Early on a winter’s morning, as I was on my way to yoga, I noticed a billboard for a health-care organization:
“Every Heart Has a Story“
These words stayed with me all month long. As humans, we each have our own heart story. It’s a story of our feelings, our experiences, and how the heart responds to both our lived experiences and the stories we tell ourselves.
In February, we celebrate LOVE. It’s the month of the heart! I want to share a story from my heart to yours…
One night, years ago, I was snuggled up in bed with my daughter Khloe. Without thinking, I placed my ear on her warm little chest and listened to her heart. It was so faint and soft. I had been reading about a mother who listened to her daughter’s heart. I was touched by her story. It inspired me to take a moment with my daughter that night and listen to her subtle heartbeat. I told her what her heart wanted me to say to her. Then, she laid her ear to my chest and whispered my heart’s secrets to me. It was beautiful. I felt a heart-to-heart connection with Khloe that night. We called it our “heartbeat check-in.”
I miss those days. I loved bonding with my girls. Most nights, just before they drifted away to sleepy dreamland, we would read books and sing songs. I can still recite the words to many of these sweet songs, and I still remember the stories we read.
Because of that experience with Khloe, this “heartbeat check-in” became a ritual for us. It calmed my sometimes stressed-out mind, and helped me come back to my heart. To remember why I worked so hard to show up for my girls.
The truth is, it wasn’t always easy to show up in these nightly rituals with my girls. At times, I found myself exhausted with a headache at the end of a long day. But I did my best to create bonding moments. I can now see that behind that loving mother was, at times, a woman who was tired, irritable, and stressed out. Sometimes, in my mind, I visit that young mother. I tell her that I’m really proud of her. She was doing her very best, and She was always enough.
While I can’t go back in time, I can look back to those times and remind myself now of what I wish I knew then. I remind myself not to take life so seriously. I tell myself to slow down. I give myself permission to say no. I teach myself about the importance of boundaries. I trust those gut feelings and intuitions more fully. If I could go back, I would offer myself daily heartbeat check-ins. I’d check in with my own heart at the end of each day.
I have learned the importance of caring for my own heart, first. Today, I know that I need to show up for myself first and foremost. Self-love and self-care are essential ingredients to good health, and they are priorities for me.
Over time, I have established my own rituals to care for my heart. These rituals include daily yoga, breathing, and meditation practices. I take time each day to read and educate my mind. I listen to inspiring podcasts. I also take time each day to study. These daily habits make all the difference for me.
“Every day health is achieved by every day effort.”
It’s hard to care for ourselves when there are so many other people to care for, which can often stress us out. By caring for me first, my heart has grown. Now, I am able to love more deeply and give more genuinely. I can enjoy the process of caring, instead of feeling stressed out by it.
The Paradox of Stress
Recently, I completed a course called Yoga for Heart Disease and Cancer. All this month, I studied the HEART, as an emotional and spiritual metaphor, and as a vital organ. I learned how emotions come from the heart-space, and how they influence the physical shape and health of the heart. This was a fascinating course. We explored the anatomy of the heart, and the heart’s connection to the mind, body, and spirit.
In this course, we studied an underlying condition that often contributes to heart disease, stress. Stress is a top contributor to many modern maladies. But there’s a paradox:
Stress can be good for us, and stress can harm us.
It’s all in how we frame it. There’s an upside to stress. It prepares the body to react to threats and opportunities. Stress is a nervous system response, often referred to as “fight or flight.” Stress mobilizes our bodies and minds for action. A stressful event happens, we feel the rush of adrenaline, and we react. When stress causes fear, we can lash out, get defensive, or run away. But, when we take a moment to be mindful in the midst of a stressful situation, we can maintain control of our actions and use stress to sharpen our minds and focus on a solution. Stress can ruin our day, or help us achieve our goals and dreams. When stress causes us to feel out of control, afraid, or threatened, we become distressed. Distress negatively impacts our health and well-being, causing feelings of overwhelm, anxiety, depression, and depletion. Dis-tress causes chronic illness and dis-ease.
Research shows that when we view stress as a helpful friend rather than a dangerous enemy, our stress is less likely to cause heart disease. This TEDTalk explores the relationship between stress and how we frame it, and the health impacts of our mindset.
“When we change the way we look at things, the things we look at change.”
In Tune with the Heart
Our body is a miraculous network full of interconnected systems. When these systems work together, we feel a sense of balance. When we are out of balance, stress can become a chronic disease. I love the metaphor that the body is like a symphony. Each system within the body operates like an individual musical instrument in an orchestra. When the instruments work together, we become an entire synchronized symphony, and a state of harmony is created. However, when the systems of the body are out of tune and not in alignment with each other, the music turns to cacophony.
Imagine attending a concert in which one or more of the instruments were out of tune, and the musicians were not keeping time with the conductor. Sounds like some school recitals I’ve been to! Cute, but stressful.
Yoga offers a set of practices that help tune up the systems of the body so they can work together in harmony. Yoga won’t solve all our problems, but it improves our well-being, reduces stress, improves circulation and organ function, and helps us to live a more balanced life. Yoga can help us to stay in tune with our heart.
“Yoga is not a treatment. Rather it is a consciousness that allows health, balance and joy to be your companions throughout your life’s journey.”
-Nischala Joy Devi
I love that little 3 letter word… JOY What if we could transform the stresses of daily life into joy? Joy is a beautiful experience. Joy is felt in the heart. It’s a warm feeling in the chest. How do you define joy? And more importantly, how do you FEEL joy?
“I love thinking of joy as the good mood of the soul.”
