By Chrisandra Fox Walker
February brings Valentine’s Day and a season for ritualizing all things heart-shaped, chocolate-filled and blissful. Most yogis are no stranger to heart-opening, and keep a regular practice of feeding hridaya, the heart center, with yoga poses such as backbends and chest-openers, behaviors that encourage ahimsa (non-violence), breathing practices that encourage the flow of prana (essential life-energy), which has its seat in the heart, visualizations that invoke loving kindness and practices of non-judgment and compassion. And, while red candy hearts have a shelf life, the practices of yoga can provide a lifetime of support for shifting one’s attitude toward receptivity and supporting a true connection to the kind of love that is all-encompassing and enduring.
In the hatha yoga practice, living from a truly “open-hearted awareness” involves a little preparation. We first embrace practices that help purify the body and the mind and stoke agni, the metabolic flame that consumes the attachments in our lives that bind us to our limiting patterns, behaviors and beliefs. This stage in practice is essential and not to be rushed. The steady work of practicing patiently and compassionately to melt the resistances in body and mind, both on and off the mat, prepares the yogi for the deep work of living beyond these individual neuroses and primes us for living a life without fear, with courage, warmth, radiance and love.
This month features the pose, Dhanurasana, named Bow Pose for the bow-like shape the body resembles. The benefits of Dhanurasana are many, including stretching the front body, strengthening the back, stimulating the abdominal organs and the chakra centers. Dhanurasana can help improve posture, increase core strength and wake up the subtle energies of the body. The pressure at the navel center stimulates blood flow to the digestive and reproductive organs of the abdomen once the pose is released. This area is the seat of samana vayu, the wind that keeps agni, the flame of digestion located behind the navel, alive. In this way, a pose like Dhanurasana helps massage and nourish the organs for optimal digestion and health, while strengthening our internal capacity for integrating the experiences in our lives.
Most yogis who practice bow experience a sweet and tender sense of receptivity and blissful awareness after the “heart-opening” stretch of the chest and a fuller, more expansive breath.
Lie on your belly. Bend your knees and take hold of the outside of your ankles or lower shins. Draw your knees in lightly and hug your inner thighs up to encourage internal rotation of your femur bones. As you inhale, lift your thighs off the floor and draw your chest and shoulders back, extending the front of your spine.
You’ll feel increased pressure in your belly area, and your breath may immediately become short and quick. Draw your deep abdominal muscles in for greater support. Soften the muscles in your back, and allow your spine to move more deeply toward the front of your body.
Stay for 5-8 breaths, slowing down the breath and pressing your feet against your hands with equal effort. Draw your shoulder blades firmly against your back ribs and broaden your collarbones. Draw your breath deep into your low belly, side ribs, back body and upper chest. Try balancing on or toward your navel center.
Slowly release and lie on your belly. Allow your back to soften. Observe the space inside and outside your body, the warmth in your belly and heart, and let your loving attention rest in this flame of awareness.
Chrisandra Fox Walker teaches Tantric hatha yoga weekly at Yoga Tree. Click here for her schedule. She is a core teacher in Yoga Tree’s 200-hour and Advanced Teacher Trainings. She will co-lead a 60-hour Tantra Training immersion in April 2013. Click here for details. Email Chrisandra@gmail.com
Photography by Ryan Scott.