At a time when all of us are trying to be strong, to push through, keep our chins up, stay resilient, there are other voices out there that I wish were stronger and more powerful.
These are the voices that are telling you to be kind and compassionate and to practise self-care, be more compassionate, to listen to others, or even to yourself, your body. To sit through the discomfort of letting go of what no longer serves you. But most of all, to find wellness and to work towards thriving. Wouldn’t we all prefer thriving over struggling?
Which brings me to the concept of ‘heart-openers’.
Heart-openers are poses widely used in yoga to “open our hearts”, inviting acceptance, openness and love in. These practices open us up to the self-care and compassion I’m talking about.
Traumatic and challenging life experiences cause us to place a psychological protective shield around our heart-space, unconsciously. That may have been necessary for us at a time in our lives, but what happens is that we forget we already have that metaphorical layer of protection and every time there’s a new event, we add a layer. Eventually we start to struggle under the weight of our unwillingness to be vulnerable, sometimes with dire consequences that are not just emotional, but physical.
If you’ve been – or are – there, you’ll hear people around you mentioning your changed behaviour or show concern about your stress levels. Perhaps someone who has been through the mill themselves, has suggested Life Coaching to you? Let me guess. You reacted to the suggestions of meditation, nature, stillness, with a dialogue that goes something like, “I need to get myself a Life Coach? I’d prefer someone who actually understands the sh*t I have to deal with every day”?
I’m both those coaches: the one that will give you the list of self-care practices and the one who survived the same sh*t you’re going through – all because I had my own coach who never stopped chipping away at my protective layers. Now I’m that annoying ball of energy who can’t contain her wellbeing.
Let me tell you, it is NOT impossible for you to get there.
More than one of my clients has put up barriers to what they call the ‘she- wa she-wa’ stuff. So let’s get scientific, if that’s more your language.
You’re the poster child for stress because you’ve spent too long being run by two parts of your brain: firstly, the amygdala, which is responsible for fight/flight/freeze reactions, in response to any sized trigger from an annoying moth to a tough negotiation. The amygdala’s biggest shortfall is that it can’t tell the difference between tiny annoyances and potential disasters.
Secondly, you’ve had your basal ganglia hard at work. This part of the brain is in charge of motor control and, emotional and addictive behaviours, keeping you in a constant state of acquisition and reward-seeking. There’s no difference between an addiction to work, chocolate or your cell phone: in every case you’re reacting to a need for instant gratification and constant reward.
On the plus side, your basal ganglia can serve you immensely well in the highly pressurized and cut throat world of business: it drives you to succeed. But taken to the extreme, it becomes your standard operating mode and you become blind to the signs of burnout and trauma. You never reach the point of ‘enough’ and that’s a dangerous space to be in.
The wonderful modern discoveries that the heart and the brain are inextricably connected, makes for another essay. Right now, know that opening your heart and training a different part of your brain to grab the reins of power, work to the same end. When you work with a skilled coach, your pre-frontal cortex (the executive functioning part of your brain) learns to activate. When this happens, you tap into your inner wisdom and develop an aspiration towards self-mastery – working from the inside out. You recognise your thoughts, your stumbling blocks and your triggers. You take back power and control over them, rather than leaving them to control you. It’s the space where, ironically, by being more in the present you’re able to more effective in the future. You get taken out of the proverbial woods, so that you can actually identify – and appreciate – the trees.
You have choices.
One of them is between allowing our turbulent times (which no doubt have you numbed with exhaustion by now) to define you as a that overwhelmed human, or grabbing the opportunity to discover your humanity. Your humanness.
It’s not comfortable. But transformation never is.
Let me introduce you to my favourite books amongst the plethora available on the market, on these subjects. Pick any one of these, simply open them at any page. Your heart is one of steel if you don’t find yourself touched by them and moved towards new behaviour.
- I Wrote This for You – Iain S. Thomas: a collection of poignant, thoughtful prose and poetry.
- The Boy the Mole, the Fox and the Horse – Charlie Mackesy: illustrated, nibble-sized pieces about hope, friendship and vulnerability
- Home Body – Rupi Kaur: a collection of warm, honest conversations to have with yourself
For those of you who are not yet ready to start your journey with a life coach, here @heartmindonline.org are some practical activities you can immerse yourself in – these are not all heart openers but activate your prefrontal cortex and in so doing, pave the way to breaking down the defensive layers and tapping into your inner sage.
If you want to explore coaching – contact me to set up an obligation- and fee-free introductory session.