August 18, 2011

Stop Heart-Puking All Over Me!

Photo: Dollen

It’s pretty common knowledge in yoga that heart openers can be intense and release lots of emotion – we’re always told that big backbends can be emotionally jarring, exhilarating, and difficult. However, it’s come to my attention that lots of yogis, especially teachers and experienced practitioners of Vinyasa and Anusara Yoga, have gotten a little too comfortable in backbends.

Most people need to backbend. We live in a culture of sitting and slumping over computers for hours and hours a day. We’re also a culture riddled with body insecurities, relationship dysfunction, unhealthy media influences, and other factors that would cause the common person to roll their shoulder-heads in to protect their heart.

Photo: lululemon athletica

The Anahata Chakra (the Heart Chakra) is an extremely important chakra in the body. It’s the cross-piece of most of the energy in the body: the point where liberating energy, manifesting energy, giving energy, and receiving energy all come together, and the area where precious life-force is assimilated into the body through the lungs.

So what if you do nothing but backbends all day long? You open the Anahata Chakra (and the Vishuddha Chakra – Throat Chakra) and you also open the muscles in the front line of the body and around the spine so much that it’s not much of a challenge anymore. You could sleep in Kapotasana if you felt like it. Then the heart-puking begins…

Have you seen those yogis who walk around jetting their hearts out and rolling their shoulders back as much as possible? This is a heart-puke. It’s normally accompanied by lots of Rumi quotes and poetic expressions that sound a little too memorized for my tastes. As a fairly grounded, dry Ashtangi, heart-puke is the antithesis of my personal practice. I teach and practice mostly Mysore Ashtanga, and while there are some backbends in the Finishing Series and the end of the Primary Series, it’s a lot of forward folds (Primary Series) and hip openers (Intermediate Series). There’s also no talking by the instructor (which I personally love – the overly chatty, flowery, poetic teachers just aren’t for me). So when I finally go to a Vinyasa or Anusara class, the backbends feel amazing and opening, but the heart-puking in the room gets a little too much.

My specialty as the owner of Urban Village Healeris Psychosomatic Yoga Therapy and Ayurveda (psycho = mind, soma = body). As a body-worker, I see lots and lots of different bodies, postures, and patterns of emotional holding. Most people have very closed hearts, but the few heart-puking yogis that come in to my clinic surprisingly have just as much heart center baggage as their less flexible counterparts.

Photo: Barry Silver

In Psychosomatic Postural Reading, there are several ways to identify when one is guarding one’s self. A very common way is to protect the core and chest area by slumping the posture, rolling the shoulders in, and keeping the arms close into the body or crossed along the chest. However, equally as guarded is the heart-puking yogi, who thrusts their heart and solar plexus forward and rolls their shoulders back to an extreme, which often acts as a subconscious wall or an aggressive barrier (similar to animals who puff up their chest as a sign of aggression or protection). It also causes the scapula to squeeze together and the muscles in the back of the heart to tense and get tight.

Don’t forget that Chakras don’t just live in the front of the body. What about the back of the heart center (between the shoulder blades)? If we constantly practice huge backbends, that area and the energy lines around it will become congested and blocked. Have you ever had a heart-opening moment in Paschimottanasana? If you haven’t, try rolling your shoulder blades down and open the back of the heart. It can be just as vulnerable as the front line. You can practice heart openers in backbends as well as forward bends and side bends.

So the moral of the story: we all know you love wheel, camel, and other fun backbends (trust me, we can tell), but please keep your body balanced with other important postures and keep the heart-puke to yourself. Too much of a good thing ceases to be a good thing.


Alexander Webster is an Ashtanga Yoga & Restorative Yoga teacher; the founder/owner of Urban Village Healer in the Denver Highlands (a grassroots Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic Medicine clinic), a therapist specializing in Yoga Therapy, Ayurveda, Thai Yoga Massage, Reiki, and Chinese Medicine. He is also a Hindu Studies speaker for several colleges & universities across the United States. Alik has a Political Journalism background with The Washington Post, Politico, and MSNBC, and is currently a freelance Digital Marketing consultant specializing in non-profit marketing, website design, copywriting, and public relations. In his free time Alik is an avid marathon runner, triathlete, cyclist, rock climber, and vegan foodie.

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