Yoga for times of change and uncertainty – Part 2
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Yoga for times of change and uncertainty – Part 2

Some time ago I was featured in an article for Stylist magazine written by Kerry Law titled “Yoga for unsettled times: how to use postures and breathwork to ground yourself” which included several short practice ideas from practitioners all over the UK and beyond. Whilst researching for this piece I ended up unpacking my own experiences of yoga over the years and while writing found that I had a series of short articles in response to the brief. So, instead of those articles sitting on my desktop I thought I would put them to some use and share them with you here instead.

The intention of this article is to share some useful insights and practice tips into finding greater feelings of expansion in the body, breath and mind through some gentle approaches towards ‘heart-opening’ practices. I will address some of our postural tendencies as well as offer you a chance to practice with me as I share with you some simple ways to access these ideas for yourself.

 

Hrydaya; the Heart Space

 

When I refer to heart opening practices, I’m not talking about the literal opening of the heart region. I use this term metaphorically as I attempt to offer you ways to feel more expansive and potentially empowered through these practical suggestions.

 

Through ancient texts and the power of parampara (teachers sharing their teachings) I have whole heartedly thrown myself into practices which embody heart-opening time and time again. Why? Because they are so relevant and meaningful to me. Thanks to these rich teachings and my own inquiry I find the practices which link to the heart to be extremely self-assuring and liberating. 

 

Hrydaya; Sanskrit for Heart is in fact the spiritual heart centre; A place where the ancients believed was the seat of consciousness.

 

In the physical sense, the heart space is the region of torso that is encapsulated within the ribcage. The ribcage supports vital life-giving organs such as the heart and the lungs and is a major connecting structure between the spine, the neck and head and the pelvis and sacrum.

 

In a spiritual sense, the heart space represents ‘truth’ or a sense of ‘self’ or ‘being’. It is described as a place that is unchanging, unaffected by our experiences, conversations, relationships, intelligence, judgement and personality.

 

When we are born into this world, we are born as a pure being unaffected by any external influences. And then we are given a name, a gender, a family, friendships, an education, new skills, we travel and experience life which in its entirety is very rich and fulfilling. But along the path we begin to cloud ourselves with many labels which are difficult to remove; “I am clever, I am stupid, I am stubborn, I am fat, I am skinny, I am reliable, I am always late etc…” And other’s project their feelings and emotions upon us too “I am unloveable…”

 

But, if we become mindful to the presence of our truth, and allow time to reflect, then we can slowly start to shed away some of those labels. We can begin to understand ourselves again once more, and the potential to feel balanced, calm and expansive or open will prevail.

 

“Like tomorrow’s beautiful flower encased in a delicate bud, the expanded heart is, for many of us, still in a latent form. The heart, like the bud, protects itself from the harshness of the external world by staying cocooned, locking the Divine within. But through the continuous nurturing of deep devotion, the bud, in guarded increments, can expand its petals to fully blossom in all its beauty.” Nischala Joy Devi: The Secret Power of Yoga

Yoga provides us with the space and time to explore how we move, breathe, feel and think about ourselves. Here, I invite you to practice along with me as I take you through some a series of short practices designed to help you understand what your starting point is, how your spine moves and in what way we’re able to adopt an open-hearted practice or attitude by exploring a few simple postural ideas. Before you delve in, ensure you have everything you need both physically and mentally. Open-heartedness cuts beneath the skin and goes deeper into our emotional well-being. Expansion arises when we have support, so please ensure you feel supported and nurture yourselves well through these practice suggestions.

In order for us to explore ideas around expansion and open-heartedness, it is useful to know what our starting point is.

