The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines sensitivity as “the tendency to become upset about things that are done to you, are said about you, or relate to you.” Although they define it for children by “the ability to express thoughts and feelings”. I’m conflicted by the contrast in meanings, certainly to live through the lens of a child sounds more appealing, the medical definition seems to offer a level playing ground “the capacity of an organism or sense organ to respond to stimulation”.
In any case, my interest in sensitivity is how we use it to our advantage both in a yoga practice and in the pursuit of wholehearted living.
Yoga asks us to become more attune to the language of the body, sensations, by way of moving with an open and attentive mind, making subtle changes to the posture or breath in order that we may align our action closely with our intention. When we are challenged to live within the framework of a pose that is not necessarily comfortable or easy we are challenged to lean into the nature of that resistance and soften to it, be it physical or emotional.
There are many seeming opposites in yoga which are used in complimentary ways, hinting at the bigger picture of finding unity through duality. Effort and effortlessness, yin and yang, masculine and feminine, strength and sensitivity.
As the Leunig cartoon suggests a combination of qualities is best, we can be both strong and sensitive at the same time. As yin is a relative term to yang, strength and sensitivity are also relative to each other.
The most challenging pose of your practice may require the most physical strength but the most effective expression is achieved through a sensitive approach. All strength without awareness may cultivate a fine practice of calisthenics, all sensitivity without challenge may cultivate a sweet meditative quality to the mind, however both ends of the spectrum equip the practitioner for success only in that domain. If we are to thrive in the ever changing landscape of life we must engage both the capacity to meet adversity with both openness AND a backbone.
The physical body has this worked out in perfect proportions, the solid structural framework of the skeleton casing the sensitive, pulsating, fluid contents that are the organs. Moved forward by the dynamic power of the muscles and encased by the original sensory organ – skin. We are a living, breathing dichotomy of strength and sensitivity.
If all is relative then we must encompass the moments of sensitivity felt amidst sadness, fear, discomfort, conflict, as much as we revel in the experience of joy, love, intimacy, success, connection. Brene Brown writes in her heartfelt book ‘Daring Greatly’,
softening into the joyful moments of our lives requires vulnerability
For some this is the greater challenge than baring all through the darker emotions. The inevitable, uncomfortable truth of the situation is that in order to experience the fullness of any given moment we must be equally open to all possibilities. Whether we see them as good or bad is simply the lense that we view through. My suggestion is to stay curious, examine the root of the sensitivity and lean into it, it’s quite possibly an invitation to evolve.