This month I am reminded of the courage it takes to continue to open our hearts in faith, even when we have been pained by loss or heartbreak. There is nothing more heartbreaking than being faced with the inevitable: our mortality, and the remembrance that life is impermanent. This is a reality we deal with each day, and yet the desire to live must carry within it a gratitude of remembering or the faith of forgetting.
Though my life had been touched by cancer — my brother was diagnosed with testicular cancer when he was in his 20s and my father with lymphoma a decade ago — my very first experience of someone living within the constraints of cancer was one of my students, a woman who was dealing with breast cancer. It was so difficult for me to fathom how she would show up to my class daily, with her husband and sometimes one of her three young girls. Sporting a kerchief, she would head right to the front of the class and put her whole heart into it. I was always amazed at her spunk and positivity. She is a breast cancer survivor today.
Though he is no longer with us, I remember what an example my father was for me. He was the person who brought yoga into my life when I was a child. I thought that he was invincible. It seemed he could do anything. He had mastered some of the most difficult yoga asanas and pranayamas. He was strong and flexible, and had a positive, yet aggressive nature.
In the end, it was my father’s yoga practice that really struck me. His ability to show up at the mat on a daily basis, even as he was dying, was completely inspiring. He would say, “Other than this cancer, this is the healthiest I’ve ever been.” He would also say that the yoga helped to alleviate the symptoms of the cancer and the chemotherapy. One of the greatest gifts he said he received in his last days was the gift of receiving. How open his heart had become to others during this vulnerable time.
What a gift, to show up as we are. Today is a new day. This is the day that I have. Exactly as I am. Right now. Today I show up, brokenhearted … and full of life. How many mornings have I woken up and taken this day for granted when life was just too much? I often feel too vulnerable with my heartbreaks (and I have many). But how to open up and offer my vulnerability to the Universe and give thanks for another day, that is the lesson yoga offers.
As the years go on, I find my shoulders creeping forward just a bit more, perhaps as protection from the inevitable, my human vulnerability. I have protected my heart, physically, by caving my shoulders and my chest in. So as a daily practice, I find a way to roll my shoulders back and down, to lift my heart to the sky and dunk my head back, opening my throat and surrendering to the heavens. Thank you. Thank you, Universe, for another day. Thank you for this heartbreak. Thank you for this cancer, and for another opportunity to have faith. Thank you for another day of forgetting. Thank you for another day of remembering those who have shown me the strength of opening.
To open your heart and celebrate vulnerability and the strength that comes from acknowledging it, try poses such as Up Dog, Sphynx, Cobra, Camel and Wheel. I also like connecting with the beating of the heart in Supta Bada Konasana, my father’s final pose into his last days.