One of the most valuable skills we learn through practicing yoga is how to feel calm inside a storm, how to be strong and steady and yet still “go with the flow”. We learn to balance opposing physical actions to find a sweet, spacious middle ground. We practice balancing “activity” and “passivity” (or, better yet, “receptivity”) inside the poses and in life. During the hectic bustle of the holidays, it often feels like there’s no time to be passive—got to get it all done! Here I offer a way to find a bit more balance without sacrificing anything on your to-do list.
In the poses we actively engage certain muscles to align and stabilize the pose. At the same time, we seek to be receptive to the sensations the body sends back to the brain. We then analyze that information and make adjustments to find a safe posture with the right amount of challenge. For most of us, telling our bodies what to do comes more naturally than hearing the quiet messages it sends…until those messages get too loud (painful) to ignore.
When we are active (busy, focused) we feel in control. When we are receptive (quiet, open) there is a sense of vulnerability. We humans are creative and have all kinds of ways to avoid feeling vulnerable, but in doing so, we block everything out—including opportunities to feel love and connection. The holidays are chock-full of togetherness, so there’s no better time to practice letting those walls down and feeling the love. (if the mere suggestion of this causes you anxiety, don’t worry—you will still be in full control of how and when you do it! Baby steps…)
Let’s use the simple act of giving and receiving gifts. According to Gary Chapman, author of The Five Love Languages, there are five primary ways humans show each other love. The first is giving gifts. (In case you are wondering, the other four are: quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service, and physical touch). Getting back to the idea of balance between “activity” vs. “receptivity,” the act of giving a gift is an example of willful activity. The giver thinks of the recipient and what that person might like, selects a gift, purchases it, then delivers it to him or her. The act of receiving a gift is inherently more…(you guessed it!) receptive and is perhaps the most important part of the exchange.
Now let’s be real here: Sometimes a gift is given out of a sense of obligation, sometimes to manipulate the recipient in the hopes of getting some favor in return, and sometimes out of a sincere desire to show love and appreciation. All three of these are an attempt to connect—on some level–with the recipient.
~RECEIVE not passively, but WITH INTENTION~
If you welcome a connection with that person, how you receive the gift determines the degree of connection created in that moment. If you are focused on the gift itself you might open it and wish it were different in this way or that, but offer a half-hearted thank you because it’s the polite thing to do. And you might even point out the gift’s shortcomings to empower the giver to make a better choice next time. These reactions thwart the giver’s attempt to connect with you to some degree. If instead, you see the gift as a symbol of this person’s desire to connect with you and show appreciation and caring, it is easier to feel more gratitude and receive the gift (and attempt to connect) more open-heartedly.
Is this an emotional risk? Absolutely. We all want to feel seen and understood, and getting a gift that is sooo not you can trigger feelings of being misunderstood. We might even tell ourselves that this person didn’t care enough to try to find a nice gift. But the bottom line is that they were thinking of you and took the time to buy you something. You have the choice to reject, half-heartedly receive, or open-heartedly receive their attempt to connect with you. If you want to welcome and strengthen that connection, the most powerful way to do that is to receive openheartedly–to make room for all of life’s (and loved ones’) imperfections and allow them to flow in and through you along with all the offering of love.
Students in a yoga class often report feeling open, loving and connected during and after class. This is because as we move our awareness into our bodies, and let our awareness connect and flow with the breath, the illusion of separateness begins to fall away. Some of this happens naturally, and we can also set an intention to be more open and receptive. If you are lucky enough to receive gifts this holiday season, allow yourself to see every exchange as an opportunity to connect and generate more loving kindness in yourself and your relationships.