The expression ‘to wear your heart on your sleeve’ or ‘offer your heart on a plate’ is often reserved to describe those who offer and express their emotions and themselves without any sense of ‘holding back’. As the Oxford Dictionary defines the term; “[to] make one’s feelings apparent”.
Emotions (or ‘feelings’) were once thought to be something only teenage girls and menopausal women uncontrollably showed. As modern beings start to understand however, that emotions are not there to be hidden and they actually allow us to connect with others and get the most out of life, it’s now much more acceptable to make them ‘apparent’.
Making emotions apparent to other people requires us to let go of the thing that made us keep them hidden in the first place, in other words; our physical ‘armour’. Physical armour is something we consciously place upon ourselves to protect us from danger. Emotional armour is something we unconsciously place upon ourselves that we think is to protect us, however all it’s really doing is separating us. If you practice Yoga, remember the definition of the word is ‘to unite’ or ‘to connect’. (It can actually be defined as ‘separation’ too, but that’s a whole other conversation….)
We can all watch a hundred speeches, videos and TED talks about how vulnerability takes courage, emotions are important (even chickens have emotions….), and how the heart is actually incredibly intelligent.
If we don’t actually put any of this into practice however, nothing happens……..
‘A closed book’ has a whole life and a story within it – think of it as potential – but if it remains closed, all that potential and life never gets discovered or lived. The other popular analogy of an acorn is also something we can use to understand what happens when we keep our truth, our light and our potential enclosed and undiscovered. Read this excerpt from Simon Hass’ book:
‘Within an acorn, invisible to our human eye, is a sturdy three-hundred-year-old-oak. That tree exists in the accord in the form of compressed potential. Until an acorn grows to become a mighty and venerable oak, its Dharma (life purpose) remains an unexpressed potential. We too carry an invisible potential within our being. Each of us has a unique set of gifts, a concealed magnificence. We awaken that potential when we apply the Dharma Code (the ability to combine truth, purity, non-violence and discipline in each of our actions, which I will explain in further detail in another blog post – because it’s potentially life-changing without exaggeration)
If the gemstone of the self remains in obscurity for many years, we may lose sight of our purpose. As the years drift by quietly and we age, we settle for a banal and ordinary life. We lose faith in who we are, in our luminosity; we forget the extraordinary potential that lies asleep within us. We come to believe a lie; the lie of our own ordinariness’.
This is not about academic, physical or cognitive potential, neither the potential to be ‘the best’. It is the potential we either have to live life, or let it pass quietly by.
The Tantric tradition of Yoga adheres to experiencing everything. ‘bad’, ‘good’, ‘happy’, ‘sad’ or any other feeling, emotion or experience you could imagine; Tantra says ‘yes’ to it. This tradition takes the dark with the light, and declares that everything is comprised of divine consciousness. You, the people around you, the coffee table, the cat, the screen you’re reading this from, and that person you have a grudge against at the moment. It’s all made of ‘the divine’.
When we take this non-dualistic view of life from the Tantric perspective, we begin to understand that everything – all the challenges we face, all the negativity we experience, and all the positivity and triumphs too – are part of life. Without both of these aspects, we wouldn’t be able to distinguish one emotion, feeling or impulse from another. In other words (my own mother’s other words actually); “If your life was as straight forward as a flat line, you’d be dead”, and this is of course true, because mums have an annoying way of pointing out when you are overreacting to a situation….
In order to experience life in all its fullness, we have to allow each experience to be exactly as it is – without pushing apparent ‘negative’ situations away or becoming attached to ‘positive’ ones. To truly remove that heavy layer of emotional armour does indeed take great strength. To be vulnerable and to ‘make one’s feelings apparent’ does risk the fact that you are essentially hiding nothing anymore, and the world gets to see you as you actually are in the purest sense.
The biggest lesson to be learned from this, is that by maintaining the armour and continuing to put up barriers between us and others, we continue to separate ourselves not only from each other, but from life. It might seem like a very long time if you get to live out your life expectancy, but when it comes to an end, each experience; bad, good, happy, sad, scary, exciting, fearful, loving, the things we did spontaneously, the things we chose not to do, the things we kind of wish we didn’t do – that whirlwind of emotions and ‘feelings’; that was life.
This is perhaps the most important thing I’ve read recently which has guided every decision:
“You are only here for a short visit.
And be sure to smell the flowers along the way”
– Walter Hagen
Physical benefits of this asana
Including this posture in a backbending (often referred to as ‘heart opening’) sequence helps to maintain core awareness, i.e. The ability to use and move from your physical ‘core’, thus using bigger and more powerful muscle groups, and reducing the risk of injury. It also challenges our ability to combine strength and softness simultaneously.
- Make your way into Parsva Konasana (side angle pose) with the top arm extended straight up.
- For many people, the alignment of having the front heel in line with the arch of the back foot will work, but if your body feels uncomfortable, move the feet until the pelvis, hips and spine feel supported.
- Extend the top arm straight up to the sky, while ensuring the bottom shoulder isn’t ‘hunched’ into the neck or bottom ear.
- As you do this, press firmly into the outer edge of the back heel – as there’s a tendency to allow all the weight to bare into the front foot – and lengthen the tailbone down towards that heel so there’s no arching in the lower back. This will help to maintain your connection to the core, so you’re using these muscles rather than straining into the back.
- Become aware of the breath here; a smooth, long and deep inhale and exhale.
- Maintaining this breath, begin to extend the bottom arm out as though you were offering something out upon the palm of the hand. Check that the breath, relaxation in the face and length in the lower back has stayed as it was before. Be honest with yourself.
- Stay here for 5-10 breaths before transitioning back into Parsva Konasana and repeating to the other side.