Amongst all the hype about the possible danger of injury in yoga, one of the dangers never addressed is that of opening yourself up, becoming vulnerable and susceptible to too much love.
How can you possibly have too much love? Good question. Technically, I don’t think you can. I think the more love you allow yourself to feel and freely give, the better.
The continued and sustained practice of yoga allows us to see ourselves and our larger journey in each moment. In so doing, we are able to forgive ourselves more easily—life is long and it is much more fulfilling if we allow ourselves leeway to make mistakes, to be selfish on occasion and, temporarily, to become blinded and distracted by shiny objects along the way.
Allowing ourselves this space makes us more compassionate and more forgiving of others’ so-called failings. If we can see the light in ourselves, even when at our worst, we cannot help but see it in others, even if we’re offended by their behavior.
After all, everyone reacts differently to fear. That’s the upside of opening the heart through yoga and mindfulness. However, you can be too open. An open, compassionate heart is a wonderful asset to a fulfilled life, but if you’re not protecting yourself, then it’s too easy to be hurt and become disillusioned.
Think of it this way: have you ever stubbed your toe?
I’m talking screaming-out-loud-pulling-out-every-evil-word-in-the-English-language type of stubbing.
Yes? Then you’ll know how paranoid you get about hitting that toe again, that you walk around eyeing every piece of rogue furniture in the house, every crack in the sidewalk, all paranoid and closed off.
Inevitably, because you’re focusing so forcefully on the vulnerability of that toe, you hit it again.
Conversely, had you taken the proper precautions—bundled it up mindfully so that if it did receive another bump it could survive (more or less) no worse for wear—you wouldn’t have spent those last few days walking around, wreathed in fear.
The heart is the same way.
For example, I recently heard this story about polar bears, their disappearing habitat and what (if anything) can be done to save them.
I found myself in despair thinking about the polar bears. I imagined how frightening it must be to have a familiar landscape disappear, to wonder how to feed oneself and one’s children.
I was left not with a feeling of hope that people are out there tackling the problem, but feeling that I alone had to get out there and solve the polar bear crisis because nothing should be allowed to suffer.
It just hurts too much to be so helpless.And then I stopped.
Sadly, this issue doesn’t end with polar bears. Hundreds of species face extinction. I can’t go out and save them all personally—though that’s what my heart wants.
No, there’s a difference between having an open heart and allowing that heart to break every time you can’t make a substantial difference in the life of something or someone you love.
Instead, it’s important to allow that empathy to trigger us, to inspire us.
Yes, it’s painful. Yes, there is so much to do, but the question is where to start? The key is not to lose yourself in a selfish expression of pity, as heartfelt as it may be, but to use that pain and that love to move you to action.
So, what can I do about polar bears?
Well, I can make a donation to the World Wildlife Fund. I can write letters. I can pray to the universe. I can meditate.
Does this make the polar bears’ plight less painful? No, not really. But it’s not an obsessive, fathomless despair, either.
Despair is the result of love without action; when we can apply action to a situation, to a cause, something clicks in our hearts. We feel no less love, but we do feel more control. As any teenager can tell you, uncontrolled love is nothing if not exhausting and all-consuming.
So practice yoga. Open your heart. Feel love and feel pain—but don’t allow that pain to close your heart.
There is so much love needed in this world; love spurs us to act. Action, in any size and in any quantity, is the only thing that has ever changed anything.
Amy Jirsa is a writer, wanderer, yoga instructor and master herbalist. She makes her home at her studio, Quiet Earth Yoga, in Lincoln, Nebraska and on her blog. And if that’s not enough, you can also find her at Twitter @QuietEarthYoga or on Facebook (Quiet Earth Yoga).