Poking the Yogi Bear: What is Vulnerability?

An illustration of a cartoon bear doing yoga with a tiny devil ready to poke it with a spear.
Yoga is often the first thing recommended as a form of exercise that can help someone manage anxiety and depression. Yoga brings an awareness to the body and requires focus that feels calming. Some types of yoga do not bring the heart rate up to a degree that can feel too intense for people working through trauma.
Some people need to sit still, but some people need to MOVE. Repressed rage and anger can be best released through activities that are indeed intense. Y’know, like the kinds of activities I love: hitting things and hitting them hard. 
Yoga is often understood as a practice of vulnerability. But are you practicing vulnerability if you immerse yourself in yoga because this is where you feel most comfortable?
In February 2023, I facilitated a workshop for BIPOC and queer women of colour. 
It was an incredible event put on by our Pilates specialist, Tai, in partnership with lululemon.
Several facilitators shared their practice and many of them had a background in yoga.
In my workshop, I guided participants through a series of combat movements that included the fighting stance and a focus on the upper body through punches and elbows.
An image of a woman with long braids hitting a boxing pad with her elbow.

Coach Tai strikes the pad with an elbow. Photo credit: Keemya Parsa.

Unsurprisingly, the participants moved comfortably through their yoga practices and demonstrations, but were visibly uncomfortable when participating in my workshop where the movements were focused on preparing oneself to fight. 
When throwing a punch or even taking a fighter’s posture and position, you need to shift your energy to the opposite of what yoga stands for. Where yoga may ask you to open yourself up to vulnerability and embrace it, when you’re in a fighting stance, you need to hide your vulnerabilities and protect yourself. You cannot allow yourself to sink into a state where you are open to everything.
When you throw punches and strikes, you need to make yourself bigger and commit to each blow with intention and confidence. You need to “take up space” in a whole new way. 
A woman in a black sweatshirt demonstrating a punch.

Coach FLG demonstrates a punch. Photo credit: Keemya Parsa.

One participant privately shared that my workshop made her very emotional because of the energy she felt in her body when throwing punches; it made her feel vulnerable and uncomfortable. The yoga poses she moved through earlier were within her comfort zone. 
The practice of yoga that combines mindfulness, breathwork, flexibility, and isometric training is important and integral, but it’s not the only practice that can raise one’s consciousness, self-awareness, wellness, and overall health.
A woman in a black sweatshirt speaks to a group of women.

Coach FLG speaks to the participants. Photo credit: Keemya Parsa.

The level of nerve, coordination, focus, and attention needed in combat is exhilaratingly addictive. When people want to exercise their spirit in a more energetic and brazen fashion, combat gives them the focus and movement they need. Often, you’ll find yourself simultaneously gravitating toward and resisting the very thing that makes you uncomfortable— the thing that will push you through your comfort zone into a space that will challenge and require vulnerability in a new way.
Combat could be the next thing you need if you wish to expand yourself energetically. It’s not always realistic to move through life with complete openness and vulnerability. Yoga embraces and encourages an open energy that may not always be conducive to everyday life. There are instances where protecting your vulnerability through a closed energy will serve you best. That’s just the world we live in. 
On the other hand, the yoga zone is not one I find particularly comfortable. During the workshops, I ventured out of my own realm of comfort to participate in some yoga activities. I found myself hiding in the corner away from everyone as soon as they started a little dance segment.  There was no way I’d let anyone see me shimmy down the soul train express! 
Yoga may be a great practice of vulnerability for people like myself who are more closed off.
But for now, I just thought I’d poke the Yogi bear 🙂