Heart Opening Poses
It is easy to seperate the body from the mind. Commonly the body is considered the machine that protects, and is controlled, by the mind which is contained within the skull. In this instance I imagine the mind as a little figure sitting in the lookout tower pulling levers and pushing buttons, moving the limbs so we can walk, jump, hug, or high five.
I remember reading an article giving advice for interviews. “In order to feel confident stand proud, pull you shoulders back, lift your chin slighty, smile” or something similar, it said. I accepted that as true without asking why. It sounded easy enough and worked for me. Maybe it was part placebo effect? Now, as my understanding of the body mind connection expands I think back to that random article I read once and actually get it. Our body is a feedback loop. When we experience a situation that elicits an emotion our bodies processes those chemicals released from the brain as signals to the rest of the muscles of how to react. Because it is a loop this process also works the other way around. In order to attain your desired emotion begin with your posture. Mindfully assume the stance that your body would naturally take when feeling this intended emotion. Take a few breaths here to clear your mind, try to hold for 30 seconds, and notice if your mood changes.
By acknowledging that not just our minds are affected from emotional experiences we can begin to recognize the areas in our bodies that are holding extra tension. Tuning into your physical reactions throughout the day will help you notice what happens when you experience stress, anger, or fear. Maybe those same areas are where you’ve been experiencing decreased mobility/ flexibility. Instead of becoming frustrated first give yourself some compassion for trying your best. Then find some movements that you can start practicing daily to help ease some of the tightness you’re experiencing.
With this idea in mind, let’s focus on the heart. In Ken Dychtwald’s Bodymind he describes the physical effect emotional experiences have on the heart:
“Tensions felt in the area of the heart usually indicate a state of chronic over self-protection. The individual who holds tension in this bodymind region attempts to encase their heart and heartfelt emotions within a protective wall of armor. The armor guards against hurt and attack but also locks away feelings of warmth and nourishment. This tension develops into muscular armor and is experienced as pain when the muscles are confronted.”
There is both physical and mental work that can be applied in order to release these areas of tension within our bodies. Everyone is designed and developed differently so there is no one answer that works for everyone, especially when it comes to shifting mindsets. For the physical work there are some yoga postures that can help ease the tension and encourage a healthy release of build up around the heart.
Cow Pose (Bitilasana)-
Come into a table top position, stack your knees under hips and wrists under shoulders. Start with your gaze down at fingertips. As you inhale arch your back, press your belly button towards the ground and lift your head up and back. Continue to press through the heels of your hands and unite your shoulder blades, expand the space beneath your collar bones and open through your ribs.
Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana)-
Lie belly down with your palms underneath shoulders, your gaze is straight ahead and slightly down. Zip up your legs, press ankles, shins and thighs together and root into the ground with your big toes. On an inhale lift your upper body, place little to no weight in your palms. Use your mid and low back muscles to hold. Pull your shoulders back and together, maybe even gently lift your palms from the ground. With each inhale see if you can open your heart a little bit more.
Upward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)-
Similar to cobra pose, begin lying belly down with your palms under your shoulders, legs zipped together, and toes untucked. As you inhale press into your palms and extend your elbows, tilting your head slightly back to lift your chin away from your chest. Press into the tops of your feet so your legs lift off of the ground. The only four points of contact are your two palms and tops of your two feet. Imagine pulling your collarbones away from each other to create more space in your chest. Take advantage of the additional room and allow your lungs to fill with a few big breaths in.
Camel Pose (Ustrasana)-
Come to standing on your knees hips width distance (or two fists) apart. Imagine sliding your hands into back pockets, press your palms into your sacrum. Slightly engage your quads and glutes to keep your hips stacked over your knees and begin to send your gaze up and back, let your chin fall away from your chest. If your back muscles are able to provide enough support, begin to release your hands down to grasp your heels. Continue to press your hips forward over your heels. Take a few rounds of breath here with open mouth exhales. You may begin to experience a sensation at your low spine (near root chakra). Do not panic and rush out of it, remain here and breath. Allow the moment to pass and the energy to release. Slowly take your time to reverse yourself out of the pose, bring your hips to your heels, bind your fingers and open your palms forward finding a slight cat spine to counter. Take a few moments here, this is an intense heart opener. Allow yourself additional space to process anything that came up during.
Wheel Pose (Chakrasana)-
Start by lying on your back, bend your knees to stack over your ankles. Pull your heels close towards your glutes. Lift your arms straight over head with fingers flexed back “raise the roof” style. Bend your elbows and plant your palms to frame your face, thumbs by your ears. As you inhale press through your palms and heels and lift your navel towards the sky. Keep your glutes engaged so your hips continue to lift. Take open mouth exhales here and hold for a few rounds of breath. When you’re ready begin to slowly release back down to the mat. Bring the soles of your feet together to touch and let your knees fall gently out to the sides. Spend a few moments here to release the tension in your low spine and counter the pose.
Our hearts are very important so naturally we increase our defenses. However, like Ken Dychtwald mentioned, while those layers of protection work to keep the bad stuff out they also prevent the good stuff from getting in.
Fear pings between the ears
And echoes through the skull
Signaling the heart
Harm cannot enter
But neither can love