Stretching Myself

After a long absence, I returned to a Saturday morning yoga class this week. I can’t remember why I ever stopped going, but regretted it as soon as we did our first downward facing dog.
 
It was disappointing to realize how deconditioned I’ve become. Poses that I held only two years ago were now executed with muscles that quivered after only a few seconds. And my balance was hard work to maintain.
 
And we won’t even discuss the soreness I felt the next morning, or even worse, the morning after THAT!
 
While I followed my yoga instructor’s directions, allowing my body to yield to the adjustments she suggested, I felt muscles lengthen, and it was then and only then, that I realized how inflexible and contracted they’d become.
 
The good news was that after an hour and fifteen minutes, I left the class feeling like I could stand taller and straighter. I took deeper breaths, and felt a calmness that even lazy, summer days did not elicit.
 
Practicing yoga develops and highlights the need for strength and flexibility. But that’s only half the equation for health and well-being. Yoga cultivates in the body what we also need to cultivate in our minds and hearts.
 
Not that yoga ignores the mind and heart because it surely doesn’t. But I find the benefits to my body are more immediate, and longer lasting. At least in this stage of my practice. Exercising the mind and heart is a little trickier, and for me, requires additional tools and strategies.
 
Muscles reveal themselves as contracted once they are put into positions that are taxing. So what are the signs that the mind and heart are similarly contracted?
 
Well, a contracted and inflexible mind cannot entertain differences of opinion. It relies solely on the information and personal experiences acquired along its own particular journey.
 
It is a mind that is not self-reflective.
 
It is a mind filled with judgment.
 
It is a mind unable to think of novel solutions or envision the opportunities that initially present as problems.
 
It is a mind that does not make room for possibilities because it is always sure of outcomes.
 
A contracted and inflexible heart is another matter. It is often hardened or guarded. Perhaps it is protecting unhealed wounds. Maybe it is nurturing unforgiveness.
 
Such a heart may seem distant, or angry, and in many cases, is often remarkably fragile.
 
It is a heart that can’t empathize with another’s struggles, and is sometimes bitter with righteous victimhood.
 
I believe it’s safe to say that none of us would want to have a contracted mind or heart.
 
We work the yoga mat to develop flexibility, stability, and stamina in our bodies. How can we give our inner beings attention as well? They too need to be stretched and strengthened. And just like our muscles, sometimes we don’t even know how rigid they’ve become until we allow ourselves to expand in new ways.
 
I’ve already written about how reading has changed my heart and mind. It’s broadened my world and changed who I am. You can read more about that here and here.
 
But staying rooted in faith keeps both my mind and heart open more than any other single practice.
 
Over the years, going to church, studying the bible, reading devotionals, joining or leading a ministry, and belonging to a small bible study group have all helped to deepen my faith.
 
So how can a strong faith stretch the mind and heart?
 
This is how it shakes down for me.
 
God tells us that He hears our prayers so I pray for an open heart and mind. I let God know that I want to be open and receptive to His word, and to all that life has to offer. I ask the Holy Spirit to speak truth into my mind and heart.
 
And then I listen.
 
I listen to gifted pastors who can make the bible come alive.
 
I read the bible and listen to the verses that practically jump off the page and speak directly to me.
 
I draw closer to people and listen to their stories, widening the scope of the human experience beyond the boundaries of my own life.
 
Respecting the fact that God has a plan for each of us, I try to let go of expectations that any part of your journey look like mine. There is expansion of heart and mind inherent in accepting people for who they are and where they are in their lives.
 
Just as my muscles require constant attention to remain strong and flexible, so do my heart and mind. Old habits of being judgmental, envious, unforgiving or bitter can easily reemerge if faith is not constantly developed and nurtured.
 
And because I accept this reality, you can be sure I’ll be back on the yoga mat this coming Saturday. And opening my bible every morning.
 
Scripture for Reflection:
 
Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.
Luke 24:45
 
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’
Matthew 22:37
 
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
John 13:34-35
 
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
 
Jeremiah 29:11-13

2 Comments
  • Tom
    September 26, 2016

    On the physical side I can honestly say I share your pain (right now actually). After a 2 month absence from the gym I went back Saturday. I dread standing now because my legs will be reminding me that they were part of Saturday’s ‘welcome back to exercise’ routine. Your writing was a reminder that I need to get back to exercising my mind and heart as well. My first thought was that ‘my heart is fine but my mind needs work’. It didn’t take long (seconds actually) to realize how wrong that statement was. They both go together. If I let my mind stagnate how is my heart to grow? They are so closely intertwined. As always – thanks for sharing…

    • Jo-Ann
      September 26, 2016

      Yes, mind and heart go together! Sometimes I find my analytical mind can influence my heart if I let it. I prefer it be the other way around! Thanks for reading and commenting.

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