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[Enlighten Me]: YOGA“Yoga teaches us that we’re not in control”
– Jessica Cervelli, Yoga Teacher
Please don’t try these poses without the assistance of your own professionally trained personal yoga instructor. (And always best to check with your doctor first before trying any new exercise regime). This video is just for inspirational and entertainment purposes and does not constitute medical or professional advice.
Easter Sunday 2020. A sacred, sweet day where many of us usually over-do it on sugary treats and family feasts to the point of making ourselves sick, enjoying community gatherings frolicking in blossoming fields for Easter egg hunts, all warm and fluffy with springtime smiles and the certainty of renewal and growth. Yet here we are in such a fuzzy, sickly, surreal time where a Hollywood disaster movie really has come true. Empty streets, empty plates, separated from our loved ones, families torn apart by an “invisible enemy”, with rebirth and new beginnings nowhere yet in sight. Even the flowers springing forth outside our windows are just beyond our reach. But there is something that is within our reach. An invisible force of a different kind that touches us with its sacred powers, if we let it. A contagious, unifying force for good, that when spread— creates positive transformation and connection. And I’m not talking about religion.
My Easter Sunday begins with a livestream of Andrea Bocelli performing ‘Music For Hope’ from an empty cathedral in Milan. He sings from the heart — straight to the heart, with such purity, you can’t help but feel touched at your core. Before I know it, I’m serenading my dog with ‘Amazing Grace’. Then up comes a notification on my device: my local Santa Cruz YOGA teacher here in California is live-streaming a free class from her serene mountain top home. ‘Pull your heart forward”, she instructs. Here I am being asked to stretch and arch out my chest as wide as I can — and open my heart. These poses and her verbal instructions for opening and surrendering the heart always make me feel hesitant and vulnerable. My first instinct, and natural reflex is to retract, protect, refuse, turn away, opt for ‘child pose’, adopt my default pose — to curl and hunch my shoulders over as I’ve always done out of habit — to protect my heart.
This default setting was no doubt unconsciously learned from my Mum; a heartbroken widow, who lost her husband, first born child and her own mother all within a short space of time, and who I watched sitting hunched over on her wooden dining room chair in unrelenting grief. All of which eventually rolled over her posture into an early humpback.
The complete opposite of what my yoga teacher is now asking me to do.
The task for my class: completely open the core of our being in the midst of a fearful time, not curl up and shut down.
In our current Shut Down we are keeping our defenses up in order to not catch a deadly virus. But despite all the fear and anxiety and emotional pain, it is not a time for a Heart Shut Down as well. This is a time to take down the human shields we place over our hearts, if our humanity is ever going to evolve.
The hunched posture I often fall into to shield my own heart — including stooping over my computer as a workaholic — clearly had direct, straight-to-the heart origins too.
Easter, aged 11, was the first time I started ‘shutting down’…
Good Friday, my beloved father suddenly died of a heart attack. This was one week after my beautiful sister died instantly, aged 21 in a motor bike crash. Yes, that was the most surreal of all Easters. So, this holiday time, and indeed the Corona crisis doesn’t really feel that much of a shock to me. Just another crisis, of another kind.
I learned very young that everything as you know it, can change in an instant. And then another instant. And another day. Another character. Same storyline. I learned that the Movie of My Life could have the script suddenly flip flop from a family comedy into a real life tragedy. That a once noisy family home could turn into an eerily quiet ghost house overnight. I remember thinking; Why cry, when nothing is going to bring them back? And I wanted to ‘be strong’. Easter was never the same after that. And my insatiable need for treasure hunts and unwrapping shiny chocolate eggs never did quite ease up after Easter Bunny didn’t turn up that year. The Easter Bunny, my big sister, had her life snatched away. For decades, I was a seeker, never feeling settled, and subconsciously walking on egg shells, knowing that life could crack and unravel at any time.
So this year’s Easter, with stories of death and loss and cities turned into ghost towns, I find myself watching events unfold and living through this time in a kind of familiar territory.
The Call of The Heart
And I’m left wondering…
How many people are experiencing trauma and disbelief for the first time?
How many are having their hearts reset for the first time?
How many are starting to hear the call of their heart ?
