Open your heart

Opening your heart chakra can be serious business.

Last week I realized that my backbends in all postures from Half Moon to Standing Bow to Floor Bow to Full Locust pose were missing one thing. I was not using my FULL back. Specifically I was not using my upper back muscles and it was causing me discomfort.

I slouch both in and out of the hot room.
I rely on the flexibility of my lower back to go deeper into postures.
Once I realized that I was not making this mind body connection to use my upper back muscles, I went from getting 100% benefit to much less benefit.

As Victoria, my instructor put it,
"You have to change, you don't really have a choice."

What to do?
How do I connect with and use muscles that I never consciously use?

I am now realizing that these upper back muscles are part of something much bigger.
I am opening my heart. This isn't easy. It is so freaking hard.
I am reaching out, building confidence, taking leaps of faith.. insert more magnanimous and vague phrases here- that is what I am doing.

Do you know how you wake up in the morning, and don't even think about it but you stretch and push your chest out- sometimes you stretch your arms out in a V while you puff out our chest?

If you do, that's it.

That is what my practice and subsequently my life is all about these days. That stretch I try to replicate in the hot room, it is helping me become more aware of my upper back muscles.

That, and this article I found on Yoga Journal titled, "The Compassionate Backbend." by Kate Tremblay

I cannot reccomend this article enough.
Here are some excerpts that resonate with me.
-Accepting the truth of our selves, our hearts, our muscles, our level of energy in any given moment is the height of compassion, and practiced this way, yoga becomes an exercise in equanimity. How is it, then, that so many of us quickly abandon these ideals when we practice backbends?
-We grasp for a deeper opening, greedy for the glory of a perfect pose. We refuse to surrender to our own body's wisdom. If we're not paying close attention, we can become shockingly forceful and disrespectful of ourselves
-Backbends... Maybe you are stiff along the front body or have weak back muscles, or perhaps you instinctively know to protect a vulnerable heart from openings you are not ready for.
-You make a conscious choice not to take all you could, not to move into the fullest backward bend your body can manage, because you see value in holding back; you value the health and integrity of your body more than the glory of a deeper backbend. You value the primary function of the pose—the opening—more than the final shape or form of the posture.

The article encourages you to embrace your limitations as part of yourself. It also has some incredible tips on Full Locust Pose (Poorna-Salabhasana). It has shown me how to revolutionize my practice. Each posture I do, is done with awareness of my upper back. My back pain has disappeared and only reappears when I fail to make that mind body connection with my upper back.

The article poses an important question, 'Are you greedy? Do you take too much from your practice or do you only take what you need?" In grasping for a deeper expression in the wrong way, you can hinder your practice and yourself. This taking only what is necessary as described in Patanjali's Yoga Sutra is called, Aparigraha.

I am basking in the concept. Remembering my breath. Opening my heart. Getting the necessary off my chest. It is tough business. I feel so alive. It is this opening of my heart that has me reaching out.

**Taken from Kate Tremblay's article on Compassionate Backbends, credit is given in Bibliography.

Salabhasana involves an active contraction of the back muscles to open the front body. This feels delicious when the back is strong and the front body is not overly restricted. Remind yourself that the primary purpose of backbends is to release tension along the front of the body, helping you feel more movement of breath and energy in those areas. As an active backbend, Salabhasana also offers the promise of strengthening muscles along the back of the body. In service of these intended benefits, try lifting your body only 50 percent as high as you comfortably can. Use the reserved energy and the mental space created to stay a few breaths longer than you might be able to if you were really pushing yourself. Then use the extra time to observe sensations and to maneuver within the pose.

To come into Salabhasana, lie facedown with your forehead on the floor and your arms alongside your body, palms down. Exhale and lengthen the lower back by drawing the belly gently toward the spine and pressing the pelvis and thighs toward the floor. Hold a subtle tension in the belly as you inhale and lift the chest and head. Exhale and again lengthen the lower back, drawing the belly gently toward the spine. Inhale, expanding the chest forward and at the same time pulling the apex of the arch from the lower back up to just behind your breastbone.

Stay in touch with your level of exertion and any signs of resistance in your lower back. Resistance doesn't necessarily mean you should stop what you're doing, but it is a reminder to slow down and pay attention to what is happening. Lower the chest a bit to slow down and observe. Find space to move within the pose, to work the chest forward on your inhalations and lengthen the back on your exhalations.

Once you've mastered the action, begin to experiment with deepening the backbend, taking care to honor your own comfort level. Is there enough ease in your lumbar spine (in the lower back) to offer it a little more arch? Ideally, you want the lumbar spine and the cervical spine (in the neck) to arch without overcompressing and without compromising your ability to open the front of the thoracic spine (in the middle and upper back).

If you've lifted the apex of the curve upward and your lower back feels fine, release a little of the abdominal contraction at the end of your next inhalation, letting the lower back move a little farther forward. Work to keep the apex of the curve drawing upward, and support the lifting heart from underneath by bringing the shoulder blades firmly against the rib cage. Mirror the action of your chest with the base of your skull, extending it upward on an inhalation so the neck comes to its full length. Then look forward and up with the chin still slightly tucked, as if you were arching up and back over a large ball. The entire spine should lengthen and open into a long graceful bend, with no single part receiving a disproportionate share of the backbend. This feels glorious. Savor it.

If you want to move more deeply into the pose, add your legs, lifting them and stretching back through the heels. Every time you move, take only 50 percent of what is possible. Know that as the body opens, you can take another 10 percent—and another, and another. If you are still comfortable and want a bit more chest opening, lift the arms off the floor too. Keep them by your side and turn the palms to face each other, or interlace your fingers behind your back and stretch the knuckles back toward the heels. Just be sure to keep some extra wiggle room for observing and responding—the ultimate yogic conversation between body, breath, and mind.

Whenever you take all that your body will give, the question of when to come out of the pose never emerges. You come out when your body gasps "uncle." By contrast, working as you are here, and as the Yoga Sutra advises—balancing sthira (steadiness) and sukha (ease)—there is room to observe cues that the quality of your effort is beginning to wane and it's time to rest. Do you have less control over the subtle actions of controlling depth and apex? Is your breath beginning to lose its smooth, easy rhythm? When your resistance to remaining in the pose overpowers the conversation of your body, it is time to come out. Lie down slowly, turning your head to one side and resting your arms alongside the torso, palms rolling up toward the ceiling. Listen to the echoes of the pose reverberating throughout your body. Enjoy the total release of effort and observe the new quality of your energy.

Tremblay, Kate. "The Compassionate Backbend." Yoga Journal: Yoga Poses, Classes, Meditation, and Life - On and Off the Mat -
Namaste. Web. 28 Jan. 2011. .

No comments:

Post a Comment