During the stay-at-home orders I have been conscientious about how I spend my spare time (there is actually no such thing as “spare” time-- but that’s a different blog post!)
As I knew there was no lack of work to be done (we’re up-leveling many aspects of our business in preparation for reopening) and since I value rest-- I resisted the (ok, not that strong anyway) urge to learn to crochet or bake my own bread, like seemingly everyone I follow on Instagram.
There was one opportunity though, that I knew I wanted to invest my attention in.
For 6 days in a row, I got to peek into the lab of Gil Hedley, famed Integral Anatomist. Gil studies human anatomy by dissecting cadavers. His goal seems not only to be exploring what he calls “inner space” but also to help laymen cultivate an appropriate level of awe and appreciation for our bodies.
Gil’s perspective is interested in connections and continuity, and aligns perfectly with the teachings of yoga. For the first time ever, Gil was allowing viewers to tune in online to 1 hour per day of what is usually an intensive full-time week of dissection in his lab.
So when I got his email invite, I was doing it!
One of the most special moments of the week was getting a closer look at the human heart. Gil actually calls what’s in our chest the “heart center” since the whole organ is more like a “heart-tree,” whose branches extend throughout the body in over 60,000 miles of blood vessels (!!) and even beyond the body through the vibrations of the heartbeat.
As his cohorts in the lab took turns gently cradling the heart in their hands, Gil explained something which I'd never thought about in quite this way before:
The heart feeds itself first.
A quick anatomy lesson:
Your coronary arteries (from Latin corona meaning "crown") wrap your heart like vines. The coronary arteries connect to the aorta. The aorta is the (huge! about 2cm in diameter!) blood vessel that spins freshly oxygenated blood from the heart up to your brain and out to the rest of your body.
As this oxygenated blood rushes from heart out into the aorta, the coronary arteries divert some of it right back into the heart directly to provide it with oxygen.
The heart feeds itself first.
There is a room in Gil's lab labeled "Teacher's Lounge." It's where the cadavers are kept! It is so true that the human body has great quantities to teach us. By observing relationships within the body, we can gain insight about our relationships, too.
You would never call the heart "selfish" for nourishing itself first -- and yet many of us have been taught to believe that we should put others' needs before our own.
We back-burner our own self care – compromising sleep, neglecting to make time for exercise or eating well, sacrificing the activities that feed our souls. It’s a well-meaning, misguided attempt at being a good person.
Observing how the heart works, offers us a different lesson: we should be feeding ourselves first.
But does prioritizing our wellbeing, somehow take away from what we have to give others? I’m going to say nope, and the heart will back me up:
When the heart feeds itself first, it doesn’t adversely affect the rest of the body. Your coronary arteries are relatively small vessels that redirect a relatively small amount from the abundance of blood which supplies the rest of the body.
In other words, a small amount of self-care can be profoundly nourishing. Your 90-minute yoga class (or even a 5-minute savasana!) offer rewards that far exceed the time you invest.
Your body depends on your heart’s health to live. So the “self-serving” aspect of the heart is a loving act which ensures that the rest of the body thrives! In the same way, your self-care is essential to the well-being of your family, your friends, and your community.
You know when you’re on an airplane and the flight attendants tell you to put on your oxygen mask before helping someone else with theirs? It’s like the heart has listened to that lecture.
When it comes to making yourself a priority, remember this lesson from the heart. Feed yourself first. Only when you are nourished, can you fully show up and care for other people.
Studio leader, yoga-doer and life-lover, Kay D.