सर्वेषां स्वस्तिर्भवतु । सर्वेषां शान्तिर्भवतु ।
सर्वेषां पूर्णंभवतु । सर्वेषां मङ्गलंभवतु
Sarveśām Svastir Bhavatu – Sarveśām Śāntir Bhavatu
Sarveśām Pūrnam Bhavatu – Sarveśām Maṇgalam Bhavatu
– May auspiciousness be unto all. May peace be unto all. May fullness be unto all. May prosperity be unto all.
Unfortunately, we are all familiar with the metaphor of a broken heart. Not only as a concept but the actual real, tangible feeling of heart break. It doesn’t matter if it’s the death of a loved one or family member or the breakdown of a relationship or friendship. It might even come from witnessing something, reading something or being fully immersed in worldly events and the feeling of hopelessness and tragedy in the way humans can treat one another. It’s one thing to feel heartbroken and another thing to be the heart breaker, quite often neither is done intentionally but in the end pointing the finger and blaming doesn’t mend any broken hearts, so what is the remedy?
The saying is that time heals all wounds and when it comes to heartbreak it is definitely the most potent remedy. But what does heartbreak have to do with yoga and how is it relevant in dealing with our issues that occur off the yoga mat?
It is amazing how enticing yoga is for healing. The amount of students who come (or return) to a yoga practice to heal is far more common than you would think – and that’s for those that are aware that they are coming for healing. There is amazing work in the fields of trauma and how our physical bodies are storing the repercussions of emotional responses to life. It is important to acknowledge that yoga can be therapeutic but yoga teachers are not clinical therapists and yet the processing of physical, mental and emotional issues can show themselves in the yoga practice. Sometimes this is welcomed and needed and other times it can come as a shock. Regardless of the experience level of the practitioner it is always good to know in advance and be prepared for what may happen but at the same time not to expect clear, immediate or magic results of healing.
Taking a closer look at our habits and tendencies is what yoga does really well. In the asana practice it’s easy to see where our favour lies – the postures we like and are ‘good’ at and the ones that we prefer not to do (for any number of reasons). It’s also good at showing us where we are rushing or a little impatient, what happens when we are told to wait, hold and be steady. How well can we listen and how is our body responding to and processing information – do you need to look around the room or at the teacher to understand – is the teacher skilled enough to teach verbally or do you try to copy and mimic their movements while demonstrating? Once we acknowledge where our habits are and how ingrained they are we can begin the process of discernment and whether they are helping us or holding us back, or perhaps when to know that a habit is useful and when to know it is not so helpful.
You may find yourself heartbroken at the death or loss of a loved one, maybe human or animal companion. You are so used to having them around or close by but now that they are gone it leaves a hole or emptiness that cannot be replaced or filled, at least for the immediate future. Life has a way of tricking us or forming the habit that ‘everything lasts forever’. We inherently know that it doesn’t but we form a habit of attachment and clinging to those we love and care for. Historically the key lessons of yoga would have been taught to renunciates and the idea of complete non-attachment would have far different interpretations than it does for most modern yoga practitioners today. To know what (or who) you are attached to and form habits around is healthy and acknowledging that is good for both parties. While the death of a loved one is permanent it doesn’t help you (or them) to keep the heart broken or close it off completely for any future connection or healing.
Let’s say you have a relationship breakdown or a long friendship comes to an end. Do you find an inner voice that asks “how did this happen?” or “why is this happening to me?” This tool of self-reflection is where yoga is so valuable. In the asana practice can you ask yourself why your wrists are feeling sore, why you can straighten your right leg more than your left or why you despise sitting still in meditation?
There is no one answer to any question and the same question for you might have a different answer for me, but the practice is really in identifying what the habit is and discerning if its healthy and helping or is it blocking and keeping us in a state of fragmented spirit?
The ending of the year and beginning of a new one has the age-old idea of ‘new intentions’ and ‘breaking habits.’ For some it works as a commitment for the year ahead and a way to reflect on the year that has passed and what has worked and what hasn’t. Perhaps the new year can be one where we look deeper into our thoughts, words and actions and use our discernment on all of our habits – not just those in our yoga practice but off the mat as well. Can we explore our heart connections and truly value all of them in their own different ways? Allowing ourselves to be heartbroken when tragedy strikes but not closing ourselves off completely to the rest of the world. Taking the time to heal and also the time to work on our own issues. Maybe yoga is helpful in doing this for you and maybe it is causing more pain – and if that is the case then it’s good to rest or explore other avenues of the practice, like more chanting, meditation and self-reflection.
At the end of the day to make your yoga practice truly meaningful isn’t about how straight your legs are or how far you can bend backwards but instead how helpful and positive your habits are and how many hearts are you healing and connecting with. Can your thoughts, words and actions be a positive contribution to not only your own life but to the lives of others?
Cultivating the habit of caring for and looking out for others is far more meaningful than being able to touch your toes.
– Doug Whittaker