The heart is am amazing organ. Hidden inside our chest, it maintains life, pumping blood through the body, regulating and rhythmically guiding the forces that keep us alive. This is the physical heart, the one that we cannot live without. Yet there are also two more levels to our hearts, and many believe that these are heart aspects we also cannot live without. The emotional heart, our epicenter for compassion, empathy, wisdom, and intuition is the center of what makes us human. Even deeper, we discover our spiritual heart. The connections deep inside this heart offer us a link to all other beings, here and beyond the borders of our physical world. Ancient sages called this the core of our consciousness, the “hrdya”. In Sanskrit, “hrt” means innermost being. Thus “heart” is the innermost aspect of who we are and part of the first of yoga’s guiding principles for living-Ahimsa. Through Ahimsa, we attain connections, compassion and love for ourselves and others.
Many physical yoga practices begin and end with poses guided by the heart. As we move onto our mats and prepare to engage our physical bodies, we expose our hearts. We may experience a greater feeling of openness by stretching, moving shoulder blades down our backs or by placing a block or blanket between our shoulder blades. These adjustments bring greater awareness and openness to our hearts. We then begin to soften, slowing our breath and breathing into our hearts as we move into physical practice.
Any pose can serve as a heart opener, as long as it brings awareness to your heart space. A slight change in the position of an arm as it moves overhead in side angle or triangle can open space into the heart. Forward fold with hands clasped behind the back and you open even more possibilities. More intense heart openers such as camel or bridge pose take us into physical postures that energize and challenge our hearts as well as our strength and flexibility.
Heart openers may often open other awarenesses, some comfortable and some not. In an intense heart opening practice, emotions may surface that surprise you, bring fear or disappointment as well as joy and happiness. If we think of our hearts as three levels of being, this makes sense. In yoga, we move from the outside in, physical postures help us reach our inner core where our most basic feelings reside. By physically moving our bodies, we move into a place where we can begin to recognize, acknowledge,and experience the full range of emotions, or what it means to be human.
We close physical practices with a final acknowledgement to the heart, raising our arms, folding hands at heart center, thanking ourselves and others for who we are and what we have. Our hearts have opened and led us to new possibilities and new awareness. Our lives will follow suit.
As we open our bodies, minds, and hearts…we awaken to the wonder of awareness and possibility.