Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky.  Conscious breathing is my anchor.  ~Thich Nhat Hanh

Heart openers are a powerful thing. When your heart is open, you can let love in. But just opening the heart isn’t always enough.

Once the heart is open, the next step is to allow yourself to breathe into it – or, as I learned from Elena Brower in a YogaGlo practice tonight, you can breathe “behind it”.

The class was called “Soften Your Internal State“. I wasn’t sure what it was going to entail, but two things I did know…
1. My internal state was in a state of turmoil today.
2. “Soft” wasn’t necessarily what I wanted, but “soft” was what I needed. 

Even as I selected that practice, I questioned if it was going to be effective. I mean, I know doing some practice is better than nothing, but would I achieve the calm I so desperately needed today? Should I have raced to get to a class? Should I do a flow? Should I do the ashtanga series I was so familiar with? Should I just throw in the towel and have a glass of wine instead? Questions, like ripples on the water, kept popping up. One after another.

Despite my racing mind, I rolled out my mat and pressed play.

We started moving, started focusing on alignment, and, thankfully, started breathing. But this wasn’t just any breathing. It wasn’t just about opening the chest, expanding the ribs. We were breathing behind the heart. We were pulling the shoulder blades into the space and we were feeling the breath in the space behind the heart.

We moved through upward facing dogs, drawing the chest forward. We moved into Utthita Parsvakonasana with the bind. We did Kapotasana (pigeon) in a way I’ve never done pigeon before, lifting the heart, aligning the hips, and holding it before folding forward.

A funny thing happened as we flowed, and we breathed and we opened … I felt myself relaxing. I mean really clearing my mind and letting go of the day. With each asana, each transition, I breathed deeper, my heart lifted, it moved forward and I relaxed…

Breathing this way, was about more than “relaxation.” With it came an acceptance of myself for who I am, where I am. I accepted the challenges, and I accepted that tomorrow is another day. Most importantly, I accepted that through this practice, through the constant reminder to breathe this way, I could be a better person for those around me.

This, to me, is why we do yoga — or at least part of the reason.

Life is hard. Some days life can be really, really hard. But we are not defined by the challenges we face, instead we become who we are by the way we handle those challenges. We can let them crush us and make us doubt ourselves and our abilities. We can feel like we’ve been punched in the gut and walk around looking and acting like we’ve literally been sucker punched. 

Or, we can open our hearts and we can breathe into the space behind our hearts, and we can face challenges head on. With our hearts open, and our hearts strengthened by the breathe and the posture, we are better able to react and we are better equipped to move into the fray with confidence and fortitude.

It’s like when someone throws a ball to you. If you’re hunched over, head down, arms dangling at your side, that ball is probably going to smack you, and unless it’s a Nerf ball, it’s going to hurt.

But, if you stand tall, arms and legs engaged, head up, shoulders back and chest strong, you’re in a much better position to react, to snag the ball, and, if necessary, to throw it right back to where it came from (with kindness and compassion, of course :))

Stand tall, fellow yogis. Create the space your heart deserves so it can be full and can share peace and joy with those around you.

And, btw, a nice bonus, I did the strongest headstand I’ve ever done!!! Thanks, Elena!!