I went through a big backbending revolution at the beginning of 2011 and even took a workshop with the iconic Kathryn Budig in early April. I was determined to open myself up to life, to love, to connection, to other people... and then I started to feel too open, too vulnerable, and that fall I quickly retreated to the safety of my beloved forward-folds. The place I'm most comfortable: with myself.
Can you be an extroverted introvert? Or like...a closet introvert? I think I am both. I'm vivacious in social situations - bubbly, overly-enthusiastic, loud (LOUD!!! I'm REALLY loud. Seriously. It's embarrassing) and full of energy, but I actually feel the most comfortable and the most safe when I'm ALL. BY. MYSELF. Answering only to me. Completely alone. If I wasn't such a wuss about nature (I know, I KNOW), and if I didn't have such an aversion to camping, I think I could go into the woods for a weekend alone, no problem. In fact, right now, I think it would be heaven to check into one of those lake lodge rooms and spend the weekend outside. (Avoiding all ticks, bugs, snakes, etc. of course). I'd take a yoga mat, a journal, a few bottles of wine and a good bottle of scotch, comfortable clothes and LOTS of blankets. Turn my phone off. Leave the computer at home. Disappear for a bit. Oy, that sounds FABULOUS.
BUT RIGHT. The point is I need to open my heart again - be more open to the world and the people in it - so I'm TRYING. I joined an online book club my friend Emily invited to me and I even sent an EMAIL with some thoughts about the book and tried not to worry too much if the people on the other end of the email would think I was TOTALLY NOT SMART AT ALL!!! (This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper. I LOVVVVED it). And I'm reaching out to friends and trying to say yes more than I say no. (I resent Josh Radnor a little bit for putting cutie-yet-smoldering-Zac Efron in my brain telling me "Fortune never smiles on those who say no" all god damned day, every day. JESUS, little Zac Efron, LEAVE ME ALONE! He also tells me to "BE LOVE!" too, but that one I don't resent as much).
Oh! So the thing from Yoganonymous was in an article is called "Yoga Research: Five Proven Facts That Make Yoga Awesome" by Ashley Josephine:
This may be the biggest breakthrough of all for practical application and yoga language. There are 12 pairs of nerves in the brain that control motor and sensory function, but one of those nerve pairs is extra special—it takes on double duty and controls both at the same time. It starts from the brain and moves down either side of the neck connecting first at the heart.
Called the vagus nerve, or wandering nerve, this little guy connects with every major organ in the body. The nervous system works by being stimulated through chemical and electrochemical stimulation, but also responds to mechanical stimulation. Thus, when you do a heart opening posture, you’re mechanically stimulating the vagus nerve. When you take a deep breath into the kidneys, you’re mechanically stimulating the vagus nerve. And when you pull your leg into your chest, you’re mechanically stimulating that wondrous nerve.
When this nerve is stimulated, signals are sent to the organs to control function. For example, research now proves that yoga can increase your variable heart rate, which leads to overall greater health. Rather than expecting your heart rate to beat at exactly the same intervals, it is optimal for some variability to occur between each beat (we’re talking thousandths of a second here).
It makes sense when you think about it. If your heart beats with the same amount of time in between each pump, you’ve conditioned your body to perform in a very specific state all the time. What happens when you enter into a new state? You freak out. But, if there is some variability, you’ve actually conditioned your body to respond to a variety of different situations. In other words, you’re able to deal with whatever comes at you. That is why when we backbend and breathe deeply, we stimulate the vagus nerve, which sends signals to the heart to increase variability (motor function).Okee DOKEE. Got it. For someone who has been having weird bouts of hypochondria and anxiety and even had a few panic attacks this calendar year, finding out that I can condition my body to NOT FREAK OUT in a variety of different situations and deal with whatever comes at me is really compelling. Where do I sign up? Oh, right. That YOGA THING I signed up for, unknowingly, when I was 18 and bought Patricia Walden's Yoga for Beginngers VHS (yes, children - VHS) tape.
So my sadhana this week is going to focused on backbending, the heart chakra, and the color GREEN. Wait, who remembers the seed sound for the heart chakra and can tell me! (Oh, how I can reminisce about Devarshi's amazing circle sadhana during YTT with all of that chanting!!! Sooooo amazing! I wish my students wouldn't freak out if I started om-ing up a storm every single class).
And if you take class with me this week, you'll probably see a little more backbending than I normally teach. I got a message in a yoga nidra cloud* a few weeks ago that told me to "do something different" (luckily I hadn't seen Liberal Arts at this point, or my cloud would have been a he's-too-damn-young-to-be-so-strangely-attractive Zac Efron telling me "fortune never smiles on those who say no" - seriously. IT WON'T STOP!) and I've been trying:
- I got my nose pierced. WHAT A REBEL.
- I've made some dietary changes; namely cutting all grains out of my diet except for a little bit of quinoa. For me this basically means exchanging gluten-free bread and pasta for starchy veg like sweet potatoes and squash. I've also cut out cow's dairy and only occasionally have goat's or sheep's milk dairy. It's sort of a paleo-ish-but-OBVIOUSLY-I'm-not-giving-up-wine-and-chocolate/gluten-free hybrid sorta thing. And once a week I cheat, like - FRENCH FRIES cheat).
- I've made exercise changes by increasing the intensity of my intervals and adding back non-yoga strength training.
Who wants to open their heart with me this week? The only requirement is one dance party to Open Your Heart by Madonna, and then you're in the Hilary's Heart-Opening Club. Send me a video of your dance party and you get a PRIZE! I'm going to try to remember to post some links to practices that will help people open their heart at home, and also document a few of the classes that I teach to be used as home practices. I have no idea if anyone has ever done the sequences I post on my blog (see above: Reality Yogi Sequences) but just in case. =)
*I had a friend once get really excited about my zodiac situation (triple-Pisces) and then apologize by saying "sorry I got all woo-woo on you." I had never heard that term, but I liked it. And four years later, I am apparently the "woo-woo" one, because I just typed something about a message from a yoga nidra cloud with complete sincerity. ;)