How many are befriending stillness? That deafening silence, and fear of sitting alone with my own thoughts, feelings and tears that I tried to avoid as long as I could.
How many are hearing their heart beat loud and clear as strong as the call of the wild? And how many are denying the call and distracting themselves?
I cry in empathy at the grieving families on the news. Those who have had to answer the phone call they’ll never forget, hearing their loved ones have fallen victim to Covid-19 and are lost forever. For some, a first realization that life really is finite and fragile.
The bereaved have no choice but to answer The Call of their Heart. The call is made for them. The call that takes their heart on a new journey. A walk into the wilderness where we’re sent off on an initiation rites of passage that can result in spiritual and emotional maturity, and an understanding of the big picture. But the first step, the shock, can be a primal release of a howling wolf, as loud as a howling wind screeching across the mountain tops. For others, the primal scream can be quietly turned inward. Stored up to deal with at some future date, until it knocks at the door of their heart, pounding louder and louder for their attention. Many might be numb, taking a long time for reality to set in. Some may try and suppress, and run from their emotions, as fast as a pack of wolves on the run. Like I did. I ran from grief, but took off as a lone wolf.
Grief is different for everyone. But in every case it goes straight to the heart.
Whatever the response, those of us who grieve end up joining a pack, a pack that we never wanted to be a part of. Those of us in this club, however, ‘get’ each other. We know that life can be snatched in an instant. That life isn’t to be taken for granted. To appreciate every moment and everyone. And for those of us who make the connection, learn that a loving heart is all that matters. This group become Carriers of Compassion. Transmitting love, kindness and empathy in large doses where ever we can.
But, most of all I find myself wondering about sections of the population who seem to take life, and others for granted, with priorities that don’t include thinking about life and death or meaning, or treating others with love and kindness.
I can’t help but wonder…
‘Now, will they get it? Now, will they finally wake up and see what life is really about and what really matters #ffs !? Now will they realize that life is fragile? Now will they realize that death is part of life and we can’t look the other way?
And that Hollywood disaster movies aren’t just a 2 hour wild amusement ride with a few punchlines, but really do come true. And that such movies are cautionary tales. (Thanks Scriptwriters. Thanks for the only mental preparation we, the masses, had). And let’s face it, in this case it’s a movie marathon, and a far cry from a 2 hour nail-biting watch, with the relief of a funny pay off at the end.
I wonder: Now will ‘they’ realise that hashtag ‘This shit just got real’ really is real and not just entertainment or a computer game.
Now will we stop with superficial obsessions and overconsumption? (Myself included, in need of a reminder). Now will those who worship money as number one, reassess priorities? Now will the spring-breakers stop and realize that they are not invincible, that their thoughtless actions affect others, and these things don’t just ‘happen to other people’ and everyone else’s families?
Now, will the shareholders and corporate giants who exploit their workers and consumers stop with their relentless greed, and selfishness, finally have their Scrooge nightmare Moment of Enlightenment and… have a heart?
(And not go back to old habits, but REALLY wake up).
Not to mention US political leaders who have influence over creating a more just and fair system that can look out for the vulnerable and those we all rely on, and finally create universal healthcare and a fair living wage etc.? Now will they stop, and find some heart and humanity, and take real action to create more equality?
Will the haters who tweeted to the British Prime Minister saying they were glad he got Covid-19, have their light bulb moment, and consider — would they themselves appreciate reading a message like that if the tables were turned — if they were the one lying on a hospital bed fighting for their life, reliant on an attentive helper? And when they hear Boris Johnson announce there was 48 hours that ‘could have gone either way’ were it not for his nurses, will they start to see he was not some Avatar or character in a movie, but a real human being? Will they make the heart connection?
Now will the people who dehumanize, discriminate and dismiss others start to see those individuals in a new light — possibly the very outstretched hand and heart they rely on in their moment of need?
Will people realize that the powerhouse ticking under their chest is a force for love, and in turn loosen their grip on hate and division? Will they start to see others as their equal, and that we are all connected, as one humanity? Will they connect to the powers of genuine connection and compassion?
Will this WW2 moment, and threat of these — tiny, silent and invisible AIR BOMBS finally WAKE UP people to the sound and presence of their own beating heart?
