The question ‘why?' has been ringing loudly in my ears over the last five months. As the pandemic continues to rage across the globe and our lives as we once knew them continue to change, some to such a degree they are barely recognisable. We ask ‘why?' These happenings unveil deep seated inequality in society - racism, sexism, ageism - we ask 'why?' As our day to days are restricted, controlled, rumours of virus conspiracy theories drift around - we ask 'why?'
For me personally there have been many moments where I find myself on my mat asking why? Why yoga? Why do I return to the practice? Why do I teach these practices? And why am I so sure that these practices can help us?
Some of the answers evade us, some answers frustrate us, confuse us, upset us.
But what if we frame things differently?
This question of why? What if we reframe the ‘why’ and see it as the life-force energy within - the seed which holds the potential for growth? Perhaps we will emerge stronger?
This is the one of the many practices that I have turned to repeatedly over the last few months - Pratipaksha Bhavana - (this translates from the Sanskrit as Pratipaksha ‘opposite’ Bhavana ‘emotion or sentiment’) or as it is known in modern psychology ‘Cognitive Reframing'.
But it is all very well me saying... try and reframe the situation... the situation that upsets you… see that person that offended you in a different light… shift your view on this dramatic loss of normality and freedom that has taken hold of our lives…
But how do we actually do that?
The truth is, is that it is not actually the events themselves that upset us but the meaning we give to those events. And if we place too much meaning on them, if we continually think about them, the patterns of our thoughts influence our emotional states.
By changing the workings of the mind we allow our emotions settle. We can control these emotional responses.
Research shows that “conscious control over the limbic system is possible, not by suppressing a feeling but rather by changing the interpretation that creates the feeling in the first place.” So to change an emotional response we need to go back to the opinion that provoked it. If we change how we interpret reality, we will change the emotions that show up.
But how do we do that? How do we do that while staying close to the truth of an event? While staying close to what is real?
Some techniques for you to try:
1. Reinterpret the Event - as you receive information of the event that it is triggering you, you can intentionally accept that there might be aspects of the station that you are not aware of and be willing to revise your opinions once you receive new information.
2. Normalise - new or uncertain situations can scare us … recognising you are having a particular reaction because you are dealing with something new/unexpected can significantly reduce the stress response.
3. Reorder the information - simply deciding that something is not important to you shifts the hierarchy structure of how the brain stores things - which in turns changes how you interact with the world.
4. Find a new perspective - how would someone else view this situation? How would you have viewed this situation at another time in your life? Can you shift your perspective?
Over the last six months every time I have felt myself become inflamed or angry - the ‘how’ question I have asked myself is ... 'how can I turn back to love?’ - this climate by nature separates - physically, emotionally, morally - what can bring us back together? How can I assist in this rejoining? How can I encourage the interdependency of nurture and support? How can we again begin to sing the same song as a global community?
We talk a lot about the Heart in yoga. The heart is the essence of everything. If we look at it just physically, it is the pumping mechanism, a muscle crucial to our survival. But many of the ancient scriptures describe the heart as the centre of everything. The place where everything meets. It is oneness - ‘consciousness’. Focusing our practice on the heart enables us to see everything simply - as ONE. If we allow ourselves to dive deep into the heart we can see there is radical diversity everywhere. The practice is to let yourself dive in, to look at all the diversity and scoop it all up, take it all in, accept it all.
How can we turn back to love? How can we absorb ourselves in it? How can we make sure love is behind all our actions? And how can we continue with love when the world seems to hate?
As is probably quite obvious ‘heart-openers’ in yoga tend to be focused on the upper body. When we look at the postural communication of emotions - negative emotions are often felt by people who physically display forward head carriage, excessive kyphosis in the upper thoracic and the protraction of the shoulder blades (shoulders curling forward). Negative emotions are something we want to counteract when trying to move back to love - so we want to work with poses that instead open the front side of the upper body and strengthen the muscles between the shoulder blades to help with this opening.
I wanted to share with you some of my favourite ‘heart opening' poses and variations. These you can practice in a sequence if you wish or independently …. there is a couple of active shoulder mobility techniques to help you create powerful joint movement and control and then ending with some prone stretches to release front side tension in the upper body.
Have a go at this sequence and then take time to observe the effects it has on your emotional body. Does it help you to open yourself up to all this separation? Does it help you accept all this diversity? Does it allow you to love without boundaries? Does it help you turn all your actions back to love? Let me know. 'I know of only ONE duty and that is to LOVE' - Albert Camus