By Peter Ferko
In yoga class, I’ve been talking about something that came up at a dinner last week. It was an all-yoga teacher table at Saro, where the chef is the husband of teacher Jackie Dawn Logan-Elhalal, with my wife Wendy Newton, our dear friend Rachel Zinman, and her friend John Weddepohl talking tantra, vedanta, and the samadhi of pasta. John said at one point, it all boils down to realizing there’s no separation.
If you accept that premise (yoga does — it translates to ‘union’ or ‘yoking’ it all together) the practices of yoga, or any mindful activity, can be used to help you become aware of our interconnection. The classical greeting, “namaste,” is an affirmation of this premise. Usually it gets translated as the ‘light’ or ‘divine’ in me bows to the same thing in you. But it is actually an opportunity to remember that we’re not separate, that the ‘light’ is me and is you. The August 8 Happiness Homework was about empathy, and having empathy is a big part of the capacity to experience ourselves as one. But to be empathetic, and then to bridge the space between what we experience as “my self” and the Self (as the Upanishads call the interconnected whole) requires what I have been calling “open-heartedness.”
Open-hearted doesn’t mean available to be walked on, dumped on, cried to, or any other one-sided relationship; rather it means to be balanced in the anahata chakra. This heart center is the “middle ground” between the aspect of ourselves that is universal and the aspect that participates in what appears separate. If we are imbalanced in this center, we don’t have an open flow between those two aspects and we end up 1) rajasic, i.e., dominating; forcing things to be our way or 2) tamasic, i.e., withdrawing; being depressed about not getting our way.
While a lot of motivational rhetoric seems to suggest that as you evolve, you’ll get more things to go your way, in fact, you’ll balance the anahata chakra — become open-hearted — and become a master of unconditional love. When you are accepting of what is and are open to the universal perspective — our interconnectedness — you can act from a place of clarity, acceptance, strength, and empathy. So you may or may not do what someone else wants — you may or may not get your way — but the result will not be as important as the experience of the relationship. That kind of interaction is an embodiment of “namaste.”
Try this practice to open your heart: Sit on a block or a cushion and place your hands behind you on the floor. Inhale and your chest will naturally open. This is the rajasic expression of the heart energy. It feels expansive and grand. Now, come back to a neutral seat. Exhale and as you do, let your head hang heavily forward. Your chest collapses and your back rounds. This is the tamasic expression of that energy. It’s the picture of defeat. Between those two extremes is the balance. Explore it in your seat by moving between the two extremes and settling on the in-between posture. Then, as you move through your yoga practice, or your relationships, balance your anahata center to remain gracefully open-hearted.
Filed Under: Blogs
About the Author: Peter Ferko, (www.peterferko.com), writes about finding “Grace” in everyday life for Happiness Series. He pursues happiness on several fronts. He has been practicing yoga for more than 20 years and is a teacher at ISHTA Yoga in New York where he trains new teachers. He is an artist in several media, including writing, photography, music, and graphic design. His latest project is a novel in which the main characters are all looking for a way to gracefully negotiate their lives, and it’s no surprise they are turning to yoga as a path. Peter’s work can be found at www.peterferko.com.