Intention: Ahimsa (Non-harm); Heart opening.
Physical exercise was my first goal of beginning yoga. In my early 30's, my usual week consisted of running 8-12 miles, and visiting the gym 3-4 times a week. All of that came to a slow crawl as endometriosis slowly overtook my body. Endometriosis is a disorder in which tissue which usually grows inside of the uterus begins to grow outside of it. Of course the affected area was initially just the reproductive organs with painful cramps, but the tissue then caused adhesions as it grew and caused internal organs to begin to stick together, making walking upright painful, and running an impossibility. I tried for two years to keep up my exercise routine, but found it just caused complications after each of the many surgeries I had to try to control the growth. The condition is not life-threatening, but it is life-altering. Beaten down by almost constant pain, I thought yoga was a way to stay active without having to endure the jarring of high impact sports on my body. As I began to practice the stretches, I could feel that my body had been holding itself tightly inward in self-protection. As our hatha yoga practice requested elongation of both sides of my body, I soon became aware of the unevenness of my left and right sides. The left side of my body was unyielding, as I had instinctively but unknowingly curved inward to protect the side most affected by endometriosis. My heart had also taken shelter there. As my body turned inward, so did my emotions. I was hurt, and I had no energy to give at that time to anything other than maintaining a rigid work schedule, going home to recover, and doing it all again the next day. I was in survivor mode.
So, why does this come to mind now? What does this have to do with coping in a world pandemic? I reflect on this often now because yoga gave me more than just physical exercise then, and it continues to help me navigate through this crisis now. What I learned then from yoga was much more than stretches. I learned that it takes a conscious effort to keep the heart open when we feel that we are in survivor mode. Daily practice opened up my heart gradually then, both physically and emotionally, and it takes daily practice to keep the heart from armoring up now. I am sure that there are people who go out daily now to fight to keep the rest of us alive. There are too many coping with grief and anguish, unable to be comforted by those who love them. So it is up to the rest of us to do our part to bring ease and relief to lessen the suffering of others. It may be instinctual to close our hearts and act out a self-serving agenda, but our spiritual core asks us to remain open, awake, and responsive. A regular practice of opening, offering up, being willing, and carrying out actions is all it takes to heal ourselves, and to add to the healing of the world, even in a pandemic. Deacon Barbara Burns of St. Alban's Parish put it in perspective this way: "The doors of so many places may be closed and locked, but our hearts can remain open."