The Heart Connection
But connecting to the full power and pain of the human heart isn’t easy.
Even getting to the point of shutting out the rest of the world for a moment to stop and listen to the presence of your own being, (and avoiding distraction and old habits) can be incredibly daunting.
It was quite the journey for me.
I travelled the world and lived on 3 continents, was a 24/7 workaholic and a commitment phobe. For many years I held back from feeling, and truly surrendering to my heart.
But the longest journey I ever took was from my head to my heart.
Of course, I followed my heart when it came to my career ‘calling,’ and that fell into place like destiny. But when it came to facing real emotional vulnerability to ‘go there’? Terrifying. Relationships more often than not, were a self-imposed non-starter.
Finally, it took a few heartbreaks for a breakthrough, including trying to save the life of one boyfriend who had a near death experience, and really stopping and allowing myself to grieve and process losses instead of finding distractions. By the time my beloved mother died in 2015, I found a peace and acceptance. I allowed myself 9 months to grieve a long term relationship. Despite initially prompting (in fact, threatening) the much needed split myself, realizing I was up against a wall, it was still heartbreaking, after investing over 7 years devotion. And there was the sad sense of failure of being unable to save him, ‘from himself’ (in my view), even as a friend. A final breakup came in an email message, on the anniversary of my father dying — at Easter. Strangely coincidental yet unintentional timing. Again a surreal Easter. I sat alone confined within the 4 walls of a small English cottage, nibbling at the Easter eggs I’d prepared for him. But not numb. Immense shockwaves of electrical currents pulsated through my body. This was finally, really happening, and near impossible to accept — like losing a family member, who’d been my priority for the best part of the last decade. But what can you do when someone has a complete Heart Shut down? There’s no getting through a closed border, or stone wall.
What helped me get through it?
Led by my dog let off the leash, I found healing, freedom and release in the open fields, honoring each stage of grief through three seasons. I surrendered to it all.
Aged 11, there I was a child sitting on the banks of my backyard Barossa Valley creek in Australia, with my mother, and my childhood dog, unable to cry, numb, and being strong for her. Then here I was decades later, an adult, sitting with my new dog, beside a beautiful river in the Mother Land, in the purity of Mother Nature, allowing myself to grieve, tears coming thick and fast — and determined as the water bubbling and slicing through the rocks. The start of an emotional toxic cleanse, and a cleaning up of unfinished business, at Easter, of all days.
I turned inward to my heart and outward to Mother Nature — who grounded me. I learned to breathe. I learned to sit with uncomfortable feelings, and feel the deep ache in my heart. A last lesson in letting go after investing so much of my energy and time in a partner who was just not turning the corner, (and adamantly refusing to connect with his own heart, so much so, I barely recognized the person I once knew). As far as I could tell, he was in complete Heart Shut Down, and hiding away in his mountain cave, (literally). A shutdown amplified by work stress, prioritizing money and possessions above all else, and a refusal to go deep into a hurt heart, (rooted in previous life experiences).
Letting go is especially hard for over-giving empaths like me (Ironically empaths often give away their hearts to others, not taking care of their own). So, in between a full day’s work packing up the home and preparing my next step to leave the country, (not to mention, on my knees praying for my newly exited ex to ‘see the light’), I rewarded myself by outings in nature. I was soothed by a pure unpolluted river. I ran in the torrential rain and felt a new kind of freedom. I said hello to the rainbows and the doves flying on a summer breeze, sensing my mother’s spirit. I lay in the blossoming Springtime fields with my dog, the long grass cushioning and embracing my body stretched out face down — and sobbed. I felt supported by the strong ancient tree trunks, which helped heal my aching back. I let the gushing river wash away tears (and my dog lick my salty cheeks). I gave myself a free and natural detox. And I came out the other side renewed. I learned to let my heart feel the pain from the death of a relationship, without any distractions, and know I could still survive.
I experienced a HEART RESET.
And on the other side was rebirth. A new beginning. Even new love was waiting for me. On the other side of the planet, to be exact.
Not long after giving myself the time and space to let my heart process all it needed to, I met my husband. Someone with an incredibly big heart, that is completely wide open and pure.
