Vulnerability: capable of or susceptible to being wounded or hurt.
A pretty straightforward definition and I have spent a lot of time trying to be the opposite of vulnerable. Trying to make myself strong. I spent many years practicing karate and more recently krav maga. It helped me became more physically strong and mentally resilient. I’ve been through some crap (who hasn’t?) and have been told how strong I was through it. It’s true, I can hold it together pretty well. But here’s the thing, is that always the best response? Or are we sometimes better served to open up and let go?
Learning from Yin Yoga
I just finished a second weekend of Yin yoga teacher training. The physical focus of a Yin practice is on the connective tissue and it is accessed through poses built around the joints of the body. In the same way that we break down muscle tissue during exercise so that it becomes stronger, yin yoga aims to break down connective tissue (e.g., ligament and fascia) by stressing the joints moderately with gentle, long-held poses (3-5 minutes). This weekend, I notices that coming out of a yin pose often left my affected joint feeling a bit weakened and although I knew this was temporary, it made me nervous. Yin can be an intense practice and that is just the physical side….!
The postures of a yin practice focus on the joints and compression restricts the flow of chi (energy) and blood to a particular area and redirects it somewhere else. When the pose is released, chi is allowed to rush back in causing what can be a very interesting rebound effect. One of my fellow yogis noted he was a bit of a “rebound junkie.” True, it is kind of addictive… To me the rebound was usually was felt as a pressure release and then dispersement from the area that the pose targeted. A few times it felt like an outwardly spreading heat with a slight tingling sensation.
There is no doubt that this subtle energy work interacts and plays with your emotions. A yin practice can leave you feeling elated, sad or angry if you allow it to happen. My teacher, Marla, calls this the “blissed to pissed and back” effect.
After my first yin weekend, I thought this was all very interesting. But I didn’t think it had affected me intensely on an emotional level. I had to do some shopping on the way home Sunday evening. I was walking down the grocery aisle and turned the corner to see a little baby staring straight at me (actually it seemed like she was looking right into me). Then she just smiled and started laughing. I did the same – laughing out loud in the tea aisle. I felt a little crazy. I kept going and stopped at the granola bars. I stared at them for a bit and then I just started crying. No apparent reason. My thought process at the time – WTF?! This is not me.
So yes, I guess I was feeling some kind of emotional effect and it made me feel vulnerable which left me quite uncomfortable. But maybe this isn’t all bad. This past Sunday evening at our practice, someone pointed out that perhaps this yin yoga is working on our emotional bodies in the same way that it works on our connective tissue. Breaking down barriers in order to make new, more resilient structures.
Pema Chodron says, “When things are shaky and nothing is working, we might realize that we are on the verge of something. We might realize that this is a very vulnerable and tender place, and that tenderness can go either way. We can shut down and feel resentful or we can touch in on that throbbing quality.”
I was telling a friend recently about some negative things that had gone on in my past and he asked me what I thought was the gift in it all. I said I wasn’t sure. Maybe being able to feel (even the not so good stuff) is a gift; it allows us to engage more fully in our lives. We can choose to open up, really feel and let the emotions scratch a bit. Then see what happens as the scratches heal.
These two weekends of Yin yoga have left me feeling very exposed. But mixed in there, is a bit more openness to this vulnerability. I hold my emotions close and don’t tend to let other people see how I really feel. It’s a scary place to go – to purposefully allow for the possibility of hurt. But if you can allow it, I believe the result will be something worthwhile and somehow transformative. Even if only a little. Even if it’s in the grocery store …