“Lead with the heart” is a common cue that yoga teachers may give guiding students into a forward folding posture. After hearing this cue recently, one of my big-hearted students said, “Isn’t this the general rule in all poses? Just like in life?” I shouldn’t have so visibly balked, but I did. “Absolutely not,” was my reply
“I only follow my heart.” It sounds nice, like something we are “supposed” to say, or try to do. Just do a Google for the phrase and you’ll find a bazilion images to support the notion.
But how legit is this, really? I mean, if we were meant to only follow our heart, for all reasons, what’s with all our other parts? We are not just a heart. We are a whole being. We are brain (memories, emotion, cognition), skin, gut, bone, soul, and yes, heart. Our parts include the physical, emotional, and spiritual. All facets of our person can and should guide us. This is what yoga teaches us—balance.
When we over or under utilize an aspect of ourselves, we become imbalanced. Let’s take the “heart” for an example. The heart (Anahata Chakra) is often thought of as our hub of emotion. If we are always leading with our heart, i.e. all our actions are dictated purely by emotion rather than incorporating reason, wisdom, and experience, we may not make the best decisions for ourselves, even if the emotion is labeled as “positive.”
This isn’t to say we should never be led by emotion. But if that is our only source of guidance, it can become a serious an imbalance. Our hearts, and other parts, can get hurt. In the physical practice of yoga, it is true we lead with the heart space in many postures, helping to keep the body in proper alignment. But in some postures, the heart is protected, such as in Garudasana. In some postures, we may consider the crown of the head as the trump card. Maybe the navel center is the emphasis in another. The practice of focusing on various facets of our physicality teaches us the wisdom to know when to use what, and really how to use all in support of one another, in wholeness. And of course, one of the points of the physical practice is its mirroring of life off the mat.
Change is constant, and yoga can help keep you in balance.