Keeping the Heart Open

One of the joys of practicing Yoga has been the exploration of the chakra system. As systems golike the beautiful Pagan Wheel of the Year – it is an elegant and profoundly useful tool for spiritual development. Of late, I have been focusing on the link between postures and individual chakras, experimenting with those asanas that supposedly open, stimulate or balance these energy centres.

Postures that work upon the open expression of Anahata, the heart chakra, involve opening the chest and expanding the lungs. I have found it interesting that lung and breathing problems are so often connected to grief and emotional pain – Anahata linking the physical heart and lungs. Our emotional states impact upon our breathing; when we are upset or angry it becomes shallow and rapid; when we are relaxed, it deepens and slows. Working with Anahata teaches us to develop trust and openness and the postures that support this very literally open out our bodies, easing our breathing and ‘making the heart available’ (as the very lovely yogi Marlon Braccia puts it).

I love this phrase; it’s the use of the word ‘available’, meaning that others may have access to our hearts; it speaks of generosity and ultimately of trust – trust of self, others and life. The open heart becomes the open hand – we touch and are touched. The asanas that facilitate this openness articulate also our willingness to be vulnerable. Many are back bends that expose the tender line of the front of our bodies. In back bends we present to the world each of the chakra centres without defence – the sacral, solar plexus and throat are all presented and exposed along with the heart; in opening the heart with trust, we allow all aspects of ourselves a freer and more authentic expression. Unlike the more introspective and protective forward bends, backbends invite life in. Physically, they quite often take bravery and strength to perform and this reminds us that the heart develops strength in embracing its vulnerability; it also speaks of the courage it takes to truly love without fear.

Last night in my Yoga lesson, we performed two of my favourite backbends: Camel Pose (Ustrasana) and Fish Pose (Matsyasana). Both open and strengthen the chest and lungs, freeing up the breath and because of this, both feel incredible good to do when stress or fear contracts our bodies and spirits and we feel psychologically hunched in upon ourselves.

Despite my current inner upheaval, I know that keeping the heart open is vitally important –to close down, is to stop breathing and we all know what happens when we do that. Despite feeling a little cut adrift, my fear seems to be lessening, which is odd considering that the psychological scaffolding of my beliefs appears to have collapsed rather. Feeling my chest open and my lungs expand in Fish pose last night – enjoying how good it felt – I thought to myself that being suspended in this strange place of ‘not knowing’ was really alright and quite exciting. I guess I have always relied on systems to help me feel ok – and of course, my Yoga still plays its part in this way, so I am not completely without support. However, my certainty has crumbled somewhat and the great thing is that this is not the disaster I might have suspected. All my old definitions of what the Divine is have dissolved and I am beginning to realise that this is not the same as losing my connection to the Divine itself. This connection is never severed – my finite understanding of God/dess is being challenged, not because the Divine is an illusion but because any shape I might give it is limited. We can only ever get a glimpse of that greater Mystery and it seems that my personal glimpse is attempting to widen. In this process, all old assumptions are broken down. Like the lightning struck tower of the tarot, crumbling edifices are torn down that we might get a better view, that we might be liberated from those actions, thoughts and patterns that no longer serve us.

I am making my heart available – it’s scary and exhilarating – I guess it is like falling in love with life, and there is nothing more terrifying and wonderful than falling in love:

The ideal situation for really understanding another is not so much how a person reacts to extreme stress, but rather how he or she suffers the vulnerability of falling in love. –  Aldo Carotenuto ‘Eros and Pathos: Shades of Love and Suffering’.

Ustrasana - Camel Pose (


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