Heart Opening Yoga Practice

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BY Kathy Cogill, Elixr Yoga Teacher
Friday Dec 15, 2017
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Turning to nature and becoming aware of the shifts in the seasons – and their vastly different energies – is a beautiful way to ground ourselves and deepen our yoga practice.

 

Welcome, summer! The season where nature is at its fullest and energy is expanding and rising upwards. The season for celebration, spending time outdoors, and being relaxed and open to new possibilities. The season when, with the warmth of the sun, our bodies are also more open and we are at liberty to embrace a joyful yoga practice that is energised, expansive and heart opening.

 

The following four asanas open the body and heart in celebration of summer. They ground and strengthen both body and mind, and open the heart, stirring deep strength and gently raising the spirit. It’s important to stay grounded and ‘cool’ within each asana so that the practice doesn’t become overly ‘rajasic’ (fiery, passionate, driven, ambitious).

 

In the heat of summer, the more cooling chandra namaskar (moon salutations) – rather than surya namaskar (sun salutations) – create balance in our practice. Always include and finish with cooling, calming poses like Supta Buddha Konasana, Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (pigeon pose), and, of course, Savasana (corpse pose). 

 

In this short sequence, after the calming poses, we conclude with Sheetali Pranayama, a cooling breath, especially effective on summer's hot days not only to cool the body, but also to cool and settle the mind and emotions.

 

Please note: These asanas must be performed after a gentle warm-up. 

 

1 WARRIOR 1

 

1. Warrior 1 – With Open Arms Variation - Virabhadrasana 1

Open your heart

From Mountain Pose, (Tadasana), take a wide step back with your left foot, anchoring it firmly into the ground at an angle of 45° and aligning your back left heel with your front right heel. Draw your left hip and ribs forward and coax your right hip back into its crease, squaring your hips to the front of your mat. Keep your right knee tracking over your right ankle, draw your left knee cap up and anchor down through the full soles – inner and outer edges – of both feet. Lengthen your tailbone towards the floor and, on an inhalation, raise your arms, opening them to a gentle V shape as you lift your breastbone and heart space, raising your gaze slightly while keeping the back of your neck long and relaxed. 

 

2 SIDE ANGLE 

2. Extended Side-Angle Pose - Utthita Parsvakonasana

Stir up fire and strength

From Mountain Pose, step your feet wide apart, opening your right foot to a 90° angle and turning your left foot in slightly. Open your arms sideways, stretching out from the collarbones to the fingertips. Bend the right knee, keeping it tracking over the right ankle, or behind, and reach and place the right fingertips or palm on the ground in front of the right foot. Sweep your left arm overhead so that your left upper arm reaches past the left ear, drawing your chin in and raising your gaze up between your eyebrows to your left fingertips. Root down into the full sole of your left foot and feel a full stretch up your left leg and side body up to your left fingertips, while keeping the right side of your waist long and light. Remain in the pose for five breaths, before inhaling to lift up and out of the pose.

 

3 REVERSE WARRIOR 

3. Reverse Warrior - Viparita Virabhadrasana

Celebrate summer’s joyful energy   

From Extended side angle pose, inhale and raise your torso and arms, passing through Virabhadrasana 2 (Warrior 2). Rest the left hand lightly down on the outer edge of the left leg or calf, and on an inhalation, raise the right arm up and overhead. Keep your legs and feet grounding into the earth, while lifting from the pelvis up. Raise your gaze to the extended right fingertips, and take your arm further overhead if you wish, lifting your chest and gently expanding your heart space and diaphragm. Keep your belly firming on the exhalations to ground the pose, keeping your breath easy and calm, and your gaze point soft. To come out of the pose, inhale, raising your upper body and arms, gently stretch your right knee, then step your feet together returning to Mountain pose at the top of your mat.

 

4 WILD THING 

4. Wild Thing - Camatkarasana

Open your heart & celebrate summer’s joyful energy    

From a wide downward facing dog, bring your weight onto your right hand and roll onto the outer edge of your right foot as in side plank pose. On an inhalation, lift your hips with buoyancy, activate your right arm, and root down through your right palm and fingertips. On an exhalation, step your left foot back and place your toes on the floor with your left knee partly bent. On a deep & easeful inhalation, drive your hips gently upwards and curl your upper back to create a sweeping action of the shoulder blades into the back of the rib cage. Keep your right knee straight and root down through the outer edge of your right foot corner. Keeping your core firm, extend your left arm overhead, opening from your heart and expressing the full, joyful energy of the pose.

 

hands on head 

5. Pose Of The Child - Balasana

Cool and soften your body

Kneeling, with your knees touching, big toes touching, heels slightly apart, and your buttocks resting on and between your heels, rest your forehead gently on the ground, or on your hands. Stay in this cooling pose for 1–2 minutes.

 

LEGS UP 

6. Legs Up The Wall - Viparita Karani

Refresh your legs and rest your heart

If you can, use one or two thickly folded blankets to support your back, neck and head in this pose. Sit sideways on the right-hand side of your mat (and folded blanket if you're using one), with your left side against the wall. Exhale and, with one smooth movement, swings your legs up onto the wall and rest your shoulders and head lighting down onto the floor. Release the heads of your thigh bones and let the weight of your legs and belly release deeply towards the back of the pelvis. Lengthen the base of your skull away from the back of your neck and soften your throat. Soften your eyes, and left them float closed. Stay resting in the pose for 5–10 minutes. To come out of the pose, gently bend your knees, sliding your feet down the wall, then roll to your right resting a few breaths before coming up to sitting on an exhalation.

 

7 COOLING BREATH 

7. Cooling Breath - Sheetali Pranayama

Cool and settle your mind and emotions

Start sitting up in a comfortable cross-legged position, with your buttocks slightly raised on a block or blanket if you wish, resting your hands on your knees. Push your tongue out slightly and, if possible, fold or roll the sides like a tube or straw. If you cannot roll your tongue, open your mouth slightly and imagine drinking in the air through a straw. Take a long deep inhalation through the tube or imaginary straw, feeling the cooled air pass into your lungs. After the inhalation, close your mouth and exhale smoothly and evenly through both nostrils. Repeat for 8–10 breaths.

 

About Kathy Cogill

Kathy discovered yoga through her career as a dancer. She practices and teaches Hatha with an emphasis on the vinyasa flow. Kathy’s classes move through the asanas with the fluidity of the constant breath, and into more challenging poses with a focused but gentle approach. Check the timetable here to join Kathy's yoga classes at both of our Bondi Junction and Bligh St clubs.  

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