As a yoga instructor and instructor trainer, one of my fundamental concerns is safety, especially for the lower back. Everyone has either experienced back pain, will experience back pain, or knows someone who has. So, hinging at the hips and maintaining the length in the spine in forward folding is how I choose to teach. (Please try to forget your P.E. teacher telling you to dive into it and get your nose to your knees.)
In teaching forward folding, common cues I use are to extend through the spine and to lead with the heart rather than the head. And every time say this, I can’t help but think “What if we did that more every day…lead with the heart rather than the head?” Am I advising that you stop thinking altogether and practice free love with everyone you meet? Let’s not be silly.
In my experience both in yoga and in mental health counseling, I have found that there is a common disconnect from the body. When we live only in our heads, we are frequently creating stories about the motives of others, our own abilities, and our personal responsibility for how others feel. We are living in a place of fear and reaction. We feel anxious, out of control, less trusting, and most likely less happy. Our heads are where we make up these stories and we totally believe them, accepting them as fact. But as I like to tell my counseling patients, “Your brain is a liar!” Our heads are where we stay stuck and small and far away from the authentic awesome spirits we are. And this keeps us isolated, sad, scared, and disconnected.
Here is an example. ‘Wow, she totally just rolled her eyes when I asked her to help me with this project. She must be mad at me, or I helped her before and the least she can do is pay me back, or she thinks she is better than me, or I must not be worth helping’…(this could truly go on forever).
However, if we can just take a few long, slow, deep belly breaths and feel the body expanding and relaxing, then we can tune into our bodies and stop the ‘out of body experience’ so many of us are living. We can begin to lead with love rather than fear; to respond rather than react. We can pause and gain control. (You know you want to be in control!) We can remember that we are spirits inside a body just like other people are spirits inside a body. We can lead with our hearts rather than our heads.
So back to our example from above, what if we could think something more like this: ‘She seems frustrated, I wonder what’s going on, or maybe I should talk to her and just check in about helping me, or I wonder if everything is ok in her personal life, or maybe she shouldn’t have eaten that meatball sub for lunch and now she is feeling it’… Just think of how this could change our connection with ourselves and with others, our overall happiness, and on a larger scale, our communities and our world.
So, this week or today or even for the next hour, try to lead with your heart rather than your head. Question the motives of the fearful voice inside who loves comparison and judgment and try be brave, be open, and start from the heart. Will we be perfect at it? No. (Remember, we talked about perfect in the last post…) Will it be harder some days? Yes! Will we have to be vulnerable sometimes? Yes, we will, but we can do it! Will we make more soulful connections with others? Our chances are good. Will it all be worth it? Absolutely!
So, key points to remember:
- Hip hinge when forward folding to support the lower back.
- Your brain is a liar who wants you to stay stuck in fear because that is where the brain is in control.
- Take a deep breath and lead with your heart.
- I am going to try along with you, so you are not alone.
- We will talk again soon and you are already awesome just as you are.
(If you would like to know more about the effects on the spine of rolling up from forward fold, you can check out this article by Yoga International: https://yogainternational.com/article/view/hello-hip-hinge-goodbye-roll-up-rethinking-the-kindest-way-to-rise-to-stand )