All this week, I’ll be focusing on heart openers in class. I like pairing heart openers with hip openers because both areas of the body are often tight for so many people. When we refer to “heart openers” we’re talking about stretching muscles like the pectorals (pectoralis major and minor and a little bit of the deltoid).
The chest can be a part of the body that is tight for students because of all the hunching we do all day. If you observe your own posture when hunched over your phone or computer, you notice how short the muscles of the chest become. Even just sitting up in your chair can create more space in the chest, but most of us don’t take the necessary postural corrections to be able to keep this part of the body stretched. This is why this theme for class can greatly impact students.
I also like to think about the emotional side of things or the chakra aspect to working with this theme. The heart chakra is known as the seat of our emotions and can be associated with the concepts of “letting go,” “compassion” and “self-love.” These feelings can be very powerful for people as they arise. I can share for myself that over the weekend, working with this theme while taking a class create a rise of emotions in me that, while it did not catch me by surprise, was quite a release. I always tell students to just let things flow, even if you typically feel uncomfortable expressing emotion. The body stores so much in the muscles, cells and tissues of the body and when we focus on opening a certain area, it’s not uncommon for there to be a release.
From a postural point of view, working poses like Cobra, Upward Dog, Camel, Bridge, Wheel, Side Angle and Triangle are all part of this theme. Also, starting with a supported heart opener, like lying on a rolled up blanket (rolled up like a sausage and in line with the spine as the student is on top of it) can be helpful to just begin to gently open up the chest.
The other aspect to consider from an anatomical perspective are the muscles in the back of the body. In order to open the chest, you need to draw the shoulder blades together. The muscles involved here are the rhomboids. They are often overstretched due to all the hunching over we do all day. So, we need to strengthen them and heart openers do just this. Have students focus on bringing the inner edges of the shoulder blades together, as in interlacing the fingers behind the back. You can add this arm position into a standard forward fold as well as Warrior 1 and Warrior 1 with a progression into a forward fold while in the pose. It also works well in a Straddle fold and in poses on the floor like Bridge and Locust.
One of the challenges I like to give myself is to start the week with a theme and proceed into each class, creating a sequence on the fly around that theme. If you stick to the theme, you can come up with all sorts of variations around this idea over the course of 4 or 5 classes. You’ll see different ways to piece the sequence together or you can stick with the one you used on Monday, recognizing that every class is different. Start the classes out by sharing with the students what you plan on using as the focus, explain a little about the muscles involved as well as the chakra aspect. This can provide a complete experience for your students and help them take home a little additional information as well.