This week's sharing from #somawithDaphneandLucy are our favourite HEART OPENERS:
Heart opening poses are a consistent “obsession” for yoga practitioners. Deep contortionistic backbends are pursued like trophies - a trademark of the accomplished yogi.
Backbends or spinal extensions are often mythicised as “Heart-Opening”, since it creates an expansion in the front of the body, particularly in the chest / thorax where the vital organs of the heart and lungs are situated. Spinal extension poses are thought to create lung capacity and invigorate the body-mind. Since these poses also stretch into the front of the belly, it can serve as a reprieve from those who live a sedentary lifestyle of hunching over devices, sinking into couches, with the spine constantly being in flexion.
The energetic benefits of heart openers also include stimulating our life force, instigating our capacity to love unconditionally, and helping us find courage to face challenges.
All these are well and good. The spanner in the works almost always lies in the HOW and not the WHAT. Generally, yoga backbends are done with the alignment cue to draw the shoulder blades back and down (retraction, adduction, internal rotation of the scapulas) in order to create maximum spinal extension. However, the structure of the thoracic spine (with a rib bone extending out of each vertebra forming a “cage”), is the “stiffest” part of the entire spine, and naturally shaped into a flexion or a kyphosis.
Culturally, we are told since young to pull our shoulders back, stick our chest out, and not to hunch our back! We have been so conditioned to contract our back body in order to push our sternum forward, that we might have forgotten that Mother Nature equipped us with a concave “cage” so we can house and protect our vital organs!
The study of the organs system in Body Mind Centering led us to reconsider this whole paradigm. According to its founder, Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen, our heart is cradled by each half of our lungs. The trio creates an ecosystem of oxygen and CO2 exchange that feeds life force into our cellular matrix, much like the dynamic macrocosm of our external environment.
The pulmonary system responsible for this exchange is actually located in the back of the anatomical heart, snuggled in the space in between to touch the front of the lungs. It is interesting to note that the lower lobes of each side of the lungs form most of the back of the ribs, where as the top lobes are under the upper trapezius.
When we overextend the thoracic spine by squeezing into the traps and leveraging onto our scapulas to push the “heart” forward, we are actually squashing the lungs and the heart, not exactly “opening” them at all! This can over stimulate our nervous system, as well as create strain in our spine and destabilise the balanced curvature of our spine.
The next time you attempt a backbend, can you reach into the spaciousness of the back body, and let the heart rest in the space embraced by the lungs, supported by the circulation of the blood exchange in the pulmonary vessels.
Registered Yoga Therapist, Somatic Movement Educator, Bodyworker, Yoga Teacher Trainer