In the past, when I heard the word “soft’ in reference to anything other than a cozy sweater, it brought up negative feelings or judgments for me. Strength was gleaned from hardness after all. Hard muscles. Hard work. Big tall walls around the heart — emotions in check. THAT was the way onward and upward. To be soft was to be weak.
For so many years, through loss and trauma and a difficult birth, the deeper I felt things, the tighter I pulled my armor around me. This response to physical and emotional pain isn’t a unique to me method of coping. For so many, this hardening of our exterior and the face we show the world can feel like our only means of survival. The unfortunate part of this was that although my mind was trying to protect me, it was actually further cutting me off from what would ultimately bring me the most healing.
Enter my first pregnancy and birth.
Birth has a way of bringing long buried and unresolved work to the surface. I often describe this to my students as the loosening of the burnt stuff on the bottom of the pan. Apply the birth process to the marks and dirt that have been there so long they appeared to be part of the pan, and suddenly they’re not. They’ve (re)surfaced and they demand attention. In this way, birth is the great universal emotional solvent.
So there I was, on the other side of one of life’s greatest thresholds — exhausted, bleeding, responsible for another life, and facing down a lifetime of denying how deeply I felt things. Even now, when I think about how intense the darkness and anxiety were for me that first time around, I feel nauseous. I navigated months of thoughts and fears that I still have never shared with those closest to me. It was lonely, and ultimately the only way out of it was through it. And, the only way through it, was to set aside all of that armour I was clinging to so desperately and to allow myself to soften.
The process of allowing myself to soften into discomfort was not an easy one and certainly did not occur in a straight line. During this time, I dove deeper into my yoga practice and committed to a 200-hour training. It had nothing to do with becoming a teacher, and everything to do with saving myself. The work on my mat was hard. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was literally learning how to inhabit my own body. There was a solid month where I think I spent every Savasana in tears. I also started to explore Reiki and body work as a means to connect with myself and move grief through my body. The result of all of this work was subtle. The more I felt comfortable in my own skin, the more I allowed myself to soften into motherhood, and the more vulnerable and authentic I allowed myself to be in my relationships.
Three years after my first birth, I got to hold my second child. If you were to look at the stats, it wasn’t an easy labor, but in my heart, it was worlds apart. I was present. I was not afraid. I was deeply connected to the energy moving through me and the work my body was doing. I leaned into it instead of trying to run away or put up walls. I was soft, and at the same time, so fucking strong.
The more I travel this path, the more I discover just how wildly sensitive, intuitive, and empathic I am. Even now, claiming those “titles” for myself is difficult. I feel uncomfortable admitting that I am soft. The difference is that I no longer fear discomfort. I allow myself to sit with sensation — good and bad — and acknowledge what it’s bringing up in me. The harder it is, the more I soften. I allow tears to come when they need to. I show up for people, friends and students, as my authentic Self. I’m pretty sure my heart walks into a room about 10 minutes before my physical body. I’m all in. I’m not ashamed of it. Quite the contrary. My softness is my superpower.
So is yours.
PS: If you were one of those teachers who held space for me while I cried on my mat, thank you.