I went from loving and unsuccessfully trying to reach a wounded, and closed heart, (barely recognizable by myself or the dog in the end), to a partner completely connected to his heart.
Still, my husband described the feeling of adjusting to our kind of love as a ‘Heart Reset’.
It took him a little while to believe it. Our relationship was a whole new experience for him, and for me. Heart, soul, the whole package, which we continually unwrap as a gift, with no fear of unravelling. We dwell in the heart space. And it has taught me that when both parties are truly at home in their hearts, you live in a safety zone, as well as a happy place.
After taking the long journey from my head to my heart, I feel everything much more deeply these days; from empathy for the grieving families, to seeing social media images of animal abuse in China and elsewhere. Hence the reflex to guard my heart remains. But I choose not to shut down. I make a pledge to myself, learning from my husband’s wisdom when he says: Turn Fear into Action. (Or any kind of grievance). Not let emotional pain paralyze. I’m still working on it all, but I’ve come a long way.
These days I can tear up from upsetting stimuli at the drop of a hat. But I’d rather that, and to take all that comes with wholehearted living, than living in constant shut down and missing out on what it means to be human, and fully alive. I’d rather have Empathy and sensitivity as my Superpower, and my heart light switched on bright, rather than dimming myself down and closed off from this world.
I’m still early days with yoga, but every little I do, inches me another step further towards being comfortable in my own body and in my heart. I’ve come a long way from feeling ‘disassociated’- a common knee jerk reaction to trauma.
Power up your most important Device
The unseen but all powerful heart is our most important device of all.
And this is not spiritual fluff. This is scientific fact. Studies, such as by The Institute of Heart Math, show the human heart even has an electromagnetic range that far supersedes our brain waves.
The heart is the device that is always beating beneath our chest, always pinging, asking for our attention. The device that rarely gets a check-in. A device that many of us try to hide and suppress, with notifications we ignore or overlook. But when in full whole-hearted powered-up mode, can create incredible, visible effects in the world. But we have to first be willing to drop our human shield, and check in.
Use this quarantine time to not hide from your heart, to not keep your heart in shut down. Not hide from your emotional wounds. But to sit down and finally have a good long talk with yourself, hand on heart and examine what needs acknowledging, healing, or expressing.
Open yourself up to all that you’ve been running from, like I did for decades with my workaholic, forever on the go, globe trotting lifestyle — until I finally got still and heard my own heartbeat. A quiet location helps.
Think about the benefits of a little less posing for the perfect Selfie and instead trying out an imperfect yoga pose, stretching open and “pulling your heart forward.”
The Wisdom of the Heart
My yoga teacher says ‘honor your body, your body is wise’. The same can be said for honoring the wisdom of the heart.
The heart is a messenger of hope. Our clarity in confusion. Our conscience and knowingness to do the right thing. Our transmitter and receiver of love. The calm in the storm. Our heart can turn fear into action. The heart is the source of the greatest medicine: LOVE. The center of compassion. Our internal GPS. When we’re connected to our hearts we can move from feeling lost and hopeless — to feeling empowered. When we’re plugged into this source we can reconnect with an old childhood passion that makes us feel alive. When we’re connected to our heart and following our passions there is a free-flowing energy and aliveness that rushes through us. The heart which operates with love and acceptance can treat others as brothers and sisters, a real pack where I have your back — and you have mine. And offer real heart-to heart-chats that can result in connection and healing.
The heart is the ultimate power house. Our command center, over and above the head. Our heart can forgive and mend relationships, and cure loneliness. Our heart can play a pretty tune. And can be tuned up like a musical instrument. The heart can be rewired for connection with ourselves, others, and the world at large. The heart can even grow back stronger after a heart attack. In the words of Neil Diamond’s song “Turn on your Heartlight” from the Stephen Spielberg movie ET, this is a light switch that CAN be flicked on. The heart is a device that can be turned on, fully charged, and reset.
But first we have to get still, listen and feel.
And let me tell you, this stuff works. It pays off. Life is too short to feel stuck and trapped by our own fears, limitations and emotional scars. Don’t put matters of the heart on hold. Time waits for no one. Life is too short to not let the heart lead. Don’t like Shutdown? The biggest restriction of all is to not set your heart free. Life is too short to short-change ourselves. For the heart is the most valuable powerhouse of all.
