In yoga, backbends and chest openers are among the hardest poses. In particular, the camel pose, ustrasana, is considered challenging because it requires you to kneel, bend back and reach your heels with your hands as you press your chest out and hips forward.
“We are not used to keeping our chests, in particular our hearts, so open and vulnerable like this,” the instructor said one day, “just something to think about.”
I did, because it reinforced for me what I have been thinking for the past two years since I graduated business school.
Sure, physically, we don’t walk around sticking our chests out like that, so that does feel weird in the pose. But also, off the yoga mat, how often do we open up freely or let our guards down to people anymore? And by anymore, I mean now that I’m in my late 20s like the rest of my peers. Physically and emotionally, putting our hearts in such a vulnerable position makes us uncomfortable. Now, more than ever, it’s become harder to be like a camel.
1) We have fewer opportunities to interact on a regular basis
I often joke to my husband that even though I’ve been out of the dating game for 7 years, somehow it feels like I’m dating all over again in trying to make new friends, which still requires certain levels of vulnerability. It’s not like it used to be when you were in school and you were forced to see and interact with people on a regular basis and thus developed close ties to them and opened up.
One could argue that in this stage of life coworkers fill the space that classmates once did, but colleagues at work generally have their own families and friends they want to get to at the end of the work day, and especially in a city like Atlanta, the afternoon commute times alone are enough for people to just want to rush home to make the most of time with their loved ones rather than linger around for a happy hour with you. By this point in our lives, many of our peers have significant others, pets, children and obligations to attend to. Plus, not all work relationships are conducive to close friendships–so opening up has its drawbacks.
Without that regular interaction, it becomes harder to establish trust and let people in. Because after all, by this point in our lives, we’ve experienced enough heartbreak and disappointment to know that you can’t just open up to anyone.
2) Technology makes it easier for us hide from personal interaction
In her article “No Feelings: Why This Generation Has So Much Trouble Being Vulnerable” Elite Daily writer Candice Jalili argues that several factors have contributed to us not sharing our feelings: Our generation is too heavily medicated, too easily hidden behind screens, and too reliant on the filters offered by social media that help us carefully craft our public image instead of sharing what’s true and honest.
“But real-life thoughts, feelings and emotions are complex. You can’t simplify your overwhelming sadness by presenting your confidant(e) with a black-and-white photo of an empty beach…And this is scary. What if people don’t accept our true feelings for the ugly, complicated messes that they really are?”
-Candice Jalili, Elite Daily
Jalili contends that we have essentially numbed ourselves from feeling or letting others know that we can feel. We use medications to prevent ourselves from actually dealing with emotions. We use electronic devices as time fillers when waiting for someone at a restaurant, waiting in line for a service, or to distract ourselves in our own homes when we are bored, rather than interacting with the people directly surrounding us. This reliance on technology is starting to impact our ability read and process human emotions. Yale University’s Marc Brackett, director of the university’s Center for Emotional Intelligence, has found that while technology has increased the amount of communication between individuals, the quality of that communication has weakened. He found that children who use technology as their primary source of communication have a harder time expressing or picking up on emotions in real life because they haven’t learned the basic communication skills to generate or receive nonverbal cues.
Thus, while technology certainly helps us meet new people or connect us to loved ones (Google Video chat was a lifesaver for my long-distance relationship) it has also interfered with our ability to build strong, meaningful relationships as well.
Take for example how technology has made it harder for us keep commitments. On the upside, we can call and text people on-the-go which makes it easy for us to meet them spontaneously. The downside is that it also makes it easier to flake out on meeting with people because we can text them at the last minute to cancel.
Comedian, actor and author Aziz Ansari, in his Netflix show, several interviews and standup comedy bits has pointed out how easy it is to back out of plans thanks to technology. In the old days, you set up a meeting with someone and couldn’t just cancel because there was no way to reach them if they had already left their house and weren’t by a landline. With cell phones, social media and text messaging, Ansari points out it’s also easier to learn about multiple plans from several friends, and simply wait to see how you feel or how the night is going before committing to a single one and bailing on all the others.
Additionally, this generation (myself included) relies on texting instead of calling people directly to make plans. By doing this, I feel we give the other person a chance to easily avoid direct confrontation with us. Think about it: If you call someone up as you pass their house to stop by informally or to get coffee, it’s much harder for them to back out and say no once they pick up the phone like they may have in the past. But when you text someone now, there’s higher likelihood they may not see your message in time or worse, for them to pretend the message wasn’t received in time.
And it’s not just our interaction with existing friends that’s gone digital, but our initial meeting with new friends as well.
An article by Lindsay Putnam in the New York Post last year pointed out that because dating and meeting life partners has gone digital, some in our generation find it awkward to even meet new friends in the real world.
Referring to the work of David Ryan Polgar, author of the book “Wisdom in the Age of Twitter,” Putnam writes:
“Young people have become so dependent on texting, emailing and Snapchatting that they’ve forgotten how to interact in person, which is why forging new friendships as adults has become so painfully awkward.”
3) We’re set in our ways by now and afraid others won’t accept us
From my own experience and conversations with friends, it’s clear that as we get older, it’s harder to make friends because we also are more set in our habits, our personalities, opinions and views. In your pre-teen and teen years, you are so influenced by your peer group and celebrity role models that you’re willing to change based on what’s around you. In your late teens and twenties you’re in the process of forming your identity. The people you meet and the experiences you have strongly shape who you become, and you actively pursue them. By your late 20s, I feel you’ve pretty much solidified who you are. I see that in how my family, long-time friends and even I have accepted my best and worst traits for what they are and respond to situations accordingly. That’s not to say people don’t change at all or have life-changing experiences later in life, but it’s less likely to happen and harder to do, and the new people we meet later in life may not be so accepting of what we are firmly set in.
Thus we become more afraid of rejection. I sense this in conversations I’ve had with some of my friends (who confirm they don’t want to be single for life, which is why I bring this up). They will tell me about a new guy or girl they’ve met, but they won’t overtly express much interest. It’s as if they are afraid to admit even to themselves that they like the person, worried that it may not go anywhere and then be disappointed later.
But I say, invest in it. Pursue it. You never know where something is going to go until you give it a chance to go somewhere. It’s the same mentality I have to use now in trying to make new friends in Atlanta.
The solution: Take control… by being vulnerable. Be the camel.
It’s easy to dismiss a relationship and think there’s no connection, but there will never be a connection if you don’t even attempt to make one in the first place. Someone has to make the first move, and since you only have control over yourself, you might as well take charge and be the first to say “I’ll be the first to open up. I’ll be like the camel.”
Bikram Yoga teaching says the name for camel pose may not only come from the backbend that resembles a camel’s back, but also from the setup of the pose that resembles the same stance a camel takes before allowing someone to climb on to its back.
So when we think of this pose as a chest opener—a heart opener, in fact— the name of the pose should remind us that to do so requires a position of acceptance and openness, similar to the camel’s. That is the only way to allow others to join us along our journeys.