Last week, I went to my usual yoga class with my usual teacher. But something unusual happened. On top of my typical yoga high, I learned an important lesson about vulnerability. As the teacher led us through each asana, she imparted incredible wisdom about why we are on the mat and how we approach the postures and explained that the ones we love and especially the ones we hate are opportunities to practice vulnerability. She also reminded us that a yoga class, like a marathon, is much easier when our hearts are open.
These days, vulnerability is about as popular a buzzword as mindfulness, thanks to the incredible work of Brené Brown, who said, “Vulnerability is not about fear and grief and disappointment. It is the birthplace of everything we’re hungry for.” Her books, specifically The Power of Vulnerability, have opened up an entirely new vocabulary around the best way to live our lives in an authentic way. Pema Chödrön wisely put it this way: “We never know what is going to happen next.”
That awareness makes it even more critical that we learn how to practice the art of vulnerability. Here are six ways to practice vulnerability daily. They aren’t in any particular order, nor are they gospel. They are just my own ideas. I hope they spark inspiration on personal ways you can navigate your life with vulnerability.
1. Belt out a Broadway tune.
Singing opens your heart — especially if you can’t carry a tune. If you’re afraid that bursting into song by yourself is a step too far, too fast into the field of vulnerability, try joining a choir, singing along with the radio with the windows down, or taking a class.
Singing has been shown to lower anxiety, decrease stress, and produce endorphins. You could even double up on your methods. Eat a piece of dark chocolate and put on your best Barbra Streisand!
2. Be daring.
Two months after my father died, I was blessed to go on a family trip to Costa Rica, which included a ziplining adventure high above the rain forest. I’m afraid of heights, but frankly, I was so numb from grief that I ignored my usual fear and strapped on the harness.
I zipped from platform to platform, above lush trees and sloths, for almost two hours, during which my body and soul began to feel alive again. I laughed, I cried, I screamed, I prayed, and it helped. Doing something daring can awaken you from a self-imposed or life-imposed coma.
3. Do stand-up comedy or sign up for an improv class.
In his or her heart, every comedian is a vulnerable human being. Standing in front of a crowd and trying to make them laugh takes a lot of courage. It requires you to think on your feet and express self-love because sometimes, no matter how funny you think it is, other people won’t get the joke. But the joy of humor is universal and nothing opens the heart like a shared belly laugh.
4. Cry in public.
To explore the opposite end of the spectrum, take yourself to a good old-fashioned tear-jerker like Love Story or The Fault in Our Stars. The moment in Pixar’s Up when Mr. Fredrickson’s house is lifted by tons of balloons gets me every time. My kids have never forgiven me for the sobbing fit I had when we went to see that film in theaters.
Despite their embarrassment, I experienced a great emotional catharsis, and gave complete strangers the opportunity to express empathy, hand me tissues, and share my vulnerability
Chances are, someone has helped you in your time of need. Pay it forward by offering your skill and passion to another person or organization. The sense of expanded connection opens us up to a larger idea of how we live and highlights the fact that we all have the capacity to make a difference.
6. Say you're sorry.
One of the greatest compliments someone gave me was pointing out that I take responsibility when I screw up. We all make mistakes. We all hurt one another and ourselves — sometimes intentionally and sometimes just because we’re human.
The act of apologizing genuinely will shift the energy inside and around you. By acknowledging when we make mistakes that hurt another person, we begin the repair process to our hearts and theirs.
Vulnerability is a practice that can be developed over time with patience and quiet courage. Why take the risk of opening our hearts? Because we can. And because in the end it allows us to live a happier, more meaningful life. For me, those extra five seconds on the mat in camel pose are adding up to many moments of open-hearted living.