What’s all the fuss about heart opening?

Screen Shot 2019-05-06 at 10.37.47 PM.png

“Heart opening” seems to have a buzz within the yoga community. It’s a commonly used, hippy dippy, touchy-feely phrase. It’s “cool” to imbibe in heart opening. It’s also expected that as a yogi, you have an open heart and act lovingly toward everyone. And don’t get me wrong, I would love to live in a world where we all have open hearts and act lovingly…and the reality is that we often hurt one another’s hearts and build up defenses to avoid any future possibility of being vulnerable. 

Let’s take a look what what heart opening can mean. 

From a physical perspective, it is all about creating space around the chest; by stretching pecs, shoulders, neck, and upper back. Creating more length in the muscle fibers results in more adaptability and the perfect conditions for building strength. Heart opening is a balance between stretching and strengthening, giving you the capacity to hold yourself in optimal alignment (a.k.a. good posture). And what can become of good posture? Well…

Less muscular tension in the upper back, neck, shoulders, and chest

Fewer to no headaches

Deeper breathing and more lung capacity 

Increased blood flow to your whole body, especially your brain

Increased sensation in arms and hands

Lessening of carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms

Better fine motor and tactile sensation in hands

Less vulnerability for injury when reaching, lifting, or doing chores

Increased range of motion

Hydrated and nourished joints and muscles

More confidence

Feeling of being “lighter”

Mood boost

When you stand up in optimal alignment, you tend to feel better about life and are more willing to try new things, connect with others, face conflict, and enjoy the life you are living

The list goes on and no doubt you have your own unique meaning of what it is to you.

Heart opening can also relate to back-bending. As we open the front of the chest and strengthen the upper back, we are introducing the body to what the root of back-bending is - strong, centered, open, & supported. Backbends can be energizing, as well as help to maintain a healthy range of motion in your spine and hydration for your intervertebral discs. 

For me, peeling back the layers of armor around the heart can also lead to emotional release and/or insight. It gives me the needed self-care to listen to the voice of my heart to know where I stand or what I believe in, or who I am. We tend to hold a lot of protection around the heart to avoid experiencing heart ache or tough emotions. Opening this area physically and connecting to breath is a gateway to understanding the ways in which we protect ourselves, connect to others, give and receive love.

And last, but not least, heart opening gives us the self-awareness, compassion, and understanding to know when to open our hearts and be vulnerable…and when it’s best to take care of ourselves by protecting our hearts. Yoga helps us discern and have a choice around how we treat our hearts. The awareness piece is a critical part of the equation, giving us the ability to listen inward and to hold our hearts in a safe space without having to create the physical armor that leads to discomfort. We can choose whether or not to wear our pain and heartache, and we can choose how to engage in the world from a space of deeper listening. 

Heart opening and back-bends are not my strength. It’s a challenging practice, on several levels for me. The summer season is the perfect time to ask for entry into this part of body. I look forward to it, challenge and reward! Thank you for sharing in this practice with me! Namaste ~Esther

Esther Petrocine