A good friend mentioned to me that she can’t stand people who are have their hearts too open. There is something mushy and disingenuous about people that walk around with their bleeding hearts on their sleeves. Unless, that is, you have the integrity to support real compassion. Someone who opens his/her heart to connect with others, but doesn’t have the strength to hold onto themselves, often loses themselves in the pain and suffering of others. It is easy to bend over backwards and hurt yourself, if you don’t have the strength to hold yourself up in the process.
A lack of physical integrity in yogic backbends can also make a pose crumble. You need to be able to hold yourself up, before you open your heart up. It is easy to hurt yourself in camel pose, Ustrasana. Having ample flexibility in the body can make this heart revealing pose seem easy. You kneel down, bend over backwards and expose the softest part of yourself, your heart, belly, and throat to the world. It is a full opening. And it can seriously hurt you, if done wrong. Without the strength to back it up, you can over open the front of your body and fall into delicate parts of your spine.
In order to find space between your vertebrae, you need strength. It starts with your foundation. While you are kneeling, you need to be strong in your root. Externally rotating the inner thighs helps to draw down the tail bone. This, in turn, helps you engage mula bandha- your root lock, your connection to your foundation. Solid in your foundation, it is easier to engage uddiyana bandha. Uddiyana bandha draws the deep strength of your transverse abdominals into the supple, fragile, sacral spine. The strength of your core protects your low back by creating space and support.
From the strength of your bandhas comes space between each vertebrae. Instead of focusing on going back (bending over backwards), let yourself grow upwards. Draw space and support from your root and core, in order to open your heart more. Lift out of your low back, and draw your sternum to the sky. Open your heart chakra as you draw energy up through the lower chakras.
Often times this is where people allow strength to wane. But there is a third, equally important bandha that needs to be utilized. The jalandhara bandha is a throat lock. Draw you jaw line back towards your ears. You should be able to still hear the sound of your ujjayi breath. As you lengthen the base of your skull away from the rest of your spine, you can then turn your gaze behind you. If this is done the whole front of the body will open and be supported. You can expose and support yourself.
In life, as in this pose, it takes strength in order to safely open up. Draw yourself in. Connect to your inner strength, your breath, your prana and from there, grow your heart up to the sun. Open to the world. It takes integrity to create true compassion. The path to creating compassionate connections with other is one that leads through the self, and from there into the hearts of others.
First, you must deeply connect with yourself. This means getting grounded in a relatively solid sense of self. I don’t mean that your personality must be resolutely steadfast, but that you need to be comfortable with yourself. Begin by accepting who you are. Support this identity; own it, mess and all. Grow out of this self-love to a place where you can begin to see the mess and the grace in everyone. This is huge, and hard, and can take time. Do not rush this first step. It is possibly the most important. It is the birth of integrity.
Once you accept the good and not-so good in yourself, you can begin seeing it and then accepting it in others. Through the acceptance grow love. But compassion and love, do not stop at an open heart. It grows into your actions, your words. Just like you do not want to over expose your throat in ustrasana, you also do not need to allow your story to vocally outweigh that of others. Learn to listen. Share when it is needed.
Your story will start to meld with the stories of others. Through this, you can begin to see people for who they really are. Witness the world from another angle. Turn your gaze backwards and upside down. Look through you third eye, and actually SEE people. Not as their jobs, their clothes, their outward appearance, but truly as manifested spirit tumbling through this life, and into the next.
The crazy, beautiful thing is this is only the beginning. Once you are rooted in yourself, solid through your core, open in your heart, exposed in all of the right ways, and seeing the world clearly, the possibilities for connection and compassion are limitless. Let yourself grow into and out of yourself.