Thankfully, without taking anything for granted, my heart seems to be in quite a settled place right now. It has certainly had its fair share of ups and downs over the years but it has stood by me and served me pretty well all things considered. Since having had my two children life has calmed down A LOT and affairs of the heart have settled so that I am now most gratefully in a position to give back to my heart and reward it for sticking by me through heartaches and heartbreaks and all that being an emotional being entails.
With it being Valentine's Day this week, I have centred my yoga classes on "opening our hearts" thus including so-called heart-opening asanas and just generally drawing our attention to the heart chakra, the anahata chakra, and the area of the heart in general. I don't always necessarily 'theme' my classes, I find sometimes you start with an idea and can build a class around it, but with it being Valentine's Day this week I figured it would be a perfect opportunity to pay a little attention to this important part of our bodies.
In yoga, the heart represents one's capacity to connect with the world through relationships with other living beings, be they friends, family, pets, work colleagues and generally any one we meet in our day-to-day lives. Equally the anatomical area of the heart is represented by the upper chest and the back so heart-opening sequences would work to target both elements, opening us up spiritually and emotionally in relation to our heart and opening up the physical area too.
There are two main elements to a heart-opening sequence, the first being conscious breathing. By breathing deeply and fully we are creating more flexibility in the rib-cage and physically opening the area of the body where the breath is concentrated. A breathing practice such as the full yogic breath where we breathe in and out through our nostrils filling the lungs from the bottom to the top, starting with the abdomen into the chest then the collar bone region and then exhaling in the same direction, is a great way to encourage deeper and more focussed breathing as well as focussing the mind away from other thoughts. Short, shallow breaths are often characteristic of stressful and negative emotions so by breathing consciously and deeply we are opening our hearts and freeing ourselves from these negative emotions.
The second key element to a heart-opening sequence are backbends as these create space inside the chest by opening and stretching the upper body. It is important, however, to remember to breathe slowly and deeply while in these postures in order to deeply maximise their effects. These could include Upward Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana), Locust (Salabasana), Supported Bridge (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana) or Camel (Ustrasana) amongst many others of course, all of which will work effectively towards opening and expanding the chest area and the front of the body in general. It is important to remember to counter any backbending postures with a suitable forward bend such as Child's Pose (Balasana).
Clearly a yoga practice needs to be balanced so in addition to conscious breathing and backbends the spine needs to be moved in all six directions: forward, backward, sideways to the left and to the right and twisting to the left and to the right. Ensuring that all these spinal movements are included guarantees a well-rounded practice.
I finished my classes this week with a heart-focussed savasana which felt really special- just encouraging everyone to visualise their hearts and linking their breath to their heart area. Nice sometimes just to draw our attention to different parts of our bodies, almost just to acknowledge what they do for us and to express our gratitude.
I think this heart-focused week has been particularly relevant to me as backbends have not been a great focus of my personal practice as I tend to find the greatest comfort from forward bends. Now that I am teaching I have to put together well-rounded classes that include all different types of asanas to provide variety for my students and ensure that lesson plans that are not biased by my personal preferences. In reading about how beneficial backbends can be on levels other than simply looking at spinal flexibility it has changed the way I view them and funnily enough I have experienced more 'opening' in my backbend practice due to my now embracing them rather than hiding from them. I guess this could be applied to many other aspects of life too!
I hope you all have a wonderful Valentine's Day, however you choose to celebrate it. Contrary to what society and card shops would have us believe it's not just about love between people in a relationship, it's an opportunity to non-judgementally accept yourself and others, to recognise the beauty in yourself and in others and if you have previously not allowed love into your life, then it is an opportunity to create room and space for it in your life and to choose the loving path.