We will be moving into a time that can be a breakthrough for society, our structures and nature to reset. But it’s also a time for our own breakthroughs, for our own systems and heart to reset.
And life is way too precious to knowingly let others suffer, and not do anything about it. This world needs all (clean) hands and all hearts on deck to turn this ship around. If everyone is connected to their heart, and we all have an empowered voice from the megaphone in our heart, there’s no stopping us from changing course and getting on track to a world where we honor each other.
If we really honored our own hearts, we would not live in a world that largely looks out for number one. Just think about all the helpers putting themselves on the line — other people are their number one priority. They can only serve others so selflessly because they are connected to their heart and powered by this innate renewable energy source.
Empowered Hearts can be found right now in the companies who are stepping up and repurposing their resources, offering to make a meaningful contribution to medical supplies such as masks and hospital gowns. And then there are companies looking after staff. I like to believe that behind these initiatives are CEO’s who lead from the heart, and are not just thinking about corporate responsibility and an opportunity for good PR.
The light at the end of this dark tunnel is the bright shining light of our hearts — fully switched on.
New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo is a shining example of leading from the heart, and although his logical, decisive leadership does use heart and head, hand in hand, it’s clear to us all that his warm, compassionate heart is out front – and center.
Connected, switched on hearts can take us a long way. This is a time for our society to reset from the level of the heart. And then, will we move forward to wholehearted living, topped up plates, a no-child-goes-hungry society and fair system that looks after disregarded workers. It is time to do everything in our power to create a society that sees not with judgmental eyes, but through the window of the heart. A tall order, but with one heart at a time we can do this. All of us, a carrier of compassion and kindness. Before long, a new kind of Love Revolution can spread far and wide. These times call for: ‘The Heart Connection Revolution.’
When the time comes to reboot society, it can’t be about resuming business as usual. Let’s lift off our shields, blow the doors off, let the windows and shutters swing wide open, and let our hearts be open for business.
If there’s just one takeaway to glean from this article, I hope it is this: Drop your guard.
Even if it’s only in your own presence, you don’t necessarily need to make yourself vulnerable in front of someone else. Make a pact with yourself to ‘go there’. Go All In. Know you’ll be OK. Drop your devices, drop your distractions, drop your excuses. Recognize if you’ve been protecting yourself — from yourself, in denial and believing your own fibs. Listen to what your heart has to say. Have a heart-talk with yourself. Feel what it wants to feel. Let it out. Stretch it out. Write it out. Ride it out. And press reset. Once you’re in touch with your heart, everything flows from there. When we come from the heart we are empowered and inspired and nothing can stop us. Freedom can be found from the level of the heart even in a shutdown, and as history shows, even in concentration camps, shown by authors such as Victor Frankl, who wrote ‘A Man’s Search for Meaning’ or ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’. There’s nothing like the freedom that comes from setting your heart free.
And to those who have let the essential workers and the vulnerable remain in such a disadvantaged position for so long, and manage to still go to bed each night seeking more and more, while millions live on the edge, pay check to pay check, forced to line up for food banks, just to survive, I hope they reflect on the impact of where their heads and their egos lead countless people — many of whom could be the very hands and hearts to save their own life. I hope they will finally switch on their hearts and take the lead from there. What can each of us do to impress this upon them? How can you and I have a voice to inspire change? What action can we take using our People Power, and the power of our hearts? Welcome to The Heart Connection Revolution.
Exercise Your Heart
‘Pull your heart forwards. Inhale. Open your chest. Exhale’,
‘Nothing can throw me off my center when I’m centered in my heart,’
says my yoga teacher.
