The topic of this Yoga Diary entry is one that I am constantly coming back to through my practice. It’s something that I’ve struggled with way before building a yoga practice or even knowing what yoga was. I grew up as a pretty independent only child. I had friends who I cared for deeply and because I felt so strongly about these relationships, I was sent into emotional frenzies every time there was a disagreement. Somewhere amidst the preteen drama I began to tell myself that I needed to be stronger and less affected by my relationships with people. As a form of protection, I hardened. It became difficult for me to open up to people and I made myself believe that I was strong enough to deal with everything internally. It was a sign of my strength. I loved when my friends shared their feelings with me, in fact I was offended when they didn’t, but I was the strong one. I was the one who didn’t need much attention and didn’t have too many emotions. Somewhere towards the end of high school / beginning of college, I realized how my lack of vulnerability shaped my dynamics with loved ones. After having spent so much time being “low maintenance,” I was actually becoming a really difficult person to be friends with. Rather than owning up to the things I was feeling and communicating them to my friends, I kept them bottled. This worked for a while but eventually I would become overwhelmed with everything and explode. These explosions made everything awkward between me and my friends. It was hard to explain why I was so upset because it went so far beyond whatever event had actually triggered my reaction. Because I had refused to be honest about my feelings as they came up in an attempt to be strong, I came off as immature and emotionally unstable.
What I have come to realize since my college years is how this all translates into issues of vulnerability. Somewhere along the line, I convinced myself that being vulnerable was a sign of weakness. It was great that other people were comfortable opening themselves up in certain ways, but I was stronger than that. Ultimately, this attitude stifled my emotional growth as it conditioned me to invalidate my own feelings and prevented me from developing the communication skills that are so critical to being a healthy happy human.
So what does this have to do with yoga?
Once I became aware of my struggle with vulnerability, I didn’t really know how to productively work through it. I did slowly try to improve my communication with others and be up front about feelings, though my execution was often clumsy, to say the least. But it wasn’t until I began developing my yoga practice that I began to dig deeper and interrogate the fear that underlies my struggle.
Most recently, I have confronted the elements of fear and vulnerability through my ashtanga practice. The ashtanga primary series includes a series of backbends. Depending on where you are in your practice, you start with some bridges, and then some wheel poses, ultimately moving towards falling back into a wheel pose from standing position and pulling yourself back up. Yes- it’s as crazy and amazing as it sounds. I have been practicing my drop back with Ellina (my wonderful and amazing ashtanga instructor at One Down Dog) for a while, but a few ago was the first time that I ever dropped back without her holding me. As I dropped my head back, leaning my torso, looking for the floor behind me, opening and lifting my heart up to the sky, all I could do was have faith. Faith in myself. Faith in body. Faith in my practice. I reached my arms over my head, keeping them straight and strong and when my body told me it was time, I released. Now, I’ll be real – it wasn’t super graceful. #roomforgrowth But it wasn’t nearly as horrible as I could have imagined had I not harnessed my mind. In this moment, in wheel pose, with my heart pressing through my chest, my thighs, glutes, and shoulders supporting my body’s arch – I was open.