Leading with an open heart

It has been a long time since I have *properly* blogged… I have never found a platform that has suited my needs and I have created and deleted so many blogs before this one. Hopefully this platform works for me. Here goes… something.

I have gotten into a bit of a fitness groove lately. After a few years of what was essentially a sedentary lifestyle, I began to ‘get physical’ again about two months ago.

I have, for a long time, been drawn to the practice of yoga – in my teens I would marvel at how serene and centred yogis seemed during their practice. Something about strength and balance is just so enticing – perhaps this is because those are attributes I long for when times get hard. We all feel weak and unbalanced at times.

While in university, I attended a yoga class and practiced it  on my own for a while. After I made the decision to wear a headscarf at the age of 21, I started to feel uncomfortable with the thought of practicing yoga, or doing any form of physical activity outdoors. I became extremely conscious of the amount of fabric I was wearing on my body, and I was somehow afraid of attracting attention. After all, at the time I hardly ever saw any other young hijabis working out in public spaces.

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Picture taken several months ago when I wanted to do yoga but couldn’t bring myself to. There are thousand imperfections in this silhouette of a tree pose, but I love that this was captured because it reminds me of how unbalanced I felt in this transitional period of my life.

Wearing the headscarf was a personally meaningful act, and continues to be meaningful to this day. However, deciding to wear it was a big change for me. I was going through a huge internal shift in my worldview and values. I also very quickly realised that  even though wearing the headscarf was a personal and private choice, I could not change the fact that the headscarf is also a public statement, and symbol that is open to interpretation. Though the symbol means one thing to you, it also means so many things to others, even those who on the surface seem to share the same beliefs. Where I saw freedom, flexibility, and empowerment, others saw oppression, false consciousness, backwardness, and rigidity. Where I saw a process of acceptance and discovery, others saw room for criticism and judgement. The awareness of the diverse views people had made me extremely self-conscious when I first started wearing the headscarf. As much as I longed to accept myself and the decisions that I had made, I could not, because I was simply too concerned with what others might have thought. This all took me away from focusing on things like my physical strength and health.

I was making every possible excuse to stop myself from diving into something I clearly had an interest in. The pull towards yoga was getting stronger, and I got the boost I needed when I stumbled upon the instagram account of a hijabi who happens to be a kickass yogini and yoga instructor. I joined her classes and feel like they are the safe space I need for now, before I go on and explore the ways, experiences, and ideas of other yogis in this country and perhaps elsewhere. When the time is right, and I am truly excited about that “right” time, I will dive deeper.

In practicing yoga again, the concept that has resonated the most with me is that of the “open heart”. The idea of opening your heart is such a beautiful one. In yoga it often refers to the “opening” of the chest area in your physical practice, and in my recent return to yoga, I have felt a connection between the heart opening in the physical as well as emotional and psychological sense – a connection I never felt prior to this. In my heart opening practices I have found a greater sense of acceptance of 1) my body and what it is capable of for now, 2) my current state of being (i.e. in terms of career, emotional state etc.) 3) the potential for both good and bad in the days or years to come.

It is really such a beautiful thing to feel – acceptance of things as they are, acceptance of the people in your life, their journeys, and who they choose to be, acceptance of the decisions you have made – even the ones you continue to have a tinge of regret for, acceptance of who you are, what you believe in, and how you choose to lead your life.

I have learnt that the open heart comes and goes. One moment you might feel complete acceptance, and the next, you go back to bad mental habits i.e. being unkind to others or being unkind to yourself. I have also learnt that it is OK to not always feel perfectly centred, open, receptive, and accepting. What has become important for me is the conscious effort to lead with an open heart – to take things one breath at a time, at a comfortable pace, and to, as much as possible, come from a place of kindness and compassion when engaging with others, as well as engaging with my self.

It has taken a while for me to reach this point, this state of being a little more open than I was before. It has not been easy, and I doubt contentment will ever come easily, but in this moment I feel excited about how this personal journey  will develop.

Hanan

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