Sunday, January 31, 2010
The Heart. The center of our spiritual being. When this center is opened and enlivened, we experience a greater capacity for love (for ourselves as well as for others), greater physical health, and a greater sense of peace and centeredness. Heart-opening poses in the practice of yoga help to open this center and bring myriad benefits. An open heart is also a state of mind- a knowingness that you are innately good, that you are loved, that you are free. It is a willingness to receive the love of family, friends, strangers, nature, even the whole world and to send it back out. When your heart is open, you leave room for health, happiness and balance.
In the land of yoga asana (posture), heart opening poses usually include backbends, from the simplest and smallest lift of the sternum to the grand and beautiful wheel pose (full backbend). These poses not only open up space around the physical heart, they also stimulate the thymus. The thymus is an organ just behind the sternum that provides an area for many of our immune cells to mature; it is of vital importance in our immune system. Practicing heart opening poses is an excellent way to boost and maintain a healthy immune system. It is also a great way to counteract "computer posture", the hunched, rounded-shoulder posture we assume as we tap away on our keyboards. Backbends act as a counter to computer posture by drawing the shoulders back and bringing the heart forward. Practicing backbends regularly helps you to stand and sit up straighter and to relieve those pesky kinks we get in our necks and shoulders from hunching forward.
Practicing physical poses is not the only way to open the heart. Openness comes from an attitude- a choice to reveal yourself, to express yourself, to celebrate yourself and to allow your heart to be touched by others. This fits in nicely with the first principle of Anusara Yoga: "Open to Grace". Anusara Yoga is a school of hatha yoga founded by John Friend. The word Anusara means "following your heart". The philosophy of this school of yoga is epitomized by a "celebration of the heart" that looks for the good in all people and all things. Opening to Grace is like softening; it is surrendering to the vastness of the world around you. It allows you to relax so your heart can softly expand and brighten your inner being. This softness and openness then infuses any physical pose that follows. In fact, just this attitude of softness and openness automatically starts to lift your chest and refresh your posture.
As you continue (or begin) your Yoga practice, I invite you to open your heart, physically and spiritually. Start to notice all the fabulousness that comes along with this opening. Peace, health, love and more. And maybe you'll even start to live from your heart. After all, it is much smarter than your head.
May you enjoy much love this February, Valentine's Day and always!