-Brene Brown, Atlas of the Heart
I feel joy when my 14 year old daughter and I sit at the kitchen table and have a chat. I find joy when I read words that educate my mind and inspire my heart. I experience joy in a soul to soul connection with a close friend. I discover joy when I am in my body. I feel joy when I am in Nature. I experience joy when I am a witness to my own healing. I feel joy when one of my sisters sends me a good song. Music is the song of my heart!
Each day, I try to look for moments of joy. This practice of finding joy is my “heartbeat check-in.” It helps me view the natural stress of life from a new perspective, transforming unexpected changes to my plans to opportunities for spontaneous connection and insight.
The Shape of the Heart
As February comes to a close, I am reflecting on the feelings of my heart. Often, our hearts are filled with joy. At times, our hearts become heavy. Sometimes, our hearts race as we face stress. And for too many, lonely hearts feel empty and hopeless.
Heartbreak is part of the human experience. We feel heart-broken when we lose someone or something we loved, like a romantic relationship, friendship, family member, pet, or a job. Heartbreak can cause stress, heaviness, and loneliness. This place of suffering and pain is usually accompanied with grief.
Grief changes the shape of our hearts. In his powerful TedTalk, Sandeep Jauhar, a cardiologist and author, explores the mysterious ways our emotions impact the health of our heart. I love his articulation of the metaphorical heart. He calls for a shift in how we care for the heart, our most vital organ.
My heart has been broken, and my heart has been healed. When I was experiencing a sense of deep loss, my coach recommended that I “date” myself. There is a great beauty and maturation that comes when we spend time getting to know ourselves. I believe this is an important aspect of self-love. This was an important piece of advice and something I regularly take the time to do. It turns out that I like being with myself. Taking time to be by myself has become another heartbeat check-in.
The Next Chapter in My Heart Story
Taking time to be by myself doesn’t mean I always want to be alone. In fact, I want to open my heart and share a new chapter with you. But before I do, I’d like to share one last story.
My Grandma ‘Pearl’ Ashton was an influential woman in my life. I have fond memories of my Grandma. As a young girl, I loved spending time around her and being at her home. She was a strong, independent woman who valued hard work and family. While I imagine she was under a lot of stress, she smiled often. I remember her smile. It brought me joy.
She spent the last half of her life as a widow, after losing her husband to cancer. She was left to raise 5 children, seek an education, pursue a career, and care for a new home. She was in her mid 40’s at this time (the same age as I am right now). With the help from her family and neighbors, she opened and ran a preschool, out of her home for many years. She operated this preschool until she was 83 years old! I remember her preschool very well.
Though I was not alive during most of the years she was rebuilding her life after loss, I have vivid memories of watching the way she showed up for those she loved, including me. I had great respect and admiration for her. She died 14 years ago, at the age of 98. I was 31 when she died, but I have felt her presence with me on multiple occasions over the last 15 years.
Just over a year ago, I felt her presence very strongly.
It was on a winter night. I was driving home during a rainstorm. On this particular drive, my heart was full. I was feeling my way through some difficult emotions. I could feel tears streaming down my face. As I drove and cried, it began to rain. Within a few minutes, it was pouring rain. In that moment, it felt like my heart was in sync with Mother Nature. She was shedding tears of rain, in an effort to cleanse and heal the Earth. I was also cleansing and healing my own heart. I felt connected to Mother Nature, to the Earth and to my Grandma Ashton.
That night, I was feeling a sense of fear. I was wondering how I was going to do all these new hard things as a single mother, on my own. Dating in your 40’s is complicated. I dated a few different guys, and I had some ups and downs. In that process, I learned a whole lot about myself. After a period of dating, I decided that I may be better off on my own.
As I was pondering the question that night… “will I be ok on my own?” I felt the presence of my grandmother. It was as if she were there, reassuring me that I would be ok. I felt a deep sense that, no matter what, I would be ok. I would be ok on my own. That was exactly what my heart needed to feel. I could trust that, come what may, I would be ok. I felt a renewed sense of inner confidence, and my heart felt open again.
Shortly after that night, something interesting and unexpected happened…
Someone showed up in my life.
Today, I want to introduce you to someone who is very close to my heart.
“Relationship is the deepest poetry.”
Hi, my name’s Dave. I’ll be a regular contributor to these posts. Holly is the love of my life. We are in a long-distance relationship. We see each other every two or three weeks. I’m in the middle of writing a book and making a documentary. Both of our lives are busy, but Holly always takes time to show up for me. She makes me feel like I’m home, even when we’re miles apart. My heart is filled and lifted by her every day.
What can I say, I’m a lucky guy.
I look forward to sharing stories, research, and practices alongside Holly on our beautiful little website. Thanks for taking the time to read. If you’ve made it this far, and you’re curious about me, take a few more minutes to hear my heart story:
This is Holly again, by the way.
I hope you’ll listen to Dave’s beautiful and HEARTfelt story about finding purpose and meaning. His story is inspiring. Dave inspires me, in so many ways.
I am very excited to share this space with Dave. Dave is the most curious and kind-hearted person I know. He is a big part of the reason this website exists. Dave shows up for the people he loves. I feel very lucky to be one of those people.
Life with Dave is filled with moments of JOY!
Dave and I look forward to working together on this website as we continue to learn and grow together, and in our individual lives.
I hope you’ll stay connected with us as we take this leap of faith!
“We are part of the whole body of humanity, living in our own worlds, surrounded by life’s dreams and dramas. To touch and embrace another allows us to feel the rhythm of our own hearts.”
-Nischala Joy Devi (Yoga Ambassador, Heart Giver and Spiritual Guru)
I created this playlist to share with you! You can follow me on Instagram & Spotify.