The heart is the sitting place of the soul. This is where, deep within the body, the living entity resides. For so long we may have built thick protective walls around our heart and have hidden deep within. So soft, so vulnerable. So lost to the real self. But with yoga practices we can not only physically take that built up tightness away from our chest but also gradually chip away at that stony covering of the heart so the true beautiful self can shine forth with joy.
The process of opening the physical heart into a feeling of lightness and expansion is all about getting suppleness throughout the upper body. The basis of this suppleness is core strength, this forms the support we need to be able to open up into all those wonderful back bends, side bends and twists which will chip away at the upper body tightness and enable a nice open chest. Core and back strength are easily developed through lightly engaging the bandhas in all poses. This strength provides support for the upper body as we move through not only our yoga sequences but also throughout our day.
The next step is to release tension from the shoulders and chest. This tension is part of the build up of protection around the heart as we either brace against the world or stoop our upper body forward hiding our heart deep within.
Lastly we need to gradually make our back more flexible so we can engage in back arches which will lift and open the heart and make room for our breath to swell and open the lungs, inspiring a feeling of health and vitality. Strangely enough, as we release and open the front of our body there is a natural feeling of exhilaration. In fact, surveys have concluded that of all the yoga poses the ones that score at the top of the feel good chart are back arches.
As we develop more and more softness and flexibility in the spine and as we release the tension around the upper body we will be successfully chiselling away the hard physical coverings of the heart. But the soul is not yet free. There are still subtle coverings to release. Our hearts cannot truly open until we are free from all the coverings of the mind, our desires, tendencies, thoughts and emotions. The soul lying deep within the heart is naturally sweet, loving and blissfully happy but gets covered by the products of self absorption like anger, greed, envy, depression and hatred.
The teachings of yoga tell us that these coverings are so strong that it is not within our power to dispel them alone. In fact, we need to take help from another source. Something or someone who is more powerful than us. Yoga meditation is the gift we are given for exactly this purpose – to free the soul from the coverings of matter that prevent us from opening our hearts to joy and love which is the natural condition of the soul.
So if we take our yoga asanas to the next level by including yoga meditation we can start chipping away at our heart coverings and begin to find a sweetness beyond the physical and mental realms.
If we open our hearts to all the wonderful gifts that yoga can bring us we will feel peace and joy and it will make our yoga practice truly worthwhile.
By Vrndavan Dasi
Founder and Principal of Veda Yoga Teacher Training