 

The spine is designed to move through 4 planes of movement:

 

  • Flexion (rounding)
  • Extension (elongation)
  • Lateral (Sideways)
  • Rotation (twisting)

 

Heart-opening postures tend to favour extension (elongation) of the spine, because as the spine lengthens, the chest and ribcage broaden and the feeling of openness around the heart region is enhanced. But where do we begin? To move into this expansive position with the torso it is useful to understand what our neutral is. And so to help you understand this more clearly for yourself, I have recorded a short 6 minute practice which does just that. It is taken from a seated position of your choice and provides you with a moment to understand your postural alignment and the beginnings of how we can support open-heartedness in a physical sense.

“In yoga practice you divide your experience into incremental breaths and taking care of only that which arises in one breath cycle and no more. In this way almost any difficulty becomes manageable. Rather than focusing on how much further you wish you could go, or comparing your meager efforts with those of someone who is more adept, you can choose to focus on what you are accomplishing in each breath.”

Donna Farhi; An extract from Yoga Mind Body & Spirit

Heart opening through short, accessible posture and breath work

 

Now that you hopefully have an understanding of the possible ranges of movement for your spine I hope that you’ve been able to develop a sense of what a neutral position feels like? If not, then I’d recommend revisiting the previous practice video a few more times until you feel clearer for yourself what your starting point is.

To follow on from the previous practice I have recorded a very short, playful practice designed to help you connect more deeply towards the idea of heart-opening and in what ways this can be accessed through some simple movement and breath co-ordination. In this practice you’ll be invited into moving the arms away from the body as you inhale, which in itself can have an almost instant energising effect on the system and help with feeling more awake and open.

You can take the same practice from a chair

 

From the chair, routing down through the sit bones, placing the hands to the back of the seat. With each inhalation invite the chest to lift and open, invite your shoulders to soften away from the ears. You may notice the effect of openness across your abdomen, chest and shoulders.

 

With the exhalations anchor down through the sit bones and then the feet. Find support for your expanding spine and heart. You can rest into a forward fold, supporting the head once you have explored this variation for a few minutes.

And, it can also be explored with the support of a wall

 

Standing to face the wall, have your arms open, elbows bent, hands will be in line with your face and palms pressed flat against the wall. Grounding through the feet, on the exhale start to lower your chest towards the wall, bending the elbows so that you come closer to the wall. Keep the bottom away from the wall, just focus on the chest.

 

With your next inhale imagine peeling yourself away from the wall, inviting your chest and head to arch back a little, elbows still bent, you may find yourself rolling onto the balls of the feet.

 

Exhale to lower towards the wall, inhale to extend away. Chest remains spacious, heart open.

 

Repeat this variation for a few minutes, you may like to stay in the openness of the shape and explore further expansion with each breath in. Upon completion rest your head onto your arms and invite your body to rest onto the wall.

Heart-opening doesn’t have to be extreme, even very subtle practices such as the one’s I have provided here for you can have a profound impact on the way you feel and think about yourself. It could be useful to make a note after each session and reflect upon your experience. Practices like this can lift mood and enable a quality of openness and confidence. So, if we’re feeling uncertain about something and wanting to reconnect towards ourselves, remember to find your starting point, noticing the way the body finds the ground first because this takes the form of support. From there it’s a case of connecting to the breath, and from there, anything is possible as you gently begin to expand yourself towards an open-hearted quality.

 

I’d love to know your responses and feedback based on this article and if you have found it useful please do share it with friends, family and like-minded folks. The next blog post in this series will explore further in depth the idea of heart-opening in relationship to the pose Bhujangasana (Cobra) and will include a longer, immersive practice designed to help you embody further the both the practical and mental and emotional concepts within yoga.

 

In the mean-time if you’d like to practice yoga with me in person you can do so from my home town of Marple, Manchester every week on Mondays and Thursdays with pregnancy yoga on Monday lunchtimes in Hazel Grove. I teach and co-host seasonal retreats in Llanberis, North-Wales and am active on instagram and YouTube.

 

You can also sign up to my mailing list to be the first to hear about my articles, class schedule, online videos and courses. I don’t email too often, roughly once a month, to keep our community connected.

 

Thanks so much for being here and I look forward to reconnecting with you very soon.

 

Helen x