We live in a forward focussed world… Now for the purposes of this blog I am not referring to a forward thinking world, but rather a forward folding world… What???
If some of you are confused let me explain. Consider many of the activities that we do on a daily basis such as:
(b) working/playing on our computers
(c) sitting at a desk doing any assortment of tasks
(d) texting on our phones
(e) sitting and eating a meal with friends…
What do all of these activities and many more similar ones have in common?
They all involve or encourage the body to be in a forward bending position. We are a forward bending society and spend most of our time curving the body and spine forward as a result.
Now if you consider this forward fold, what are its effects on the body and our posture in general? When we forward bend, the shoulders natural move forward and the position is one that tends to shelter or encourage the heart to retreat. So we have a few things at play. Firstly we have a pattern of “forward ness” that can negatively impact our posture, and secondly it may also be impacting us on an emotional level as well by causing the heart to be closed and therefore unreceptive. This forward moving action in the body may also have the undesired effect of cooling the body down as well (see last week’s blog for more on this).
So what can we do? We certainly cannot change the things that we need to do during our days and weeks. However, if we were to add some postures into our lives that would counterbalance these forward movements we may be on the right track. And here we come to what in yoga we refer to as heart openers.
When we expand the heart space in yoga, we work with poses that encourage the heart to open; this is best achieved with back bending poses. These yoga asana focus on bringing the heart space to the forefront, and moving the shoulders towards one another and down the back body. When you think of a back bend that may provide you with the visual for what these poses do – they literally do the exact opposite of a forward fold.
Now if the thought of taking a tour of back bend land is not one you are interested in taking, there are many other poses which also encourage this back bending heart opening shape, a few of which are outlined below:
(1) Lying over two blocks or pillows
One of my favourite poses is lying over two blocks. One block or small pillow comes just at the back of the heart space between the shoulder blades and the other block (possibly a block of lower height) or pillow comes behind the back of the head, allowing the head to drop back slightly. Any position of the legs is fine and you just let yourself lie still for several minutes encouraging the shoulders to open and heart space to expand.
(2) Bridge Pose
Another lovely gentle heart opener is bridge pose, supported or unsupported. Lying on the back body, have the legs bent with the heels close to the sit bones. On an inhale you lift the hips upward, possibly opting to slide a block under the sacrum. Once the hips are lifted you roll the shoulders towards each other and behind the back body, and then you rest there. Again this posture encourages opening and expanding into the heart space.
Come to lie down on your front body. Taking the hands underneath the shoulders, point the toes and activate the legs. On an inhale breath, firm down into the palms and peel the upper body away from the floor keeping the elbows hugging in toward the side body. You can keep the arms bent or if the lower back allows you can straighten the arms and press up higher coming to straighten the arms. Encouraging rolling the shoulders behind the body and expand the heart forward, this pose brings a nice gentle back bend to the body.
Allowing the body to experience heart opening shapes can really help to provide some balance to the forward positions we find ourselves in far too often. Aside from the obvious positive physical effects this counter balance can have, on an emotional level it may also bring an openness to the mind and open our hearts to what may come.
An additional bonus ? As we find ourselves in the colder months, heart openers can warm the body which is a welcome plus!