Monday, December 14, 2009

Thoughts on "Heart-opening", Vulnerability, and the Ashtanga Intermediate Series

There has been some discussion lately among yoga practitioner friends and colleagues about "heart-opening". I've been a sceptic when it comes to the experience of "heart-opening". All the talk has sounded an awful lot like new age babble to me. The way I have often heard heart-opening described sounded just a little too easy to me. You just stretched the "heart-center" (chest area) and suddenly you were a warm accepting person. In my experience, if it's that easy, then it's not for real.

After a few years of practice in the Ashtanga primary series, I was willing to concede that some emotion was stored in the body. Anger and general stress show up in my body as overall muscle tension...especially in the jaw and shoulders. If I head into my yoga practice still mentally holding on to anger, then I find it very difficult to release the "activity" in any of the muscles. In my body, anger = tight!

Over the past couple years, as I make the transition from primary series practice to second series, I am slowly being convinced of the reality of heart-opening...though not quite in the way it is often described. Heart-opening cannot be coerced or forced. It happens or doesn't like everything else in practice. It's not a warm and fuzzy feeling either. It is intense, uncomfortable, exhilarating, and sometimes downright scary.

What is slowly coming out of second series practice is a willingness to suspend my disbelief. This practice, if I am to do it fully, asks that I be both willing to be vulnerable and willing to move toward fear. This, I think, may be the seed of heart-opening.

There are days when I feel like the intermediate sequence asks too much of me. When life stuff is at its most daunting, there is a feeling of "walking the plank" as I move into that first backbend. I have to make a conscious choice to be willing to open up the body physically which does, as it turns out, also require that I mentally and emotionally open up. If I try to hold back mentally and emotionally, then the muscles themselves will also resist. It seems they are, after all, connected.

Years of practice have created a foundation of trust in this practice and in my teachers. It is this that has allowed for an increasing openness in all aspects of practice on the mat.

The next to see how this will translate off the mat!


  1. Hi, Christine:

    You have a very interesting blog! I like David Keil, too. Practiced with him twice now and looking forward to his next trip in April.

    I have not experienced heart opening emotions yet, probably because I am new to the second series. But I heard from many people that they do feel lots of emotions after the backbends of the intemediate.

  2. Hi Alfia,

    so nice to have a visitor! I'm glad you've discovered David Keil as well...I'm looking forward to my next week of practice with him in March.

    Second series has been an adventure for me! I love to hear what it is like for everyone else.