Just in time for Valentine’s Day, some talk about the heart. As kids we express our emotions much more freely with less of a filter, then we typically do as adults. As a child, If we were excited to see someone, we would just run and jump into their arms. If we were upset, anyone within earshot would hear it. As adults we are taught to control our emotions, which is important to avoid flying off the handle, and function in society. However, this restraint can sometimes be over compensated, and then we have difficulty expressing how we truly feel.
Our 7 month old puppy, Wiley, actually reminds me of this restraint as he patiently tries to become friends with our 10 year old cat, Azul. Azul will actually sit next to Wiley if he is calm. It takes so much self control for that little guy not to leap, lick and nudge Azul. Wiley has learned in the past Azul just runs away if he pounces. So now they sit close together with Wiley’s tail going 90 beats per minute wanting so much to play with Azul, and Azul just sitting there contently. It seems they have reached a compromise for now, but not long enough to be photographed yet.
As adults we do the same restraining with our emotions and excitement, holding in our fears and worries. Our chest tightens, shoulders slump forward and our breathing becomes more shallow and sometimes we are so unaware of this change. And, unfortunately overtime this position becomes normal and accepted. This is all exacerbated by our sitting postures of driving and computer work.
One way to reverse all this, and release the pent up emotions is with a simple chest opening sequence. Disclaimer, Yoga has so many benefits but practice at your own risk. Be gentle, if it is painful stop. If you have any questions contact me.
Start to slow the mind, and allow gravity and props to gently open the chest, deepen the breath and relax tension in the muscles with Supta Baddha Konasana. Fold a blanket long ways and align it so when you lie down your spine will fall in the middle. Make a long loop with a strap and lasso yourself placing the back of the loop around your Sacrum (the flat part of your low back). Then place the other end of the loop around your feet. Sit in front of the folded blanket, gently tuck your sacrum (to avoid over arching) as you lie back. Slide the shoulder blades down your back to open the chest, make sure you neck is comfortable and then allow gravity to do the rest.
Cobra is a great way to strengthen the muscles along the spine, as well as warm up and begin to open the chest. The danger here is pushing to hard through the hands, and aggressively lifting too high before you are ready. A good way to prevent this is to focus on the legs, try to glue all 10 toe nails into the round as well as lift up on the knee caps igniting the front of the thigh.
Standing with your hands clasped behind your back is a great way to open the chest. If you have a tight chest or shoulders clasp your hands around a strap, shirt or belt instead. Begin in Tadasana, or Mountain pose keeping the legs active, draw the tail bone subtly towards the ground maintaining the normal curve of the low back. Then from there clasp your hands on your low back maintaining the above, extend your arms, drawing the shoulder blades down your back. Avoid letting the front of your arm bone come forward, or extending too far and arching through your low back.
Bridge pose does so much. A strap can help prevent the knees from coming to wide. Again avoid over arching, instead create more space in the spine by drawing your tailbone towards your heels slightly. Avoid over gripping.
These 2 Wide Leg Forward Folds are a progression to the standing clasped hands. The important thing is to maintain the same foundation as standing clasped hands but with wide legs. It is important to bend through the hips and not through the low back, as well as keep the thighs engaged. Same as before a strap or shirt is always an option.
Downward Dog is always a great strengthener and if you avoid clasping through the shoulder joint it is a great way to subtly open the chest as well as the back of the legs. One variation to focus a little more on chest and shoulders and ease out the hamstrings is to lift the heels while sill keeping the front of the thigh active.
Wind things down with a supported Child’s Pose. Place your forehead on a bolster, blanket or block. Here I am using the same fold as the first pose in the sequence. Have your knees wide enough for your ribs to graze them as you come forward onto your prop. Inhale lift the head, create length in the spine. Exhale draw your hips toward your heels. If you have tight quadriceps or hips then you may want to place a bolster or blanket on your calves to elevate the hips.