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|May 20, 2013|
A Soft Heart at Rush Hour
Susie Hillman, Seattle, Washington
April 26, 2001
Resisting the yoga and Pilates bandwagon? Bet you thought you were too sensible, too mainstream for any New Age shenanigans. Like you, this writer is no average yogi, but now SHE's got traffic jams under control.
NEW Reader Responses are a goodthing! Follow along by clicking here. Be like Sean Fraer in Osaka, Japan, and contribute your thoughts to the conversation below.
Fellow GoodLetter readers,
Aerobics subject me to bad music. Competitive sports make me run screaming. Yoga makes me a better person.
So what if I look like a freak in my bedroom, twisting into physical positions my body never considered taking before it met yoga. My dog licks my ankles and wags her tail high in the air, as I breathe deeply and sink into a more delicious stretch. My husband pauses in the doorway. I'm bending forward from my waist, fingertips on the floor. "Nice butt," he says, making fun of this unladylike pose. Since I am also performing a mental exercise where equanimity is the goal, I exhale noisily and waggle a hand at him. And breathe in again.
I stepped into this stream four years ago after injuring myself in a dance class. In taking up yoga, I expected to become more flexible; images of Gumby-like positions came to mind. I even expected increased strength. I did not expect that yoga would open into the rest of my life like a blossom, helping me develop compassion for myself and others. What at first seemed like a fortuitous side effect has become my main reason for practicing yoga.
My teacher brought it home for me one day while I was trying to attain a difficult pose in class. "Soften your heart," she said. "Every yoga pose you ever do should be done with a soft heart." At that moment, I was very caught up in the fact that my thighs were quivering and I couldn't muscle my way into the pose. A soft heart! I thought. OK, but my back hurts. Lemme just get this pose first. . . .
"If you're reaching your edge, soften your heart and practice compassion toward yourself," my teacher called through the forest of twisting bodies. "See if that frees you up to go farther."
By golly, it did. At the height of my self-pity, I gave it a shot. I stopped cursing my tight shoulder joints, the pose, my teacher, and physical exercise in general. I tried breathing again, for the heck of it. Then, for my own pleasure, I searched for some release in the pose. When I found it, the pain ceased, my body clicked into alignment and I wasn't ticked off anymore. It all happened internally, in about four seconds, but it was a huge mental shift for me. That was compassion in practice.
When I'm practicing yoga regularly, it's easier to remember compassion and not get so affected by someone else's behavior. For example, I used to come unhinged at driver behaviors at rush hour. If somebody wouldn't let me merge, I'd go nuts with fury and arrive home with a pounding heart and gnashing teeth. Now it's a little easier to think, "Wow, this guy's really in a hurry!" and let him pass. I feel fine when I get home, and nobody gets flipped off. I think this is an improvement.
Now, I wish I could say that yoga has made me a saint, or able to achieve pretzel-like postures that wow my friends at parties, but that isn't the point. Calming my yapping brain so that I can better negotiate daily life is what it's about. Until the world becomes a purely beneficent place, I'll keep doing my forward bends and practicing compassion in little ways.
Susie Hillman (e-mail Susie)
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DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT
Don't know how to start? Let Oxygen's Inhale use humor to get you over the initial hump.
I've been doing yoga for years but your story opened an entirely new perspective on it for me. "Soften your heart" -- what a simple yet meaningful phrase. Thank you.
I am an English teacher from California living in Osaka, Japan. I've used your story about Yoga in my lessons this week and my students really enjoyed it. Your writing style gives them an opportunity to get a real sense of an American's point of view. They enjoyed the image of "the forest of twisting bodies" and "yapping brain." Thanks for making my class more fun this week.
Osaka, Japan (originally Santa Barbara CA)
To the editor:
Thanks to Susie for her story. It made me feel better just reading it. Had no idea yoga could do that for you. It seems to me that she started yoga for the wrong reasons and ended up with a better outlook towards life.
Orangeville, Ontario, Canada
To the editor:
Hurray Susie - I was inspired by your story and hope that inspiration will propel me back into practice. All the things you say are so true - and so needed. Thanks.
Oakland, California, USA
To the editor:
Your story about compassion on self and others was a breath of fresh air. Thank you so much.
San Antonio, Texas, USA
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