It’s still just once a week that I login at Yoga Today for an hour of yoga practice – usually on Monday morning, before I get back into my work and think I’m too busy to fit it in. But there’s one instruction that the women leading the online classes offer that stays with me through the week, and it’s helpful far beyond the yoga session: Lead with your heart.
During a yoga class, those words encourage participants to physically open their chests, to deepen a bend or a stretch. When you’re standing upright, leading with your heart has the effect of shifting the position of your shoulders and your shoulder blades.
When I was growing up, I was often told to “stand up straight, shoulders back, stop slouching”. (In less kind moments, my mom would say, “Kathryn, stand up straight, we can’t tell if you’re coming or going.”) For a long time into my adulthood, I heard a voice in my head admonishing me toward better posture in this way, whenever I felt myself sagging. But whenever I tried to stand straighter and keep my shoulders back, it felt like such hard work!
Now, instead, if I find myself tending toward a slouch, or trudging up a hill, especially after a long day at the computer, I hear instead, “Lead with your heart.” The physical effect on my posture is similar, maybe even the same, but instead of feeling ‘Oh I can’t, I’m too tired,’ I feel energized. My heart is leading me onward, and I can follow it, almost effortlessly, up any hill. (There are a lot of hills on any walk I can take in Rockwood, so this instruction from Adi, Neesha, and Sarah at Yoga Today, proves helpful often.)
It’s probably fairly obvious that “Lead with your heart” would have application beyond the physical meaning of the instruction. Consciously or not, it’s probably what led me to accept so readily the invitation to become involved with Reading Liberia a few years ago. It’s what produces a sense of compassion toward someone who might otherwise inspire impatience or irritation. I would probably do well to ‘lead with my heart’ more often in my writing life, too.
Last month I decided to drop the point of view of one of the characters in my novel-in-progress. For a long time I considered her the novel’s main character. I had a niggling feeling in the early days of thinking about this novel that the story probably belonged to the kid whose father is suspect in a pretty dire situation, but because of where the germ of the story originated (in an outtake of a previous manuscript), I convinced myself that the kid’s friend would, for all kinds of reasons, make a legitimate main character of this story. I wonder now, if I’d ‘led with my heart’ instead of arguing logically with myself, would I have been led down fewer blind alleys and would the book, perhaps, even be out there by now?
There is of course no point in second-guessing myself on this. Because of course the other thing yoga practice teaches, even if you only make it to your mat once a week, is to be kind to yourself and accept where you are right now. And right now, I do believe my heart is leading me back to that novel.
Photo Credit: Jesse Brown