Happy Valentine’s Day!

Usually around this special day devoted to love you can count on your yoga instructor theming a class around ‘opening the heart’. Within the framework of a yoga class it can be difficult to really explain what is meant by this.

Physiologically, the heart is held in the chest cavity- duh! The importance of this in a yoga class is that we have to bend the spine in order to create any kind of action in the figurative heart. The poses that create these bends are backbends and rounded forward bends. The spine has a natural S curve. When opening the heart we focus on the thoracic spine- which rounds forward. So opening the heart happens in the opposite action of back-bending. One thing to consider is that the lumbar spin needs to be in full support of the backbend, so think about keeping your pelvis neutral- or level on all sides. Lift up from the center of your chest, or the space between your shoulder blades. Draw your shoulder blades together behind your heart. In a healthy back bend you will not feel any discomfort or pinching in your lower back, but it will feel strong. Once you are able to create an expansion in your chest you have begun to ‘open the heart’. Often when we do this we may have a physiological reaction like nausea or dizziness. These can be caused by your physical body moving in a way it usually doesn’t. It could also be caused by your vestibular system (an awareness mechanism in your inner ear) trying to adapt to fluid shifting direction. However, most yoga instructors prefer to speak to the more mysterious qualities of opening the emotional heart.

This theory of application generally stems from the chakra system. The heart chakra (anahatasana), in the center of the chest, is an energy vortex that harnesses energies that revolve around love. Qualities like compassion, empathy, passion, self love and love for others are balanced in the heart. When these energies are out of balance we can experience a whole slew of less than lovely emotions like jealousy, unworthiness, depression. But also, we can balance these qualities with some back-bending and forward bending. If you have found yourself coming out of a backbend feeling less than great- it could be worth questioning what your efforts and experiences have been recently in regards to love. Ask questions like: am I loving fully? Am I letting myself be loved? Am I holding on to a broken love? When the energies of the heart chakra are balanced all types of love flow freely in both directions- we can give and receive any and every type of love we humans are capable of experiencing.

Whatever your experience of back bends currently, know that the more you do it the easier it gets. Hmm- sounds a lot like LOVE itself.