Give love, receive love: Enjoy the cycle
At last, the international day of self-love has arrived. Valentine’s Day has become a hallmark for celebrating matters of the heart, and what better way to revel than by opening your heart with yoga?
You can’t hold love in your hand, but you can feel it in your heart. The heart is a muscle, and like all other muscles in the body, it needs to be strengthened continuously.
“If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it”, comes to mind when I think about inciting dormant muscles. Stretching muscles in the chest, shoulder, upper back and abdomen areas release intense emotions, and allows you to let go of things that no longer serve you mentally emotionally and physically.
When your intention is to be loving with yourself and others – instead of validation or approval – then your heart is open to receiving love from others in a non-demanding way. To receive love, we give love. The more love we give; the more love we receive because what we give to others we are giving to ourselves.
Filling up with love starts with focusing inward. Yoga practice helps to achieve this level of mindful awareness.
Heart Opening Yoga Poses
The best part about heart opening yoga poses is that you don’t really need to be in a relationship to receive the benefits. Practicing these poses will cultivate self-love, and you’ll learn to forgive and accept life’s situations as is, instead of interfering with the flow.
During our flow sessions, I remind yogis that e-motions are simply energy in motion; they are fleeting visitors that come and go. Since energy is meant to flow, why hold on to them?
Remember, energy in motion (e-motions) flows.
By clutching emotions, we create blockages. These blockages tend to take up space in the heart, and yield outcomes that don’t exude love. Think about where fear, frustration, stress, disappointment and pain stem from – blocked energy that establishes roots and clamps energy. To encourage energetic flow, focus inward.
Backbends and chest opening poses help to heighten feelings of enthusiasm and willingness, which provide plenty of high vibes to share with yourself and people around you. There’s a heightened level of trust when the heart is willing and operating in receptive mode.
When practiced slowly and safely, backbends help to reset your response to stress and trains the mind toward equanimity. Here are 3 of my go to yoga poses to open your heart during Valentine’s and every other day of the year. Please make sure to warm up your body with a few stretches before you try these poses.
This pose is the ultimate heart opener and backbend. It requires you to hold your body in a position of complete and utter vulnerability. I appreciate camel pose because it can lead to a dramatic “real-ease” of emotions.
Strengthens the back; opens the shoulders, chest, and quadriceps; boosts mood and energy.
How to do this Pose
Start with your knees hips width apart and the tops of your feet resting on the mat behind you. For support, place your palms on your lower back, fingers pointing upward. Inhale and lengthen your spine, exhale and begin to slowly arch backwards, keeping your chest open, your shoulders wide, and your thighs perpendicular to the ground. Once you feel comfortable, gently drop your head back, and look up toward the ceiling. When the front side of your body is stable, and at ease, extend your hands to your heels and lengthen from the base of your spine through your neck. Breathe smoothly for five breaths. To come out of the posture, return your hands to your lower back, bringing your chest forward before you lift your head.
Whether you practice yoga with me or any other certified yoga teacher, after an intense back bend, it’s important to fold forward to bring the spine to neutral. Balasana (child’s pose) is a wonderful counter pose for any backbend.
Upward Bow (Wheel) Pose
Two nights ago, while visiting a friend, her children – daughter (8 years old) and son (6 years old) – were keen to show me their drop back in to bow pose. In the middle of the living room, these “mini-adults” seemingly floated backwards and landed on their palms while pressing the front side of their body toward the ceiling. I was impressed by the ease of their moves, but what truly moved me were the smiles glued to their faces as they surfaced back to standing vertically. I asked how they felt after doing a back bend, and in sync they replied, ”good, that felt good.”
Feels good; improves spinal mobility; stretches the chest and lungs; strengthens the arms, shoulders, and legs; increases energy and counteracts depression.
How to do this pose
Lie on your back to start. Bend your knees, bringing the soles of your feet onto your mat. Connect the third finger on each hand to your heel to ensure your body’s alignment. Keep your feet parallel, and hips’ distance apart. Bend your elbows and bring the palms of your hands underneath your shoulders with the fingertips pointing towards your feet. As you inhale, press down into your palms and your feet as you lift your shoulders and hips off your mat. Ease into the pose. Never forcing, always flowing in and out of your yoga poses. Continue to straighten your arms, and shine your heart toward the ceiling. Breathe smoothly five times.
Upward Facing Dog Pose
So much yumminess comes from this beginner’s level stretch.
Upward facing dog opens the chest, elongates the spine and invigorates the kidneys and nervous system.
How to do the pose
Lay flat on your belly. Press your palms on the yoga mat, underneath your shoulders. As you inhale, press the ground away from you and peel your upper torso off the mat. Press your chest forward, and relax your shoulders down and back, away from your ears. Reach the crown of the head up towards the ceiling. As you inhale, lift thighs and legs off of the mat by pressing the tops of the feet down and engaging your core. Breathe smoothly for five breaths.
Try these three all-level yoga poses to keep the heart open this Valentine’s Day and year round. One last thing, I’m hosting BeLoved, an African Drumming Meditation session, 7pm Monday, 13th February at 6, Bank Road, Ikoyi Lagos, Nigeria. Come with a friend or two, a donation and your smile. We are synchronizing our breath, heart and drum beats. More details on my Instagram page – @Chocolako Namaste.