I still find it jarring to hear verbal instructions asking to physically and consciously open up my heart space in these yoga stretches, as if going straight into the line of fire without an iron shield. And these days, the danger zone includes taking in all the disturbing news I now watch in America and from around the world. But I stick with the yoga moves. I follow the gentle prompts of an enlightened and talented teacher on how to approach the poses: to not resist, to soften, surrender. So, I let down my guard. I tell myself I’ve already worked through my greatest fears — of loss. And learned I could survive. I allowed myself to grieve and not run away from it. It paid off, I’m now happily married, I allowed myself to commit, heart open, unafraid. I go with the flow, loosen up and slowly but surely release. Easing into each pose, stretching my shoulders back, opening up my ‘heart center’ I tell myself in a moment of grace, that ‘I am safe, all is well right here, right now’, and I harness every ounce of gratitude within my being, for I exist within a safe haven of love. In this moment I am not down on my knees as a fragile, ‘broken women’. Or a child in a woman’s body. In this yoga pose, I come from a mature place of strength and power. In every class, I release a little more tightness and restriction. As I continue this yoga practice, I build on my ability to let down my guard and to live with my heart wide open instead of in fear. And I know that the heart is resilient.
These crazy Corona times are not just a Call to Action for our frontline heroes. This is a Call to Action for all of us all to exercise our hearts. To lean into our hearts. To pull back our shoulders. To allow the loving presence we possess deep inside, to wholeheartedly take the lead, pulling us forwards. To stretch ourselves from this place of power, and openly be upfront about it. To strengthen our resilience, empowering ourselves and each other. To stand tall in ‘Warrior’ pose and charge ourselves up with a dose of courage. Every time I do yoga, I find it provides both an emotional release and inspiration to take action from this heart space.
Towards the end of the Easter class my teacher guides us along with all kinds of words of wisdom, encouraging us to face our fears, and work through our emotions through the practice of yoga and a deep connection and acceptance to whatever we feel:
“Invite fear and insecurity. Give it space to unravel and a place to be seen. Those parts of ourselves want to be seen and no longer repressed. Just say OK I’m going to take a look. Invite a spacial awareness feeling into the body. It’s all OK. All divine. Easter — from corpse to rebirth. In order to rebirth, some things need to die within ourselves. We do not abandon ourselves, but realize the divinity within ourselves.”
Yes Easter is about new beginnings. We’re not even close yet to opening up our doors, and starting over. But I find myself sending out a prayer: let this time be a renewal, a rebirth, the Heart Reset we need for opening up the windows to our hearts.
‘Bringing palms together in front of your heart.. Honor yourself, this person, this body…In order to open and let our awareness unfold we have to honor all aspects of ourselves. It’s all beautiful. And now, a final OM.’
She finishes up with palms together against the open window to her heart, and wishes us all Namaste.
And on that note, I let the final OM reverberate through my heart and my entire body.
Mirroring my enlightened teacher, hands on my heart, I smile in gratitude for having found this sacred practice, and for honoring and strengthening the powerful force for good, that no longer hides, beneath my chest. Feeling enlivened, I spend the rest of the day feeling empowered to pour my heart on to the page.
Namaste from my heart to yours.
© Myfanwy Marshall 2020
CALLING ALL HEARTS – Do you have a story or contribution to share? Now more than ever we need uplifting stories. Let’s look for the helpers and look for the light in these dark times.
Stay tuned for more on the ‘The Heart Connection Revolution’ campaign, documentary and book project: — a registered trademark in the UK, and pursuing in the US. Please get in touch if you’d like to be involved… We need artists, speakers, film-makers, vloggers etc.
Here’s proof from a 100 year old dancer that it’s never too late to live your dream…
Her words of wisdom:
Try to do creative work, because if you’re dealing with creative work you’re doing something new all the time.
Seems that leading a creative life has also led to a long life!
And we’re never too young to start living our dream.
This 14 year old who set up her own creative business at the age of just 8 is such an inspiration too…
What’s your dream? Do tell…
YOUR PERMISSION NOTE –
Inspired by the enlightened author Elizabeth Gilbert (aswell as the positive nudges of Mike Dooley of www.tut.com and blogger Gala Darling, I felt the urge to write and create this ‘permission slip’ for anyone who might find it a helpful reminder…
to give yourself permission to do your own thing and follow your heart,
even just some of the time!.
[ Designed to print out ]
To your dreams,
“There’s huge swats of women who never got the memo that their lives belong to them, and there’s this instinct they have; that they needed a permission slip from the principal’s office for anything”.. You’re allowed to ask what serves you sometimes.”
– Elizabeth Gilbert.”