Sunday, July 20, 2014

Finding the Heart

I do not usually like to point out on the blog when it has been so long since I have posted, but right now feels like the right time to do just that. The reason is because it has felt fake to write about health and healing when my body so often feels like it is giving out. It feels disingenuous to write about breathing when I fear taking a deep breath because I do not know if it will send shooting pain down one, or both, legs. And ever since a dear friend took her own life because of chronic pain, this blog just seemed a little ridiculous.

Until now.

Recently I began doing work that focuses almost exclusively on being in the heart. Yoga has always helped me turn inward, but this specific practice focuses exclusively on the heart. 

Physically I see people close off their hearts all the time. We sit at computers with stooped shoulders, tightening our chests and making it impossible to breathe into the heart space. I used to think, therefore, that the easiest way into the heart was to open that space. I used to think that meant backbends and lifting the heart toward the ceiling.

But then I found a quiet practice of turning inward. By no means have I mastered the art of living from the heart space. In fact, I have not even mastered the art of understanding what it is telling me. But I have learned two valuable lessons. First, we can only live from the heart by getting quiet. And second, the heart holds the answers.

As a society we spend so much time rationalizing what we do. We think through problems and ideas and hope that we get the answers through logic. We trust medicine and science as though they hold the answers to everything when in reality they are art forms And when these systems fail, we are told there is nothing to be done. Issues become chronic. They become chronic until they are not . . . and the research on this is in the book Mind Over Medicine, discussed on this blog here.

Closing off the heart is not only physical. It is something we do because we do not live in a society that promotes opening it up. We are told to ignore what it tells us and to listen to logic; we are told to be logical. Yoga is okay as long as we talk about anatomy, but are we really able to go deeper? Maybe for brief moments, but are we able to take the plunge and live there? When we close off the heart, we close off our connection and our chance to move forward. And it takes more than stretching it out and lifting it up. It takes slowing down enough to listen.

I have failed on this blog to speak from the heart at times. There were moments where I tried, but most of them involved living through a natural disaster.  But on the day of the Christchurch earthquake, I saw community. I saw people coming together because they wanted stability. But nowhere did I mention heart on that post. Looking back, that is what I saw that day, but I was not ready to share those words here yet. Almost 3.5 years later, and I finally understand that what happens when we are shaken to our core by disaster is that we become vulnerable. And when we become vulnerable and scared, and before our rational minds kick back into gear, we listen to our hearts. And that is when we connect. There are studies that people do better in natural disasters and even war zones than they do when being neglected. The reason is because people support each other through war zones and natural disasters whereas the very definition of neglect is a lack of support. 

This has always intrigued me intellectually, but it also pains me. I see this neglect every single day. And I remember the trauma from the earthquake, but much more than that, I remember being in my heart that day. There are so many people doing amazing heart work in the world, but it is isolated, and often done in secret, because these are not issues we can discuss in public. The heart is the antithesis of rational, so therefore the heart, we are told, cannot be rational. I think we are wrong. I think the only thing we can trust is the heart. Not our whims, our heart. And that takes true listening. That takes understanding.

From now on, this blog will be written more from the heart. It will be about learning to come inward, learning to find true compassion, and learning to listen to that which can help lead us to a better world. I started this blog because I instinctively knew lawyers needed yoga. I write it as academically and as formal as I can in order to make it sound smart and have lawyers and other professionals take it seriously. Also, that is how I talk (yeah, I’m a nerd).

I always thought it would be too much to write from the heart, to tell stories, and to connect for real. I was scared people would not take heart-centered discussion seriously. But that is all yoga is. In Chinese medicine the center of the body is around the belly because when doing Chinese practices, we stand. But in yoga, the center of the body is in the heart because when we meditate, which is the truest form of yoga, we sit. And when we sit, the heart is our center. 

The question, I guess, is whether people will jump off this bridge with me? It is not going to be easy for me. I can talk about anatomy and stability and even community. But the heart, in all its glory, has always been a little off limits. But if there is anything that makes yoga real and powerful, it is that it helps us drop down and into a place of listening. And when we truly listen, we find our heart. And when we find our heart it guides us somewhere great.

Is anyone willing to join me?


© Rebecca Stahl 2014, all rights reserved.

The post, Finding the Heart, first appeared on Is Yoga Legal.


  1. Thank you for this very well stated invitation to what I like to call unconditioning the heart. Blessings on your journey.

  2. Awesome post .i hope everybody will like your post

  3. Absolutely beautiful!!! Awesome!!! Awe inspiring!!!

    From David Whyte:


    Enough. These few words are enough.
    If not these words, this breath.
    If not this breath, this sitting here.

    This opening to the life
    We have refused
    Again and again
    Until now.

    Until now.

  4. Wow is right. Quite beautiful Rebecca.