Yoga to Open the Heart

September 29, 2017

Originally published in Lion’s Roar on September 29, 2017

Yoga teacher Cyndi Lee offers a set of movements that open the heart, helping to foster a connection to yourself and the world around you.

The summer before my marriage broke up, I cried a lot in yoga class. It didn’t happen until we lay down for final relaxation. Then tears would pour out of the sides of my eyes. It was almost as though I wasn’t crying, but leaking, and it happened every day for the whole summer.

Somehow the release of toxins in my muscles and organs during the class also released emotions in my heart and mind. Motion led to emotion. Before the class I had been stuck and yoga unstuck me. It took me on a journey back to myself, and as I embodied my sadness more and more, it began to travel through me and by the end of the summer, I felt clean, balanced and brave enough to make the necessary changes in my life.

Even though it was painful, my summer of being heartbroken was better than having no heart at all. To experience the movement of our heart, even if it involves sadness or fear or anger, is how we know we are alive. It is when we don’t experience the circulation of emotions that we get depressed and then get stuck there.

“Your shoulders, arms, neck and ribs can either be a restrictive cage for your heart or an undulating, comforting protector.”

The first way to work with this is on the physical level. People know this intuitively, which is why, of all the workshops I conduct around the world, the Heart Opener workshops tend to fill up quickest. I find that so moving, because I feel sure that the people who sign up for those workshops are already open-hearted. However, their supporting anatomy may be tight or weak, making it difficult to feel the physical movement that enables the emotional journey to deepen.

Try this: Sit up tall and take a deep breath in and out. Then slouch—tuck your tailbone under and curve your shoulders forward. Now try to breathe deeply. No matter how hard you try, it’s impossible, and the effort is soon disheartening. As your spine droops, your head drops, and your spirit sinks. You can’t see the sky or meet the world head-on.

Moreover, the anatomical function of the heart is compromised. It cannot easily receive deoxygenated blood from the veins nor easily pump blood into the lungs, where it gets oxygenated. Why not? Because the functions of the heart and lungs are intimately related and we simply cannot inhale enough air when the cardiovascular department is compressed. This inability to take in oxygen is a subtle form of suffocation and leads to weak “life prana,” or life force, which, according to Ayurvedic medicine, resides in our heart.

The Sanskrit word for heart is hridayam, meaning “that which receives, gives and circulates.” We can increase this process of giving, receiving and circulating by strengthening the supportive and protective anatomy around our heart and extending the range of motion in those areas. That includes our arms, ribcage, shoulders, neck, upper back and chest.

Let’s try the following vinyasa, or flowing sequence of movements. It will deepen your awareness of these areas and allow your life prana to flow without obstruction. Work gently, mindfully, and rhythmically. I have included breathing guidelines, but it’s fine if you wish to stay in each position for longer than one breath.

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From The Yogis

  • Terri Bender Morrison, Owner, Mindful Motion Yoga, OM 500 TT 2015

    "Cyndi, I feel that my teaching has shifted a bit - sequencing is more interesting and effective. As I was driving home tonight, I thought about the statements of "leaving crumbs" and "connecting the dots". While you meant that for us as direction to be better teachers, I recognize you were doing that for us as well. I believe I am just now processing some of the things you taught this summer. The subtle parts of classes escaped me, but I am getting them now. Thank you for the crumbs, for leaving plenty of space between the dots....I think I see the moon."

  • Zan Margolis, OM 200 TT , 2012

    "The more yoga I experience, the more I realize how special it is that in your teacher trainings you actually teach your yogis how to *teach*"

  • Susan Golden, Studio Owner, Maine

    "Cyndi’s sense of humor and genius teachings have made this OM 500 TT very, very stimulating every minute of the day. I’ve learned so much. I can’t wait to let it all come together and bring this to my teachings and to my life."

  • Natalie Levin, OM Yoga Graduate, OM Warrior Weekend Teacher Training Program 2003

    "I am a graduate of the OM 2003 Warrior Weekend Teacher Training Program.  I had the honor to teach at OM yoga in New York City for several years.  I have since moved to another city and was instantly offered teaching jobs based solely on the fact that I had been a teacher at Cyndi Lee’s OM yoga.  Studio owners in my current city thought so highly of Cyndi Lee’s OM yoga Teacher Training that they hired me immediately and I found and continue to find that my OM yoga Teacher Training opens door after door for me.  OM yoga (practicing there, teaching OM yoga, and learning from Cyndi Lee) helped me professionally in my own yoga-teaching career.  Even more meaningfully for me, I feel that the path of mindfulness and attention to alignment that pours through the pores of OM yoga has influenced me and helped me to soften enough to become more “myself” since I first walked into the OM yoga studio."

  • Jeri Wilson, Studio Owner, Maine

    “I’m Jeri and I’m a studio owner in Maine and I just finished my 500 hr TT with Cyndi Lee. It was an excellent experience, partly because I had been trained primarily in Anusara and I was challenged to think very differently. I found it was very helpful to come back to teach with Cyndi’s influence. She is very, very funny and she will work you and challenge you and you will feel like you have actually gained something really deep from the training.”

  • Jeanie Gasque, Yoga Teacher, South Carolina, OM 500 TT 2015

    "Cyndi's skillful guidance lead me to a greater clarity of alignment based vinyasa.  The yoga combined with the charm of Lynchburg made the Sun Session an unforgettable experience."

  • Gina Callendar, Yoga Teacher, Yonkers, NY, OM 500 TT 2015

    "Cyndi truly follows the middle path and instills that in her teachings.  She combines disciple and humor to create an engaging, thought provoking and enlightening experience.  I had the pleasure of taking her 500 hour OM Yoga Teacher Training.  I have deepened my practice, work to continue challenge myself and never want to stop learning.  I am pretty comfortable teaching, but withCyndi’s guidance I am more confident in my hands-on adjustments and clarity of instruction with my students.  Thank you Cyndi for reinforcing my foundation, challenging me as a student and becoming my teacher.  I hope to continue to learn from you for many years to come.  Namaste."

  • Erica Settino, Founder, , Karuna for Animals

    "I have been teaching yoga for 12 years and over those 12 years I have often felt burned out and at a loss for inspiration. Now that I have taken Cyndi Lee’s OM 500 Teacher Training, I feel completely different, completely inspired, and so, so blessed. If you are even considering it, you must do it."

  • Donna Levenstien, Yoga Teacher, Lake George, NY

    "I am a student of the OM 200 and OM 500 TT. I keep learning from Cyndi Lee who is just a master teacher, every class I take, every hour I’m here she says something wonderful that I can bring into my life, onto my mat, into my classes with my students. As a teacher and a student, I feel enriched every time I’m with her and in her class."

  • Ann Megyas, Actor, Yoga Teacher, , Hospice Worker

    "I’m so glad I decided to take Cyndi Lee’s 500 hr TT. It advanced my personal practice in ways that I could not imagine. There is no pose I am afraid of anymore. It’s advanced my teaching practice, it’s advanced my dharma study. It’s just been a thrilling experience the whole time."