The Gift Of An Open Heart

holiday yoga

The winter holiday season—whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or solstice—is a celebration of light within darkness. It’s a time of year associated with friendship, abundance, gifting, and other joys. Tragically, the darkness within that light has come to include seasonal depression, family drama, and even violence, from a mall in Oregon to an elementary school in Connecticut.

In the wake of this most recent tragedy, we are left with many questions. We ask ourselves how and where violence arises (derangement? disconnect? unmet expectations?), but even if we examine the causes of suffering, we may not be comforted. More important is how we will respond. There will be those who say we should arm ourselves. And even the most peace-loving among us may experience the impulse to armor in the metaphoric sense—to contract or withdraw, to harden our defenses to protect ourselves from harm. In the Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna’s inner battle begins with the impulse to withdraw.

Krishna counsels Arjuna to step onto the battlefield, to engage in life, and his lessons are the basis of the Gita. In his beautiful commentary and translation, Ecknath Easwaran presents the Gita as a how-to manual for ending suffering through the practice of yoga.

Of the yogic methods outlined in the Bhagavad Gita, perhaps the most relevant during the holiday season is Bhakti Yoga, the yoga of devotion.

Bhakti Yoga incorporates several practices, including kirtan (singing), selfless service, remembrance of the Divine, and making offerings. We perform all of these actions at Christmas, from singing hymns to lighting candles, but the key to Bhakti lies within the niyama (observance) of ishvara pranidhana, surrender to the Divine. This surrender isn’t “giving up.” Whether your sense of the Divine is a higher power or the higher Self within, this form of surrender requires engagement rather than contraction, softening rather than armoring, giving to (offering) rather than giving in (withdrawing).

Any action, from preparing a meal to performing an asana, can be imbued with the spirit of Bhakti and offering. In Virabhadrasana II (Warrior Pose), for example, when we open and offer our hearts in a physical sense (by breathing fully and uplifting the torso), the body teaches us to surrender in the metaphysical sense, to become spiritual warriors by surrendering our actions, thoughts, and heart to the divine. No gift is greater than the gift of one’s deepest self.

However you approach this holiday season, your yoga practice can be a touchstone. Be the spiritual warrior who steps onto the field in spite of fear. Surrender the armor of your ego (the part that sees separation by measuring or judging or limiting). Open your heart and shine, like the light in the darkness. There is risk in becoming soft and open, but engaging with life and surrendering the self—to each other, to one’s Ishta Devata—is how we become stronger. As D. H. Lawrence wrote, “We’ve got to live, no matter how many skies have fallen.”

How will you give of yourself this holiday season? How will you open your heart and respond to the recent tragedy?

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