You and your body are in this thing together. You will be with yourself for your entire life. It is the longest and the most important relationship you will ever have. Why, then, is there not more emphasis on fostering a compassionate, empathetic, and forgiving relationship with the self? In the yoga practice, we believe that the self exists in many different shells called the Koshas. The biggest layer is the outward one of the physical body. As we journey deeper into the self other layers are revealed, for example the breath body. In this way, the physical practice churns up energetic shifts, so we use the physical to start exploring the energetic. The practice opened up for me when I rediscovered heart openers.
Why incorporate deep heart openers into your practice?
Call it my natural energetic state; my body has always loved back bending. There was a long span, though, when we both forgot. Like most people, my heart was broken by people and places and ideas and the ways of the world. I went from an incredibly optimistic and truly happy individual to someone who saw so many problems and zero solutions. I focused much of my time and energy on building thicker armor because that felt like building strength. Every once in a while, I experienced instances that cracked open the armor. Moments of uncontainable gratitude, joy, and empathy found their way past all of the defenses. In those precious breaths, I felt my heart alive again. When I came to the practice, my body instinctively knew it needed heart openers, also legs up the wall but mainly heart openers. After years of harsh judgement, overly analytical thinking, and strong distrust in both myself and others, softening and cracking open was exactly what was necessary.
Opening the heart asks us to find compassion, empathy, and forgiveness, for others, for self. Forgiveness is an often overlooked element of the heart chakra, and this is where my work began. I didn't realize how many times day I was horrible to myself. I did the work of learning how to forgive myself for my perceived shortcomings, for needing help, for not having all the answers, for feeling and thinking freely. This is where I learned how much strength it takes to open, and more importantly keep open, the heart. People intentionally or unintentionally will act in ways that will combat all of the work you do to forgive yourself. Heart opening that is unsupported by the foundation of strong inner work, ultimately leads to a deep hurt.
The Physical Work
Work with the heart chakra through mobility and boundaries. Movement in the arms stimulates the heart. The physical form of a backbend requires a TON of shoulder mobility. If your arms can’t extend overhead when there is no weight on the hands, it will only be more challenging when you bear weight on them. My favorite way to work on mobility is through binds. The arm movement very nearly mimics the act of giving a hug. Can you do that for yourself? Can you learn to hold yourself in the ways you would another person? Binds help to find openness across the front body because healthy boundaries facilitate expansion.
There is a huge difference between overindulgence and openness. The shape of the backbend collapses without cultivating the necessary strength. That feeling of effortless freedom comes from the support of the core, glutes, and legs. Openness without support leads to injury. Particularly important is coordinating the strength. If your glutes are working without your core, that usually leads to soreness in the low back. Where is the support coming from?
One of our primary fear responses lives in the hips. When frightened, the hip flexors instinctually contract, preparing for either fight, flight, or freeze. In any back bending practice but particularly a deep one, any fear of deepening or opening is met head on with trust of self or the entire shape is compromised. It’s the ultimate self-trust-fall. Do you trust your internal support system enough to expose the most vulnerable parts of you knowing that you will come out the other side alive?
We live in a world that champions seemingly unreconcilable ways of being in the world. That looks like being nice/polite/appropriate/publicly charitable and simultaneously unemotional/logical/pragmatic/headstrong. Inherently, there is nothing wrong with this ideal. Everyone has the capacity to exist and show up in many different ways. When we open our hearts, we learn to forgive ourselves for any shortcomings. We learn compassion for the multitudes inside of us. We find the capacity for vulnerability through deeply rooted support and trust.