Freedom and the willingness to feel

humbleWith bright, shining eyes, he approached and shared with me his experience from the class.

He said that because of his chronic pain, yoga had been really hard for him.  Today, he didn’t push himself, and held back from the harder poses.  Today, instead of pushing forward to the next more advanced version, he hung back, and felt what was there for him right where he was.  Today, he had an emotional breakthrough.
He encountered what I call the fear-tension-pain syndrome.  The self-validating loop where we expect pain, so to avoid it we tense up, that tension hurts, which validates our expectation, and so on.
Apparently I said something like: “if it doesn’t already feel good in the version you’re in, it doesn’t make much sense to try the harder version.”  He decided to end his decades long pattern of pushing through the discomfort, ignoring the pain.  He tried on humility, and just found the version of the pose that actually had zero pain, and meditated there.
He felt the frustration of not being as athletic as he used to be (past).  He felt the fear of what might happen if he pushed through as he usually did (future).  He felt the safety of the present.
In the safety of the present, he was able to see what was really happening.  How some of the tension he had was not related to the present, and was able to relax into the moment… somewhat.  He told me afterwards that he shed some tears, and would have burst into a full cry if he hadn’t held back.  Enough for one day.  Sadly, in this culture, crying in public is very advanced, especially for men.  Perhaps thats the next layer most of us need…
Years ago, a different student approached and said “all I need to be able to do any pose is to be willing to cry.”  People frequently tighten up to avoid being seen in their emotions.  They clarified that they didn’t even need to do the actual crying, just be willing to feel deeply enough that the tears could come out if they need to.
I would love to see a world where yoga studios are full of people releasing the emotional pain they’ve been holding for far to long.
Our willingness to feel is our willingness to be present in our bodies.  This in turn is what gives us access to move our bodies how we want, where we want, including going for what we want, without fear of embarrassment or judgment or rejection.   Being willing to feel is what makes the seemingly unattainable poses possible.  This is what lets us risk our small safe lives for the bolder life we actually want.
This includes the sensations and emotions we spend so much time and energy trying to avoid, which turns out really aren’t that bad.  Once, when talking about how hurt I was by an interaction with a friend, and I paused to ask myself, if I’m really hurt, what does the pain feel like?
Surprisingly, it wasn’t that bad.  I had been so outwardly directed with how mad I was at them for how I felt, that I didn’t bother to actually feel how I felt.  Slowing down and letting myself feel, I had access to myself again, and my anger dissipated, and I was able to reach out and reconcile.
When we take a moment to feel instead of escape, we shift gears.  We shift out of “fight or flight” mode.  We get into restorative, creative mode.
To me, this is the real practice of yoga.  To face our fears, and practice staying clear and connected to ourselves while we do it.  On the mat, we use poses to practice with.  We create appropriate challenges with low consequences for failure, so we can approach our edges beautifully, building our physicality, our willingness to feel, our presence, and strength of character.
To put it more simply: the humility to be seen as permeable will open up your capacity for your greatness.

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