Let’s get real here for a second: sometimes I think “yoga” is a bunch of BS. We’ve all heard those awesome claims that yoga will change your life! Don’t get me wrong; I am a walking testament to those words, but sometimes it’s easy to get so caught up in our physical bodies that we forget that yoga is much more than asana. Don’t worry, this is not another yoga selfie post (I stand on the side of non-judgment…post your yoga selfies, my dear Bad Yogis). No, this is my experience with heart-opening asanas and how they’ve impacted my life.
Here is a non-yoga fact about me: I am 33.5 years old and single as can possible be. Yesterday I was told I am the perfect example of the kind of woman who constantly gets asked, “How are you still single???” There must be something seriously wrong with me, right?
I have been in one serious six-year relationship that was filled with the kind of desperate love that only exists when you’re 18 and have fallen in love for the first time. The kind of desperate love that keeps you attached after being lied to over and over because all the fairy tales and all of society taught you that LOVE IS ALL YOU NEED. And he was my first true love.
Well, sometimes love is not enough. He broke my heart into a million pieces and it took nine painful months for me to finally cut the cord. When I did, I began another relationship where I just wanted to have fun with no strings attached. The problem with those relationships is that they need to have a quick expiration date: the longer they go on, the more rooted we become. After two years of non-commitment, my second love and I finally settled into something that resembled a “real” relationship and I finally felt safe enough to say “I love you.” The very next day he broke up with me, telling me he was still in love with his ex who he hadn’t seen in over two years. Devastation doesn’t even come close to describing the way I felt and it took me years to get over.
After those two heartbreaks, my heart slammed closed. In the six years since that last break up, I tried dating, but could never allow myself to be vulnerable with any man I met. Then I discovered yoga. I got strong practicing chaturanga and handstands, I was joyful, people said I was the happiest I had been in years—and I truly was! But my heart still felt closed, I still felt scared: Why couldn’t I let myself be open to love? That’s when my backbend practice started. I thought to myself, “If handstands can make me strong and joyful, heart-openers must help me open my heart!”
When I first started practicing backbends I thought I was going to die. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t move, and wanted to cry every time. I hated camel pose, bow pose wasn’t close behind, and wheel pose…let’s not go there. But, I practiced persistently. Slowly the tightness in my back, chest, and shoulders eased and my physical “heart” opened. My emotional heart, not so much.
As my practice deepened, I realized that backbends alone weren’t going to cut it. I needed to practice more than one limb of yoga. I started practicing pranayama, finding extreme difficulty and discomfort in taking full yogic breaths. While in class during my teacher training in Bali, I found myself breaking down in uncontrollable sobs during many of the pranayama practices, my breath always getting stuck at my heart and me always feeling like I was going to suffocate and die. I cried to my teacher through snotty weeps, “I try to have an open heart! I try and I try and I try!” as she comforted me compassionately. I had reiki treatments and went to see a healer who did a heart-opening ritual and my heart ached for days afterward.
Becoming more aware of my emotional blocks through my physical practice, I began to examine what I truly want in life through the practice of svadhyaya, self-study, one of the five niyamas. My svadhyaya happens twice a month in the comfort of my therapist’s office and a lot when I’m stuck in my car sitting in Bay Area traffic. I practice the yamas satya, or truthfulness with myself, and ahimsa, or loving kindness, when those truths are sometimes hard to bear.
Through all of these practices—backbends, pranayama, svadhyaya, satya, and ahimsa—yoga is truly changing my life and slowly opening my heart once more.