Donna Farhi: Embracing Vulnerability is the Most Powerful Yoga
“Embracing your vulnerability is the beginning of creating a very different world that we can all live in,” writes yoga teacher Donna Farhi.
We all begin life fully embodied, that is to say, connected to our sensate experience. My teacher Ray Worring used to describe this as “polymorphously sensuous,” which is to say that every part of the body has the capacity for feeling.
He contended that we have been culturally indoctrinated to limit this heightened awareness and experience of the body to a few square inches of sexualized anatomy, while the rest of the body becomes dull, unfelt, and ultimately unheard.
When we restore ourselves to this whole-bodied sensuousness we are experiencing sensations such as warm air passing over the hairs on our arms, or cool water flowing down the throat, or a tiny sharpness in the back muscles. We start to feel ourselves in and as life—reconnected to the source of our own animation.
“Vulnerability is a requirement in sharing our true feelings, thoughts, and emotions with others, but it is also a requirement in opening to the feelings, thoughts and emotions of others.”
The Yoga of Distrust
I’ve been working with people in the context of Yoga practice for more than thirty years, and what I’m noticing is that there seems to be an even greater disconnection from the body than when I began practicing. This may be a reflection of the great distance that people feel between themselves and the living world.
Perhaps most disturbing is the people’s lack of trust in verifiable physical experience. Even when they do a practice that makes them feel better or ameliorates pain, they often fail to believe their experience, and return almost immediately to practices that cause discomfort and unease in the body. They are seemingly more comfortable adhering to a construct or method, or aesthetic of how the body should be and what it should be able to do, than listening to the intelligence of the body to self-suggest what it needs.
It’s deeply satisfying to help people liberate themselves from being someone with a body, to someone in a body. How else can we truly live?
”I’ve been working with people in the context of Yoga practice for more than thirty years, and what I’m noticing is that there seems to be an even greater disconnection from the body than when I began practicing.”
The Yoga of Vulnerability
To live in a body that is fully connected to its capacity for feeling means opening to being vulnerable. By vulnerable, I’m not meaning without clear boundaries, but rather the capacity to open when openness is needed.
The ability to remain open is a skill that involves increasing our threshold for both pleasant and unpleasant sensations. Staying open when we want to shut down, staying open when it’s easier to walk away. Staying open when we feel panicky or threatened.
Often when I am working with a difficult person in the context of a Yoga intensive, I’ll notice that all the teaching assistants have stepped back from this person. The participants step back, and it’s likely that this is a larger pattern in this person’s life. Often in these circumstances, I spend a few days preparing myself by just witnessing my aversion or my projections about this person.
“The ability to remain open is a skill that involves increasing our threshold for both pleasant and unpleasant sensations.”
When I feel centered and calm in my body I approach them in a spirit of curiosity, always with their permission. I ask questions, and my main question is whether they are interested in exploring something new. Sometimes this is the first time that such a person has had someone step towards them rather than fall in line with their pattern of pushing away and defending. Often what is uncovered is some wound or trauma that needs healing, or something that needs to be seen and acknowledged.
I am remembering a student with severe scoliosis who was very unpleasant to my teaching assistants and to everyone in the group: like having a stinging wasp in the room! A few days into the intensive I asked her whether she would like to explore a new way of being in her body and when she gave me permission to enter into that inquiry with her, I said, “I can see that you have been very challenged by your spine. It must be very difficult to live in a spine such as yours.”
Within minutes, this angry, bristling bundle of tension, dissolved into tears, and the curtain came down for us to enter into a very warm and productive exchange. She became like a tender child again.
Vulnerability is a requirement in sharing our true feelings, thoughts, and emotions with others, but it is also a requirement in opening to the feelings, thoughts, and emotions of others. It then becomes impossible to turn away from the plight of others who are suffering. It becomes less possible to create an “us” and a “them.” It is the beginning of creating a very different world that we can all live in.
Study with Donna Farhi and YogaUOnline in Yoga for Lower Back Pain: Keys to Sacroiliac Stability and Ease of Movement.
Reprinted with permission from Bodymindlove.com
Photography by Fred Stimson
Donna Farhi is a yoga teacher who has been practicing for 39 years and teaching since 1982. She is one of the most sought-after guest teachers in the world, leading intensives and teacher training programs internationally. Her approach to yoga is informed by the refinement of natural and universal movement principles that underlie safe and sustainable Yoga practice. This concentration on fundamental principles allows the student of all levels of experience and from all traditions to build their own authentic yoga practice.
Donna is the author of four contemporary classics; The Breathing Book, Yoga Mind, Body & Spirit: A Return to Wholeness and Bringing Yoga to Life: The Everyday Practice of Enlightened Living. Her fourth book Teaching Yoga: Exploring the Teacher-Student Relationship is a curricular text for teaching trainings worldwide. Her new book, coauthored with Leila Stuart, Pathways to a Centered Body: Gentle Yoga Therapy for Core Stability, Healing Back Pain, and Moving with Ease, will be released in late May, 2017.
After nearly four decades of practice Donna believes that yoga is about learning to befriend our self and to be in friendship with others as a means to building greater fellowship with all of humanity. American born, Donna now resides in Christchurch, New Zealand on a 30-acre farm with her horses, Santosha, Liberty and Ambrosia.