“A weak or concave chest indicates a depressed, sad or helpless attitude, which can be uplifted by deep breathing.” ~ Deb Shapiro
The other day I was talking to a friend, also a yoga teacher, about the expression “open your heart—lift your heart.” It is a great cue to get students to expand the rib cage and drop the shoulders away from the ears. Especially in back bending asanas, we want to lift up through the mid torso and ribs to avoid compression in the lumbar spine, and to bring more breath and energy into the lungs and heart. This encourages a shift from shallow breathing and also enhances lung capacity.
As you are likely sitting now, you may not notice how the shoulders are rounded forward, the chest is sunken and your breathing is slightly shallow.
Give this a try, just lift the center of the chest, relax the shoulders, bring the ears to line up with them, breathe deeply and then let out a long slow exhale.
Feels good, right?
Off the mat, to live our yoga our gestures must mirror our inner state.
Some yogis say “namaste”, which means “I bow to you.” It is a recognition of our fundamental source of sameness in spirit and as humans. The power of a “please”, “thank you” or even a simple “hello” can go a long way in indicating a simple state of friendly openness. I am not talking about the potential mugger who asks you for the time in the middle of a dark alley. I am just talking about the extension of our practice to our relationships and interactions.
How we see things in life is a function of the lens we use.
photo: Rana Waxman
Stress tends to shorten us. Whether that means it shortens the distance between our ears and our shoulders, or the shortening of our temper and manners. When we feel a calm balanced state after a physical practice of yoga or even a brief meditation in the park, whatever our focused joy is, we will feel expanded and large.
That feeling grows into compassion, kindness, confidence and fearless choices based on trust and interconnectedness. It means preserving our peace of mind by staying open and happy, even when others around us are grouchy. It means rejoicing for a friend’s good fortune rather than falling into an envy hole.
The way we express this may be by bring the hands together at the heart as a gesture of gratitude, or even just a smile. A smile is a simple human gesture that transcends the boundaries of language. It also relaxes the face and indicates a relaxed mind—a furrowed brow does not.
When openness occurs, an inner state of peacefulness and friendliness will also show up with us on our yoga mats. We will likely be more in alignment with the principle of ahimsa, which encompasses loving-kindness, non-aggression and respect. It means putting the “over-achiever” aside so that we do not over-stretch. It also means giving our strong areas a rest so that we can awaken dormant areas that are in need of the light of awareness and energy.
Point of view can point us in different directions. A relaxed mind is able to tap into the energy needed to transmute negatives into positives. A relaxed mind is achievable through a balanced practice. A balanced practice can lead to harmony in all our other spheres.
Rana Waxman, the Modern Yogini, has been teaching yoga in Montreal for 17 years. Often called the “Muscle Whisperer”, her inspired style is a balanced blend of vinyasa, alignment and restoratives to heal the body and relax the mind.www.ranawaxman.com