Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Heartspace Practice

The owner of the studio where I Nia is named Jes (Jessica Morningstar Wolf, actually) and she is...very hard to describe.  Young.  Lovely.  Lithe.  Strong.  Shamanistic.  Intense.  Joyful.  Penetrating.  Intimidating.  Inviting.  Love.

Taking a class from her is an invitation to get opened up.  You don't have to, if you don't want, but you'd be missing out if you didn't.  It's pretty enthralling.

I went to her Nia last Wednesday, and the theme of the class was to focus on the heart.  No biggie, right?  Airy-fairy, new-age stuff, yeah?

Okay, except that about halfway in I experienced a major shift that has stuck with me all week and that I'll try to explain here.

Even though class had only been happening for thirty minutes, it felt like we had been dancing for hours.  Jes must have seen me glance at the clock, or maybe others were looking at the time too, because she laughed and commented on the bending of time to the class.  She said this:  "The only tool we have to slow down time is moving from the heartspace."

Again:  The only tool we have to slow down time is moving from the heartspace.

Engaging.  Being in the present.  Moving from the self.  From love.

I think hearing this is transformative for me because I have struggled so much with feeling like my life is just blowing past.  With everything I do, our family does, the pace of this dromocratic society...it often feels as if I am not at the center of my life.  And this makes me feel angry and frustrated, and also anxious and antsy.  Behaviors I don't really like (HUGE hot fudge sundaes; spending sprees at the thrift store) ensue.

But "moving from the heartspace."  That's something else entirely.  If you know me in person, you know I'm a sloucher.  Like, a lifetime sloucher.  It's something I don't like about myself, and I've tried to change it, but haven't been able to.  It hurts to pull my shoulders back after so many years of slouching; my stomach muscles start to cramp; I feel awkward.  I give up after, oh, about 3 minutes of trying to sit up straight.  A lifetime of my father poking me between the shoulder blades, colleagues telling me that "I'm a pretty girl, why don't you stand up straight?," friends and family lovingly trying to move my recalcitrant shoulder blades into place.  It's all too much.

Moving from the heartspace, though--which is profoundly different from force and manipulation--accomplishes the same thing, just without pain.  For the past week, I've been practicing saying to myself "open your heartspace, Jen."  And the shoulders go back, the stomach muscles contract, and I instantly feel more centered, more present in my body.  It feels nothing short of miraculous.

Metaphorically, too, I think I was sheltering myself by slouching.  Protecting myself from openness and vulnerability.  But spiritually I'm moving past that some, yes?  So it's time my body came along, I think.

I'm not doing this 24 hours a day yet.  The moments before I've had my coffee and when I'm in social settings are particularly challenging for me, because my old patterns of protection and comfort are so ingrained now.  Also, dealing with the children takes me out of myself a bit.  But I feel movement in the areas of posture, openness, and vulnerability in ways I've never experienced before.  And my time feels dramatically more my own.

We know that our minds and bodies are connected.  That just gets clearer and clearer to me as I get older.  But we don't always know how they're connected.  I think I needed a spiritual and emotional reason to open up, and my body would follow.  Or, I needed my heart to step up, and my emotions would follow. 

Either way, it's a new practice for me. 


  1. I think you hit the nail on the head. Walk tall girl. Thank you for sharing...I needed that. I slouch also, I notice it all day long, walking around the office, at social gatherings, etc... It's the same thing, I'm protecting myself from being vulnerable or accepting love from others...not to mention hiding my boobs. I have a really hard time with all of that. The only time I notice I do not slouch, is when I'm working at my sewing machine or doing something crafty with my hands, like knitting, painting. My heartstrings are pulling me open at that point.

  2. That is SO true. I totally forgot about that--I remember being so embarrassed as a young girl when I was getting boobs. I hid inside big sweatshirts for most of my adolescence, and that is when I started slouching, for sure. I think, too, my personality was/is big, so I've always tried to compensate by shrinking my body. Those habits have stuck.

    But I've never noticed your slouching. Isn't that odd? I was probably to0 self-absorbed or self-conscious about my own :).

  3. Guilty of slouching. Thanks for the insight!

  4. This was a lovely, courageous post, Jen. We've been talking about the heart in yoga class much, esp. in light of the current Bodyworlds exhibit (which is all about the heart) at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. I like "heartspace" as a idea...a place that can be opened and filled...a gentle reminder of this miraculous muscle that works and works and works and is so often overlooked. Because I can't find a copy of this particular poem that I can just cut and paste (durned copyright infringement!) I am sending you this link to Jane Hirshfield's "The Lives of the Heart" instead:
    Read the title poem.
    And look for the book as it winds its way to you...I do believe you'll find it heartspace expansive. all love...meege

  5. Beautiful, Meghan--thank you.

  6. Very nice mofizzle. I know...flow. Quin is such a good teacher. We were in traffic in Baltimore, which is one of the deeper rings of hell, when a flashing traffic light announced we needed to move into a single lane. I shouted "Single Lane???!!" with nothing but anger and violent fantasies of death. Quin, who was propped in his car seat and announcing the color and shape and size of every vehicle he saw, shouted with glee, "Single lane!!" Like it was a gift.

    Oh yes...Q...I'm here with you and O and Sarah and the world folds out before us. And for once, not so damn fast.

    It was a good moment to straighten above the steering wheel instead of crouching and cowering to its combustible authoritarianism.