I’ve been teaching backbends lately. Heart openers. “Look up, look up, look up!” I keep repeating in class. This started out because I realized I needed to cultivate courage, enthusiasm, and open-heartedness in my own life and practice, and when I introduced it to my students, I could just see them bounding toward it. One student whose upper body curled toward the floor in bad posture had one of the most beautiful Warrior Ones I’ve ever seen.
Sunday night I was reading Brene Brown’s book Daring Greatly, a work that explores vulnerability. She writes:
“Vulnerability isn’t good or bad: It’s not what we call a dark emotion, nor is it always a light, positive experience. Vulnerability is the core of all emotions and feelings. To feel is to be vulnerable. To believe vulnerability is weakness is to believe that feeling is weakness. To foreclose on our emotional life out of a fear that the costs will be too high is to walk away from the very thing that gives purpose and meaning to living.”
The quote bounced around in my head the next day, as I kept finding opportunities to stop and ask myself if my reactions to different situations were reflective of my own vulnerability. And by the time I came to my mat (with a whole list of backbends to practice), I had centered in on how to incorporate the head with the heart and the body.
After 75 minutes I got everyone cooling down with some restorative asana. I demo’d Supta Badhokonasana to my students, then helped them get into the pose themselves. I read the Brown quote to them and then decided to join them in the pose, something I don’t always do. And, well, wham.
While I was telling everyone to relax and let themselves spill open into the experience of vulnerability, I found myself almost gasping at the exercise. I laid there in the dark, staring up at the ceiling, feeling unknown fears resonating through me. I couldn’t identify them, but they were there, and they were real. I felt like a small child afraid of the dark. I transitioned everyone to savasana, but all the while I was aware of my own experience in the pose. Opening yourself up exposes you, and it really shook me.
Later that night, I was putting our daughter down for bed. It’s one of my favorite parts of the day because we have each others’ full attention. She talks and sings and plays funny little hand games with me, and it takes longer and longer to get her to go to sleep because I don’t want to lose her for the rest of the night. When I finally did put her in her crib, she started crying to protest. And I thought of Supta Badhokonasana, and the unknown, unnamed fear that it brought out in me.
I ended up giving my daughter comfort instead of leaving her there in the dark. In time, she’ll learn to face her own vulnerability and understand it as a part of the emotional experience of life. But for now, I want her to know that I’m there for her. She has plenty of time to learn to face her fears on her own.