While at a class the other morning I was reminded of the importance of opening our heart centers during the colder months. Here in Vancouver with these heavy clouds and lack of sun the desire to close inwards is oh so appealing. But when we completely draw in during the winter our heart center can suffer. You may notice shallower breathe, disconnection with others, less people smiling at one another on the street and more tension in the chest, shoulders, neck, and arms.
The phrase “open your heart” is uttered a lot in yoga classes. I know I say it when I am guiding and thinking it when I am practicing. The first time I ever heard it in a class it was something that resonated deep within. Even now after years of practice its still something I return to. But what does it really mean and what can we do to cultivate it during the winter when we just want to get cozy?
A lot of people resonate in the same way I do with heart-opening but the mistake that is commonly made with this cue is that instead of simply lifting up through the collar bone, people will collapse in their lower back and push out the rib cage. To help prevent this the first step is awareness. In the next few poses keep the idea of trucking the tailbone under, pulling belly button intowards the spine, lengthening the sides of the body, and the rib cage in.
I find heart-openers the juciest when I am super duper warmed up, especially in my spine. So before letting go in a heartful backbend get your inner fire buring mobilize the spine. *Also feel free to wear lots of layers.
– Start with some cat/cow (marjaryasana/bitilasana) linked with breath to start to cultivate a little bit of heat as well as movment in the spine. Begin by finding your neutral spine and on the next inhale allow the belly to drop and the tailbone and heart to lift. Gaze remains forward elongating the back of the neck. On the exhale let the chin lower intowards the chest and press into the palms to help open up in between the shoulder blades and arc like an angry cat. *Explore with the breath. It may feel more comfortable to switch the inhale and exhales along with the movement. There is no wrong way.
Twist it out
– Twists are one of my favorite ways to begin to open up the chest and pectoral muscles that can tighten up during colder spells or with sitting a lot at a desk. Begin this “threading the needle” twist on hands and knees. Inhale as you lift right arm off of the floor and exhale as you take it under the palm that continues to rest on the mat. You can make this is flowing movement with breath or remain here lifting the left arm up towards the sky.
Lunge to the heart
– Begin with a low lunge letting proper alignment be the motivation before heart-opening to insure the low back is supported. Make sure the knee doesn’t come past the toes, tuck the tailbone under, and let the hips sick down. When you have found your Anjaneyasana on an inhale allow the arms (not shoulders) to lift to the sky, on an exhale let the arms gentle float back down. Now imagine a pendant on your chest that gradually lifts higher and higher towards the sky without comprimising the stability in the back.
Restore the heart
– There are a few different options for restorative heart-openers but this is one of my favorites because you don’t need anything special. *Make sure you are warm enough with socks a sweater, blanket for the body, and even an eye pillow. Just a a couple towles or blankets. Roll up one blanket and place another folded under the head insuring that the head doesn’t feel like its hanging down. Line up the bottom of the shoulder blades with the edge of the blanket allowing the sholders to rest in between the two blankets. Legs can straight but if the back is really talking to you than feel free to place something beneth the knees. Stay for at least 5-10 minutes. Breathe. * A similar pose can also be done with a bolster if its okay for the back.
After you are done you can take the props out from underneath and allow the knees to pull into the chest to release the lower back.
Savasana (corpse pose) can shortly follow integrating the information. If it serves you visulize the color green while you are in rest. *Savasana is always an important part of practice even it hasn’t been a long one.
The way is not in the sky. The way is in the heart
Happy heart everyone!