This week’s installment of Yoga Living Project concludes the theme of self care. Read below for a fresh perspective of self-reliance with the heart from cambio teacher Erika de la Cuadra. What fresh perspectives would you like to share with our blog-sphere? Email Austin at
An Effort to Clean up my Heart
Sometimes I think I may look back one year from today and be ashamed and embarrassed about who I was and how I acted. But it’s because I’ll be continuing to try my best, continuing to improve and clean up my act.
...But, what does it really mean to clean up my act? Consider Saucha - I always thought of this Niyama (yoga code for how to treat yourself) as cleanliness. It was first reflected in my life by an attempt to keep the inside of my car clean (that didn’t last long) and I’d pride myself for eating the occasional healthy meal. I’m practicing Saucha, I’d say.
A teacher who knows my heart well (and inspired the following journey into my heart space), Austin Richman, recently referred to Saucha as purity, which I interpreted very differently from cleanliness and, because my mind likes to think I’m right all the time, I immediately disregarded the lesson during the next 60 minute class. But since then I’ve gotten hung up on the juxtaposition of cleanliness and purity. Purity relates to the heart - and I’m big on heart; I try to live in a way in which all of my words and actions stem from love. So now that the concept of purity had my approval and still attached to the idea of cleanliness, I spent a lot of time considering the state of my heart. I’ve slowly opened up to the process of examining its contents, intentions and habits to ensure I am of clean heart and clean thought.
This process of inspection means acknowledging things like desires and attachments, anger and resentment (these took me by surprise the most), and tendencies to misplace blame to protect my ego. It means being honest (with myself first and soon after, others) about feeling left out, overlooked or otherwise having hurt feelings. I also observed cravings like attention and recognition, words of affirmation or other forms of validation.
With acknowledgement of these uncomfortable qualities came a chance to lookout for any sway in my intentions and an opportunity to refocus if needed. Furthermore, I can start to take responsibility for my emotions and experiences so that ultimately I’ll grow self-sufficient with my heart. Talk about empowering for me and more emotionally available for those around me.
By practicing these radical and honest observations of the heart, I can show up to a relationship and not needlessly pull energy from it all the time. I can ask for support by saying I need words of affirmation, or simply (though not easily) state I feel left out. By doing so, I can cut to the chase so I’m not blindly stealing time and energy from those around me by making them work to give me what I can’t ask for.
Notice I’m using the word “can” a lot because, don’t be fooled, I do not have this practice down yet. I’m trying though. And I’m more quite adept at the powerful practice of observation, which is the tool that allows me to venture into murky waters without getting pulled under. From what I’ve learned, observation is the first step to purifying the heart and keeping it clean enough to comfortably live in.
Most often this practice takes the form of writing in my journal where I can ramble until I finally get to the root of the situation. Sometimes it happens in the course of conversation with a trusted friend, because unraveling a concept with a pair of friendly ears around can provide a much needed sounding board to neutralize and normalize the human condition. And there have even been a few times when it happens in the dark of night, when it takes all of my courage to whisper the truth of how I feel, even if silently in my head.
Sometimes this process is painful but sometimes it feels like a huge relief and I can assure you that regardless of my experience when I approach this task, it’s by far the most fruitful act of self-care I’ve learned to practice.
By acknowledging the tendencies in my heart, it doesn’t mean it’s all going to change overnight. It means admitting that I was (and frequently am) wrong, even months or years later. It means owning up to being human, which I sometimes dread so much. It means taking ownership so that shame doesn’t own you.
Now this might sound a lot like Svadhyaya (self-study, the succeeding Niyama) and I don’t disagree that there’s a lot of that going on but the intent behind it is purity of heart, thought and action. For you have a heart to offer up in service, it best be of the highest quality- virtuous, honest and clear.
So, I may look back a year from now and feel embarrassed about how I stumbled through the emotional rough patches this week, but it feels good knowing that I’m trying my best now and knowing I’ll look back with love and grace as I’ll be trying my best then.
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”