When we think about the heart, we either assign a physical connection as in the organ located in our chest cavity pumping life-sustaining blood throughout our body or we consider the emotional assignment as the center of love, the location of relationship pain (heartache, broken heart) and pictorial representation of affection. In yoga the interconnection of both representations is experienced.
Physically, yoga provides a means of exercising the heart as organ. But even before you move into a posture, the act of concentrated breathing or pranayama initiates the benefits to the heart. Monitored breath will help you expand the chest cavity and oxygenate the blood. This leads to lower blood pressure and a calmness in the nervous system.
Emotionally, the body stores grief, sadness and anger in the heart center. By expanding the sternum and rib cage you are releasing these toxic feelings and making space for universal joy. Although the act of exposing your chest in this manner, may make you vulnerable that vulnerability allows a release that is incomparable to other posture benefits.
Yogis at all levels can continue to feel the benefits of chest openers while challenging themselves for greater rewards. As I mentioned Pranayama is the first and best place to start. In my mind, there is no yoga if there is no attention to breath. Start with deep, elongated breathes calming the mind and focusing on the inhale and exhale of air through the nostrils and into the body. Then move to ujjayi breathing, constricting the throat while you throw the breath to the back of the neck on theinhale and over the throat on the exhale.
You are now ready to practice your heart openers. Start with the cat /cow asana, and move into Lord of the Fishes or open revolved side angle. When you are ready for more of a challenge, consider bow, camel and wheel.
I have my favorite heart openers postures, as I am sure all yoga instructors do. Consider the following short morning practice to help you begin your day open to all the blessings the universe has to offer.
HEART OPENING SEQUENCE
Easy Pose while beginning Ujjayi breathing (5 minutes)
Cat Cow (5 – 10 breathes each)
Open Revolved Side Angle (hold for 5 – 10 breathes each side)
Plank to up dog to down dog (5 to 10 times)
Camel (Hold for 3 breathes and repeat 3 times)
Bridge to wheel (Hold for 5 breathes)
Fish (hold for 5 to 10 breathes)
Savasana (as desired)