Maybe I Don’t Want to Open My Heart

Art by Gosia Janik

Upward facing bow, or urdhva dhanurasana, is a beautiful pose.  Just seeing it makes me sigh with a feeling of joy.  It’s a pose that I want to be able to do, and something that I remember doing as a child, just for fun, when I was the child that rarely ever did anything physical.   But, something isn’t right in my practice when it comes to this pose.  The same thing happens to me with camel pose (ustrasana) and bow pose (dhanurasana), though not quite to the same extent as with wheel.

It’s not that when practice starts I am thinking “oh, I don’t want to do wheel.”  I really don’t think about it until it gets close to backbend time in the class flow.  And, then I start checking how I feel, trying to decide if it’s a good day or a bad day to try one.  I double check my plans after class, knowing that a lot of backbending does seem to affect my ability to sleep (so, if it’s too close to bedtime, maybe I can reasonably opt out?).  I also hope, more than just a little, that the teacher just won’t say anything about doing urdhva dhanurasana at all. And then, we go into bridge pose.  All good.  I can do that.  Not a problem.  But next… DUM DUM DUM, wheel.  Crap.

I bring my hands back by my shoulders, and immediately something feels wrong.  I’m not sure they are quite in the right position.  Why are my fingers pointing off to the side a little.  Should they be?  No, that’s too much in.  Ok, check the elbows.  Fine.  You know, maybe I just won’t go up.  Maybe I’ll just stay right here.  I could stay right here.

And I push up, and my body remembers how to get me into that position.  And then, within a second, I start to feel this struggle in my chest.  I’m pretty sure that I’m still breathing, but there is a sense of body panic.  I immediately start to wonder if I can come back down yet.  I try to focus on what my alignment is like, knowing pretty well that my feet are splaying out and I need to bring them in.  That pulls me together for a second or two, and then the panic comes sweeping back in.  What is that?

Image from My Yoga Online (click for page about U.D.)

I keep wondering whether this is about my physical body or my emotional body.  Is the issue my inability to do a good wheel, or is the issue my fear of opening up my heart, of exposing my soft underside to the world.  Maybe, in this shape, I feel a little bit like a turtle that’s been turned over on its back and all its protection is gone.  Perhaps this is also related to my tendency to round my upper back and pull my shoulders in, creating a little protective cave for my front body.

Or, you know, maybe it’s none of that.  Maybe it’s not about anything psychological at all and my sternum, ribs, and abdomen just don’t like to stretch in that way.  Maybe six or so years of yoga just isn’t enough to get that opened up on me and I need to not over think it and just keep at it.  Or maybe it’s not a pose that is meant for me and I need to stop worry about it.

I just don’t know.  And that, for me, isn’t the most comfortable place to be either.

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8 Responses to Maybe I Don’t Want to Open My Heart

  1. Omgosh! You pretty much express all my thoughts when attempting this pose! So easy to do as a child, struggle of my practice as an adult (this and chaturanga).. there are times in camel when I feel that weird sense of panic in my chest and come out much earlier than others. I guess they say it’s an area I need to work on and open… true true, but in my own time ok? : )

    • theveganasana says:

      Camel was the first placed I noticed it! Camel makes me a little less stressed before I do it, maybe because it’s not such a common pose in every practice? I’m sorry you feel it too, but I will admit that I like not being alone 😉

  2. Thais says:

    Im gonna say its totally psychological. Imgonna say having a fear of opening up is totally normal. I’m also gonna say all of that is ok. One day you will be ready. What’s the rush for right? Xxx

  3. Alyson says:

    Ooooh, true! I think various factors are at play here. Certain people’s bodies perform certain movements more easily. They often ‘like’ doing these sorts of movements. For people whose bodies don’t naturally go into those shapes, they may struggle, either physically or mentally, or both. I haven’t had the panic within wheel or camel, but they’re not poses I ‘like’, although, I can feel the benefits when I do them. I’m trying to do them a bit more often too. I also find it difficult to breathe sometimes when using a yoga bolster – I can feel the body saying “ooh, don’t like this”, yet I know it’s correcting my tendency to curl over/slump forward. We should listen to our own body and maybe try to find a balance between doing something that is physically good (in moderation) and challenging ourselves mentally (feel the fear and do it anyway), yet not OVER doing something that our body is partly saying ‘actually, it’s better if you didn’t do that’. It’s a lifelong learning process!

  4. Maria Simone says:

    I feel very similarly when I try to do wheel. I say “try” because I often decide to opt out. I told myself it was because I was afraid to injure myself-physically. But reading your post is keeping me honest. 🙂

  5. xinus says:

    my eyes filled with tear when i read these words of yours: opening my soft underside to the world- and the story of the turtle. thanks for speaking me out. now i wanna go for it, now i go for it. and you go for it, no running, no tiptoeing, let’s just go for it. shanti

  6. Pingback: The Promise and Peril of Fear, Guilt, and Shame. | elephant journal

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