we moved in deep hip opening poses – the class of poses that are most likely to tap into my vulnerability.  We decided collectively that we wanted to repossess the word “vulnerability” and commented on the power of “matrika” or word choice.  We discussed the enormous benefits to ourselves and our kula of “being exposed” for our true selves.  Just like on a steep climb, exposure can be dangerous if you aren’t mindful. But it can be breathtaking and beautiful as well, offering a new and dramatic view.  And we talked about how all of this is easier to do in a safe, intentional community with ground rules, such as the one in which we practice in.

I’m trying….

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~ by bridgetannlyons on October 4, 2011.

2 Responses to “Vulnerability…Yikes!!”

  1. Vulnerability! Whoa …big word…. thanks for looking it up.

    Just Recently I attended A weekend Workshop over in Boise with Christina Sell. I signed up for the whole thing, all five sessions. Could I make it through all that yoga? would she kick my butt? was the experience there? would I know anybody? and so on…

    Woke up Friday morning with a raging sore throat (I almost never get sick) Facing a six hour drive to Boise before the Friday Night session began… It’s all or nothing. Big hit of green juice off I go…stopped on pass out side of Fairfeild and Downed two large handfuls of Rose hips …my road side E-mergen ‘C’…feeling stronger,

    Arrived at workshop just in time to gasp for a few breaths and I was there…in the yoga flow….how sweet it is.

    Of coarse! I’m fine ….I thought. ..I am well taught, that contains me…..
    I stand strong on the shoulders of my teachers and on their shoulders and Out of the darkness I draw my sword and fight for the ‘light’ and feel the glory as the light streams in. Out of vulnerability … was then capability ….. more light shining in ….more light shining out… more gratitude for my teachers whose shoulders I stand on everyday!
    Thank you Bridget… for the ways you put your self out there and the ways your teaching holds me up.

    Vulnerable, Yes, we all are, Heck I feel vulnerable just posting this blog comment….but not so much anymore.

  2. Wow, Kim, awesome!
    For starters, I am so excited that you did make it Boise and had a rockin’ time. Good good good.
    Also psyched that you are in the world of reading and commenting on blogs! Yep, you put yourself out there when you do it, but if you say something from your heart and speak your truth it can brighten others’ days. Like your response did for me, so…thanks!
    I love what you said about the teachings containing you and your vulnerability. Yes yes yes. It’s like open to grace first, then muscle energy, right? You have shown up for yoga in a way that shows openness and availability, and we (the myriad teachers you have in all aspects of your life) have give you principles, and alignment and adjustments and pose names (structure). And then the pulsation happens, just as you described. And the pulsation is us getting in tune with the universe = feeling better. Cool.
    I just put myself way out there by flying to Bogota to assist in a bilingual immersion – LOTS of firsts and unknowns there. And it was awesome. I came out of it plugged in and fired up. But when I was on the plane down here? Oh yeah, feeling vulnerable for sure. But the payoff? Huge. Chalk another one up to the taking risks…..
    love you, see you soon!

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