E x p a n d

E  x  p  a  n  d  .  .  .

This word has become so poignant for me lately. It started a few months ago when this word had embedded itself in my heart and mind; like a planted seed, it grew and now I feel as though it’s coming into bloom.

Just recently I’ve started attending Yoga classes and, one thing that’s become clear to me, it’s all about opening up – our muscles, our breathing, our bodies, and our minds. Yoga is about widening your perspective spiritually, too, to encompass everyone and not just yourself…

When I was younger, I used to go Horse Riding quite often and I remember how, when the horse got chaotic beneath you, the only way to remain in control and stay on was to open up. This completely goes against our human instinct as, when you’re on the back of an animal that’s freaking the fuck out, the first thing you want to do is curl into a foetal position and protect yourself. However, in anticipating a nasty fall like that and responding to it as if it was guaranteed to happen…well, you can imagine how the odds of falling off greatly increased.

No – in order to ensure your chances of staying in the saddle were maximised, you had to expand – to go against your instincts – keeping your arms at your side, gently pulling on the reigns, rooting your feet in the stirrups, and maintain an upright posture. As you pulled on the reigns, whilst remaining rooted, your chest would expand sideways as your shoulder blades pulled back. It was an experience in vulnerability in action and it scared the shit out of me everydamntime.

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The same thing applies to life. We so often experience the chaos of a situation and we feel compelled to shrink away; to adopt a foetal position and protect ourselves from the imagined inevitabilities we feel are certain to happen. We can do this physically by locking ourselves away in our homes, shutting ourselves in and keeping everything/everyone else out, after a tough day at work or when we have been hurt. Or someone has insulted us so we hide an aspect of our personalities  away from the world in shame. What happens, essentially, is that we crouch, guard, or hide our authentic selves away as a means of protection until we become smaller, and smaller…and smaller…All in the hope that we will not get hurt or, if we do, we can minimise the impact by minimising ourselves.

This doesn’t help us in the long run. We become smaller and weaker; we begin to lose sight of our real power and authority within us. We are bruised and we are aching and it hurts…

But what would happen if we chose to expand?

The message alive in me lately is be here now and many of us, when situations get a little crazy (just like that freaking the fuck out horse), don’t want to be in the moment. We want a way out – in our minds, we have already fallen, and we follow that primal instinct to protect. So we shrink and we curl up in our foetal positions and numb the pain with alcohol, sex, drugs, food, and anything else we can get our hands on.

But what would happen if we remain with our pain?

When we adopt the instinctive foetal position, we cower in the shadow of events that have not passed and may never pass.

As we choose to sit with our pain, we expand. As we begin to expand, we firmly root ourselves and say “OK, Life. Come at me. Let’s have it.” A tree faces many storms, many winds, much rain, and is fully involved in the chaotic weathers and seasons of life. It remains rooted and digs deeper, and deeper, and deeper…as it does, so it can withstand more.

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How about, instead of running to our bedrooms in the midst of a heated argument, we remain seated, opening ourselves to our emotions and other people’s emotions? Opening our ears to truly hear and understand?
Or, instead of feeling the anger rise and imploding on ourselves, we acknowledged these emotions with a deep breath – expanding our lungs with energy  and using our emotions like a compass, guiding us to what we need in that moment?

As we expand, we feel a little more courageous – it’s why we encourage people to ‘fake it until you make it!’ It’s been suggested that by adopting a confident pose with your head high and shoulders back, your mind follows and you begin to feel more confident.

Coming back to the Yoga; when I was in class this week, we worked on stretching and breathing. Expanding our lungs fully with air and opening our bodies. It only revealed to me how stiff and entirely unflexible I was. She told us that our nearest relatives on this planet, Bonobos, swing from trees and utilise every limb. Humans, on the other hand, have sucha  limited range of movement that the entirety of our daily actions span the size of a shoe box.

The first time we fully stretch out and expand in Yoga it almost feels unnatural; it pulls, it aches, and it highlights our stiff spots. We went to immediately contract because of the discomfort it causes. But, the more we practic, the more natural the range of movements become until we reach our full potential.

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In the same way, when we choose to constrinct and shrink ourselves, we limit ourselves. Our comfort zone reduces in size, how much space we take up in the moment, and limit the potential to discover new strengths.

So, let’s choose to expand. When life gets a little crazy, we can choose to open ourselves up in the moment and tame the wild horse. Let’s choose to take up the space we inhabit in each and every circumstance by being fully here now, no matter how uncomfortable it may feel. We will find that we have the strength to sit with difficulty, with pain, and with joy and happiness, too. The more we practice, the more we unlock our full potential and find an inner power we never knew we had.

E  x  p  a  n  d

NB: Please do not misread this post – this is aimed at day-to-day, low-level difficulties that we all face. This isn’t to say remain in a difficult, life-threatening, or emotionally traumatic experience; nor is it revisiting triggering emotional experiences that could hurt you. In those situations, you need to do the right thing and keep yourself safe. 

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