Learning how to let down your guards and defense mechanisms so that you can be vulnerable enough to love and receive love is often one of the most profound experiences students have while participating in Finding The One (my online group coaching program).
This week, I’m interviewing Amy Cronise-Mead, the co-founder of YOGADHARMA, and inviting her to share her wisdom on how to use yoga to open your heart and tap into its tenderness so that you can experience the amazing strength and confidence that comes from releasing yourself from past anguish.
Amy is known for her commitment “to teaching a yoga that cultivates kindness, wisdom, and ultimate happiness.” She and her husband are also co-founders of the Sukha Gomukha Fund, dedicated to helping dairy cows live out their natural lives.
Bari: The process of allowing yourself to open your heart and tap into it tenderness is a really important part of the Meet to Marry™ method. Can you tell us about the heart from your perspective as a yogini?
Amy: I love that that’s your focus, because you’re really asking people to step into their potential. Of course when we are evolving and stepping into our own potential, we meet others who are brave enough to do the same.
In essence that evolution is the whole point of yoga. In the West, so often we see it as a ‘good workout,’ or some relaxing stretching. It is both of those things, but what the word ‘yoga’ means is ‘union.’ It’s a practice that helps us to be more fully alive in our bodies, more conscious of our thoughts (the good, the bad, and the ugly!) and more available with our hearts. The practice is an opportunity to integrate, which is just a fancy way to say that we can become more fully ourselves! That, of course, includes our hearts, and the potential that we each have, for love, is greater than we know.
Bari: Sometimes we’re not really aware that our heart is closed or hardened by past experiences. Are there any physical signs that indicate our heart is starting to become sealed off or toughened?
Amy: Physically, it’s all relative. When we look in the mirror and notice our shoulders are rounding forward protectively around our heart compared to other people, well, there are a myriad of factors that can contribute to that. But if you look in the mirror and notice these changes relative to YOU, then that’s a sign that there’s something worth investigating.
We can also see the signs in our actions. We can start to notice – Do we look people in the eyes? Do we really listen? Do we stay present and feeling when we interact with each other? When the heart is armored, there is a certain numbness, that can actually feel quite comfortable, but that numbness denies us the potential we have as fully present feeling beings.
Where we really see signs that we are closing off the full potential of our hearts is in our thoughts.
When we see someone in pain of any kind, emotional, physical, mental, and we ignore it, or shut down, that is a very direct closing off of the heart. When we get defensive or blame others, that too is a closing off of the heart. Whenever we feel lonely and disconnected from the world around us, all we have to do is re-open to the world, get curious about other people’s experiences, and, in an instant, we can step back towards that freedom of an open heart. It can reverse in one moment.
Bari: A lot of people feel that letting their guard down is foolish or that they’re going to be really weak and vulnerable if they open up their hearts. What is your perspective on these fears? What advice do you have for single men and women who feel this way?
Amy: It’s the only way! If you want someone who is loving, if you want someone who is honest, who is emotionally available, affectionate (we could go on and on, right?) the only way to find someone with those qualities is to BE loving, to BE honest, to BE affectionate to others. You will then see those qualities coming back to you.
Loving is a courageous journey because we will be hurt, whether by someone we’ve been on three dates with, or by a partner of 20 years – there’s no way around it – sometimes we are hurt. That’s part of the human experience. But if we know that we can get through heartache, we can feel it, and survive it, and bravely choose to stay open in a grounded way? Then we have a chance of finding those others who are mature enough to know that they too, can stay open, stay vulnerable.
Bari: How can yoga help us start softening and opening ourselves up?
Amy: Well, yoga starts as a physical practice, one that doesn’t demand much self-inquiry. Do the poses. Breathe. Feel. That’s it. The beauty is that just moving the body with the breath starts to release any physical holdings. The next step is choosing to stay conscious and present (as any teacher worth their salt will remind you to do, often!) That willingness to be present while feeling intense sensations in the body will open us, physically, and in more subtle ways. The sensations can be pleasurable, or sometimes NOT; they can feel like hard work! But we get very practiced at staying present and open with whatever the experience is. That cultivates an openness grounded in strength.
The strength piece here matters. It’s too easy to think “oh I’ll turn into some wishy-washy blubbering emotional mess if I start all this ‘opening my heart stuff.’” The point is not to become super needy! The point is to become available enough that we can give love and receive it too. That requires a steadfastness, a groundedness. Yoga helps us develop that too.
Bari: Are there a few asanas you recommend for opening our hearts and getting in touch with our tenderness?
Amy: Oh yes! Traditionally, backbends and shoulder openers are poses that start to get in to any physical or subtle holding around the heart. Here’s a video where I demonstrate two poses that you could hold and relax in for minutes each at a time, that can encourage heart opening.
Bari: Okay, I’ve got to ask you about the Sukha Gomukha Fund. I’m a major supporter of animal rights and my heart aches whenever I see animals suffering. How is it related to your yogic practice and what inspired you to start it?
Amy: Sukha Gomukha in Sanskrit means the ‘Face of a Happy Cow,’ and it is one very small piece of the puzzle for us. Sukha Gomukha very simply funnels financial support to the few farms that allow dairy cows to live out their natural lives. What does this have to do with yoga? The first principle in the ancient wisdom teachings of yoga is ‘ahimsa’ which means non-harming or non-violence. This applies to how we practice, so that we don’t cause harm to our own bodies, or our students’, but also to how we choose to live on this planet. We see violence in so many ways in the world. To have a cow produce milk for an entire life only to be sent to slaughter when milk production ends? Well, to us that is an unkindness worth working to change. One of many. We are just trying to make a difference one being at a time. One cow at a time. One person at a time. One heart at a time. It doesn’t have to be major to make a difference.
The benefit of working to uplift other beings lives is that it also uplifts our own lives. To be of service in the world makes us happier, and draws others to us who are of the same mind.
But there are SO many ways to practice non-violence. More than we can imagine. This is one very small way.
Bari: On a daily basis, I’m moved by the unconditional love, sweetness and sensitivity of our rescued pet family-our dog Sammy and 4 cats from the streets of Jerusalem. It’s the way they give and love that can teach how we need to be in relationships. Can you share a story from your experience with Sukha Gomukha Fund that was moving for you and which can serve an example of generosity in relationships?
Amy: I think that this video, on Sukha Gomukha and features my kind and wise husband will actually accomplish that!
Bari: Thank you so much for this amazing interview. I’ve learned so much!