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What is a Safe Heart?
During my weekly private virtual yoga class, I am always discovering through my body…how I live my life. My thoughts and feelings (whether I am aware of them or not) move or freeze, expand or contract, rise and fall, open and close, and appear and disappear through my body.
Patterns are seen and continue to be seen. Patterns change and reappear and change again. That is the practice: the practice of engaging with patterns and playing with rearranging them.
How do I physically protect my heart? As a Heart type on the Enneagram model there is a pattern I notice in my body that shows up in the ways my shoulders round inward, a tightness around my clavicles and under my armpits that defaults to a heart protecting stance. Tender hearted, thin-skinned tendencies unconsciously habituate to this position in my body – unless I make the unconscious conscious through my awareness, and invite a different way of living in my body, if even for a moment.
When I lean into the invitation of opening rather than contracting, my body usually feels better, though sometimes I will feel a spasm in my ribcage grabbing me, shouting in resistance – “Whoa, too fast! Slow this down. Change incrementally, gently.” And if I listen to that pain and ease into the opening, then there is an emotional correlation to what my body is feeling. Unconfined. More Free. No need to protect.
Why do we protect our hearts, literally and metaphorically?
Structurally, we have a ribcage that wraps around our hearts and shoulder blades in the back that are like a shield on the physical plane. The miracle of our physical design is seen in this. Our heart is essential for continuing to live and breathe and grow. So, of course there is a thought that heart-protecting physically is important. Bullet proof vests protect the heart. Warriors wore chest shields into battle. Are we all living our lives as if in a war zone? These days, I think, perhaps, yes. To some degree. And so, we might pay attention to how our bodies respond to that kind of vigilant living.
Our heart is also essential for continuing to love others and allow love into ourselves.
Emotionally speaking, what do we really think or feel we are protecting our hearts from? Someone being mean, thoughtless, or unkind to us? Someone rejecting us, abandoning us, criticizing or judging us? And why do we believe that if they do behave that way it will destroy us- literally break our hearts? People protect their hearts emotionally in so many different ways. Some passively and covertly. Some aggressively. I, myself, have plenty of different ways of emotionally protecting my heart when I am not being mindful and only reactive.
When we believe that others have so much power over our hearts it is only logical that we would walk around protecting our hearts to avoid “getting hurt.”
The question is: Does anyone really have that much power? Do they really have that much power to break our hearts?
A while back, I gave one of my favorite workshops called Brave Heart. We explored what it means to truly have a courageous heart, even a heroic one. When I remember this concept of my own brave heart, my breath is deeper, my chest expands instead of curling in. I sense I can live more fully from this stance. I believe in the resilience of my heart at these times. I believe I have the capacity to go on, even if my heart feels broken. Each day I desperately miss my beloved friend Joy, and her frequent heart support to me when she was alive. And I know she would say to me now- “You can do this. You can go on. Your big tender heart is NOT broken. Maybe it has even more capacity.”
The next exploration in my yoga class was that of “lifting the heart.” I consciously raise my heart center toward heaven. The rest of my body says “YES! This feels good. Do this more.” And as I mindfully lift my physical heart center, my spirit lifts too.
It used to be believed that the brain entrains the heart. Some science is proving otherwise, that actually the heart entrains the brain. The founder of the HeartMath Institute, Doc Childre, says:
“Dare to connect with your heart. You will be lifting not only yourself and those you love and care about, but also the world in which you live.”
My yoga teacher moved on, in our session, to using the word “Extend.” As I bent forward, she was speaking of my head extending toward the wall in front of me as my tailbone simultaneously reached back toward the wall behind it. My heart was also supposed to extend in the direction of my head. I could feel myself resist immediately. I decided I didn’t like that word extend. I felt overwhelmed. I felt I would get hurt. Wisely, she said, “Maybe you hear the word extend as over-extend. Ahah. She nailed me there. I do over-extend in so many ways in my life and even in my body. I extend too much. What is the “just right” recipe for extending ourselves? Some of us may go in the other direction too and under-extend ourselves. The question is the same.
What is just the right amount for each of us to extend our whole selves and our hearts to others through compassion, while still staying self-empowered?
We ended the yoga session with me lying on my back on a long bolster, a modified back bend. As my back draped over the bolster, my arms resting on the floor, I could feel supported at the very same time I felt my heart opening wide. Unprotected, heart lifting, extending and opening I could feel my Brave Heart, my Resilient Heart, my Loving Heart reminding me that this is the way I am meant to live.
I will remember this when I remember it. I will forget it when I forget it. And I will try, in all times, remembering or forgetting, to lift, extend and open my heart to myself most of all.
May your heart be safe. May your heart beat with ease. May your heart be brave. May your heart know how to open to love, giving and receiving it.