Mmm… do me a favor, think of something, someone, some place that you absolutely, purely love. Channel your soft, open heart and the energies of bliss, joy, and even ecstasy. How does love feel in your body? Do you feel warmth, a tingly sensation, or maybe soft shoulders? How would it feel to lead your life from this place?
For me, my physical body is truly a mirror and reflection of my current inner landscape. The body is full of metaphors and powerful wisdom and yoga is a key component in tapping into this well of resources. If we aren’t fully present and physically rooted, anchored, and embodied, we’re living in our heads and these messages are lost.
Cue the infamous heart openers!
Heart openers are a series of backbends that aim to open the literal (and metaphorical/energetic) space across your chest and upper rib case. In this area you have, of course, the heart, the lungs, the thymus, and the thyroid all of which have their own vital functions for life and tons of metaphors therein, too. This is a place of filtering, discernment, opening and closing, expression, regulation, channeling the sometimes necessary warrior-like nature of ourselves, steady rhythms, and so on.
Now, that open heart, love feeling you channeled earlier. Tune in to the opposite of that feeling and notice your response. For me, it’s forward hunched shoulders, almost in an attempt to protect this area and close myself off from the outside world and it’s always accompanied with an uncomfortably clenched jaw. A closed heart and challenges in this area can definitely be related to Feminine Shame, by the way!
This “stress posture,” as I like to call it, can be frequently observed in many of us throughout the day as the perceived burdens of life weigh upon us. However, many of us never allow the burdens or stress to release from our bodies and this results in everything from back pain to an increased risk of heart attack (AHA, 2014).
Luckily, it has been proven that practices such as meditation and yoga not only relieve the physical discomfort of this “stress posture,” but help in greatly reducing stress, increasing resiliency, and encouraging the practice of mindfulness – all while simultaneously improving cardiovascular and inflammatory biochemical markers (Yadav, Maga, Yadav, Sarvottam, & Netam, 2014; Klatt, Steinberg, & Duchemin, 2015).
Before attempting the following sequence of heart openers, ensure you have built sufficient heat through properly warming up with sun salutations or some other movement that feels amazing to you. Notice your response to the various postures – do you want to resist being open or can you embrace the ease that comes with surrendering?
Cow Pose with Interlaced Hands
Begin with right knee op on top of left and with ankles and feet out to your sides. Enjoy the hip opening for a few breaths before reaching right arm up, bending it as though you’re giving yourself a pat on the back, and gently stretch right triceps by pressing left hand on right elbow. Bring left hand behind you with the top of your hand against your back. If it feels pleasing to your shoulders to hold hands, go for it, otherwise, utilize a strap or towel to allow for more space and ease by holding a piece of the prop in each hand and experiment with the distance between your hands. Hold for a few breaths and then release and switch sides.
Lying on your belly, bend your legs and reach back taking hold of the inside of feet or ankles – as opposed to the outside, which is the more common Bow variation. Using the opposing forces of feet kicking into hands and hands pulling on feet, feel for lifting lower and upper body so that you’re resting on your lower belly. This placement of your hands allows for more opening across your chest and more release into the pectoral muscles. Hold for a few delicious breaths and then release.
Begin by standing on your knees with knees no more than hip distance apart. Place hands at low back/sacrum in a way that makes you feels supported – fingers pointing up or down. Keeping hips over knees, on an inhale, lengthen heart up and away from hips, creating more space between ribs and hips, and as you exhale, arch back. As though there’s a barrel behind you, feel for lifting up and back. If it feels yummy, place hands on heels while keeping hips over knees. Hold for a few breaths – visualizing tension or negativity falling out of your head as you arch back is a bonus!
Come lying on your back with your knees bent, feet flat, and feet and knees no more than hips distance apart. Relax your shoulders, head, and neck, and place arms softly at your side, palms up in a sign of receiving. Pressing down through the balls and heels of your feet, gently press up as you lift lower back and middle back; upper back and shoulders remain resting on the mat and heart comes closer to chin. Remain soft through arms, shoulders, and neck. This pose is a nice demonstration in staying grounded and rooted in your strong physical body and allows you to reconnect to feeling. Living in feeling is the way back to living from our hearts and not our heads! Hold for a few breaths before slowing unwinding back down to the mat.
Ensure you’re feeling warm and open enough before moving into Wheel, otherwise, take a few more Camels! Begin in the same way as Wheel, except place hands flat on the mat on either side of your head, in line with shoulders, with fingers pointing towards you. Pause and take a deep breath, feeling into your feet and hands. Keeping that solid foundation, on an inhale, lift and arch up as you press down through hands and feet. Press down through balls and heels of your feet and keep them and knees shoulder distance apart for full support. Soften your head and neck and breathe deeply. When you’re ready, slowly wind back down to the mat and hug your knees in to your chest and gently rock side to side.
Ensure time for Savasana and meditation to reflect on ways you can nurture your metaphorical heart and live from a place of feeling more often in your life. Be sure to journal your thoughts and share with me! I’d love to know what practices deeply nourish you!
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