SOFT – clouds, cotton balls, puppy and kitten fur, my favorite sweater. When I was young, I was a thumb sucker but I also had a blanket that had a very soft underside and I would rub it across my nose. (I often wonder if the white line across my nose is from this rubbing!) My son had an incredibly soft baby blanket too that he also rubbed on his nose and face. Did you have something similar?
Did you find the softness helped to soothe you, calm you down or just help you relax? Just recalling that blanket created that same felt-sense in my body now 45+ years later. Powerful.
In the dictionary you will find a multitude of definitions for soft including:
- Not hard or stiff
- Yielding to touch or pressure
- Easily penetrated or changed
- Gentle or mild
- Responsive or sympathetic to feelings and emotions
In my own body, I have places that are soft. I also have places that are harder and more unyielding than I would like.
As a bodyworker, I regularly feel the tension and unyielding spots on my client’s bodies. My job is to help those body parts soften.
As a yoga therapist and teacher, I regularly invite my students to explore the concept of softening but what does it really mean?
In a yoga posture, especially one that is more challenging or that you have been holding for awhile, your teacher might say soften. Let’s explore what that might feel like by diving into the Bridge Posture.
That’s the physical work. We also want to soften the heart and the mind when we practice yoga. To soften the heart, you might bring your awareness to the heart space and just feel your heart. You might take time to consider what edges or blocks surround your heart. What gets in your way of opening your heart? You can bring to mind people you love when you are thinking about your heart as a way of softening.
The mind is the other part of us that often needs softening. Our society almost requires our minds to stay in overdrive – this is the opposite of softening. If we aren’t always thinking or processing or being stimulated, society thinks there is something wrong with us. This of course contributes to our need to always be stimulated. I think it is actually an addiction.
Gone are the days of only having four TV stations. Am I right? But this form of stimulation, TV, social media, YouTube, browsing the internet, all force us to constantly be seeking the next thing (stimulation).
Why do you think the services like Netflix, Amazon and Apple TV automatically start the next show. There are many reasons but partly it’s to feed and reinforce your need to be constantly stimulated.
In addition, to the busyness this constant stimulation often leads to judging ourselves, comparing ourselves to others, creating edges and boundaries around our hearts and minds. I even believe it can move those tensions into our physical bodies. Yikes! It’s a never ending cycle that is VERY hard to break. So, we need to learn to soften the mind.
Knowing that enough is enough is always enough. -Tao Te Ching (Lao-Tzu)
On our mat, we can practice softening our mind by watching or witnessing our thoughts. We can even simply say, THINKING, every time a thought enters. You might be saying “thinking” every other second as we can have up to or more than 6200 thoughts a day! (Nature Communications)
Another helpful technique is to choose a word or mantra that has meaning to you and repeat it as you breathe in and out. This gives the mind something to do.
To soften the mind, heart and body, you might also consider practicing AHIMSA or non-violence, the first Yama of the yamas and niyamas – the ethical precepts of yoga. Ahimsa can also be considered kindness – kindness for ourselves and all living things. When we practice kindness we have less judgement, we are more open and receptive. Kindness invites us to lower our expectations which helps us to soften. If there are no expectations we can explore and practice at our own pace.
When we can do this, all three elements – mind, body, heart – can soften and release. We can release and surrender into the posture, into the thought, into our heart. We can become like a cloud or have that felt sense of the blanket.
When we learn to soften on the mat, we can take it off the mat for ourselves and in our relationships with others.
Here’s wishing you softness like puffy clouds, cotton balls and blankets from our younger days.