03/09/2015 12:18 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

How to Heal: The Art of Breaking Open

Illustration by Jenny Williams

"Everybody ought to hug least once a day. Everybody needs to kiss love somebody at least once a day."
- Michael Franti, in concert last night

We are sweating in a low runner's lunge with our arms twisted in front, the right elbow under the left, palms pressed together at nose level in a position we call Eagle Arms. When wrapped up like this, it's nearly impossible to ignore the sensations happening in your body, particularly the pull around your heart, but after weeks of intense stress and sadness, I'm not really feeling a thing.

My teacher Pete Guinosso appears before me, silently guiding my forearms up higher over my head, moving my body into a deeper backbend.

I close my eyes and feel a warmth around my chest: with the all-knowing touch of a healer, Pete's placed his hand on the area I've ignored most lately: my heart.

"This too shall pass," he says, just loud enough for me to hear, and before I even know what's happening there are tears running down my face.

Last night, for one of the few times in my life, I found myself in a church. Another healer, one of my favorite musicians, Michael Franti, was giving a talk on the power of music and love to create social change. When my fellow yogi-musician friend and I had first arrived, we'd looked around at hundreds of well-to-do people sitting stiff, straight-backed, and pretty silent in the pews surrounding the stage. An hour later we were all dancing like crazies and hugging strangers.

Michael had shared his beautiful story of how he came to music and social activism, then he and his partner Sara introduced their non-profit, the Do It For The Love Foundation, which grants people with life-threatening illnesses the gift of being on stage with their favorite musicians. We watched the video of a man who couldn't walk suddenly stand up out of his wheelchair so he could dance with Michael, and all of our hearts melted.

Using his guitar as a beatbox, Michael then bellowed, "Get up out of your seats!" and the party began. He sang, "Everybody ought to hug least once a day. Everybody needs to kiss love somebody at least once a day," and then there we were: a crowd of smiling, singing, hugging strangers.

I twirled around with a little boy and his mom; I reached out to hug an older woman with beautiful silver hair, and closed my eyes in compassion at the tears that appeared on her cheeks when we pulled away.

Back in the yoga studio this morning, we're exhaling into forward fold, through a vinyasa, and lowering our bodies all the way to the floor. We inhale our arms behind our backs, lifting our chests up into boat pose. The moment my heart comes forward, I'm overtaken by full-body convulsions. There is no muffling, no leashing the wave that rolls through, breaking on the mat before me. A guttural cry of grief escapes through my lips. For the first time in so long, I am simply overcome.

On an exhale, we push back into downward dog, swinging our left leg forward and through into low lunge, bringing our left arm underneath our right into Eagle Arms on this other side.

I am prepared for the tears--I have accepted that it's time to let go of this old story that doesn't serve me--but upon rising into this warrior pose, I'm surprised to find a steady quiet instead. My body feels flushed and strong and radiating with what I can only name love.

With our legs crossed and our hands at our hearts, Pete closes class with a quote by Pedro Arrupe:

"What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination
will affect everything.
It will decide:
what you read,
whom you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything."

I bow, repeating the Namaste prayer in my head: "the light and love in me honors the light and love in you," and I open my eyes. My friend is wiping away tears beside me. We reach for each other, hugging, and into my ear she says, "that one really broke me open."

We squeeze and breathe, feeling that support, and then the release as we both let go, laughing. We walk out of the studio to the soundtrack of birdsong, our chests lifting up towards the morning sun.

Jenine Durland is a writer, yogi, and web consultant. She is a recent graduate of Pete Guinosso's Lighting the Path Teacher Training at Yoga Tree San Francisco and a huge fan of Michael Franti and the Do It For The Love Foundation. Follow her at, on, or on Twitter @the9er