When did you learn that it’s not okay to be vulnerable?
This week, I took my very first Acro Yoga class. At the beginning, our group of six did a mini “trust fall.” One person stood stiff in the middle of the circle, arms crossed on chest, eyes closed. And then leaned as if to fall, trusting that others would catch them.
Every person in the group went before me. Secretly, I hoped I didn’t have to go. Like if I waited long enough and didn’t raise my hand, the bell would ring and I wouldn’t be found out for not having done my homework.
When it was my turn, I cried.
My first instinct was to catch myself with my feet. After the first few flailing falls, I re-centered at the encouragement of my teacher, took a deep breath, put my heels together and again tried letting go. I couldn’t fully give in, but this time I fell with more ease. And that was when the tears arrived.
What the heck? I thought, What was that? and then I left it behind, enjoying the rest of the class and trusting the heck out of flying and basing my yoga friends. It was having my feet on the ground that strangely unnerved me the most.
When you’re a sensitive person, sometimes the way to cope is by controlling the things that trigger your touchiness.
My boyfriend knows better than anyone how I like to control my environment. I prefer quiet volume and the bowls in the dishwasher on the top rack. I like the bed made every day and shoes taken off immediately when you come in the house. In my first few jobs out of college, I sometimes did things myself (when I could have delegated) just so I knew they would be done exactly the way I wanted them.
I cried in Acro Yoga not because I don’t trust others (really, I do), but because I had to give up my control of the situation.
Your divine control freak
Ironically, the ability to seek control is what drew me to yoga in the first place.
I needed to control my anxious, shallow breathing and the depressive thoughts mucking up my brain every moment of the day.
I didn’t understand that by putting my body into new shapes and my breath into new depths that I would gain a new kind of control. But then, none of us expect that the first time we come to our yoga mats.
The path to controlling your mind chatter — your chitta vritti in Sanskrit — isn’t achieved by restricting your external environment or by breezing all thoughts from your mind as quickly as they enter.
To gain control of the fluctuations of the mind, as set forth by Patajanli in The Yoga Sutras, you need to pay attention. See your behaviors and thoughts not for their surface content, but for how they can help you come to deeper peace with yourself.
Tears and control issues are signposts. Which path you travel is up to you.
You can choose to identify with the waves, surfing them as they crash over and over, or you can seek freedom through trust.
Trusting that you’re not meant to be wrapped up with a pretty bow and live in a pretty bow world. You’re meant for messiness, ripping-the-paper-off-the-present vulnerability where you leave your heart out in the open.
Keep it there and be present with its beat.
Relearn that it’s okay to be vulnerable, because by being vulnerable you discover the surest way back to your true Self.
Asana Practice: Bound Triangle Pose, Baddha Trikonasana
Triangle Pose for me will forever be the asana where I first understood what it meant to find your “edge” in yoga. The trusting of leaning back, of almost falling and learning to catch oneself, made my then-inflexible mind start to pay more attention to my body. In this bound variation, I enjoy the juxtaposition of being anchored yet unstable, and finding the grace to breathe through them both.
- From the top of your mat step your left leg back into Warrior II Pose. (Instructions on Warrior II here.) Create a firm foundation, anchoring down through both feet.
- Extend your upper body toward the front thigh, lowering your right shoulder to the inside of your right knee. Reach your right arm underneath the thigh and take your left arm behind your back. Clasp the right wrist, or hold onto a strap or small towel if your arms don’t quite reach yet.
- Inhale and lengthen through the crown of your head. Exhale and draw your left shoulder back to elongate your spine and stack the shoulders. If you have long arms, like me, or tight shoulders, your top elbow might be bent a whole lot.
- Carefully straighten the right leg, moving into Triangle Pose. Keep a soft bend in the front knee, no matter how straight you can go. Optionally take your gaze up to the ceiling, or simply straight forward to avoid crunching the neck. Breathe deeply for six breaths.
- Bend into the right knee, release the grip of your hands, unwind your arms and rise back into Warrior II. Step forward into Mountain Pose at the top of your mat and take a deep letting go breath before practicing on the other side.