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Beat the Blues with Heart-Opening Yoga
We all get the blues from time to time. One rainy winter in San Francisco I spent nearly every moment I wasn't at work in a sleeping bag on the living room floor watching movies. It wasn't pretty. But it did teach me that when I start spending an inordinate amount of time lying around, the blues are knocking at my door, and I've got to take steps to keep them from moving on in.
One of the best ways I know to keep the dark clouds at bay is to do yoga poses that open the chest, home of the heart. B.K.S. Iyengar, one of the world's greatest living yoga gurus who is largely responsible for introducing yoga to the West, says, "If you keep your armpits open, you won't get depressed." While it might sound like wacky advice, think about the typical posture of a depressed person: head hanging, chin drooping, shoulders rounded forward and heart completely closed off. Try sitting that way and see how it makes you feel. Yuck, right? Now try rolling your shoulders up and back and lifting your head. Much better.
(NOTE: When Iyengar says armpits, he's referring to the area where your arm attaches to your chest, not necessarily the part where you shave — you don't have to walk around with your hands above your head to stay happy.)
Doing even a simple heart-opening pose allows your collar bones to spread, your chest to expand, and your entire heart area to be flooded with space, lightness, and oxygen. Here are directions for a simple, restorative, heart-opening pose. You will need to use something to rest your chest and head on — yoga blocks are ideal, but you can also use books, blankets or pillows.
Simple Heart Opener
Find a space on the floor where you can stretch out comfortably.
Have your props nearby: either yoga blocks, thin blankets, firm pillows, books, or any combination thereof.
Lie on your back with something directly under your shoulder blades and something supporting your head. Play with the heights of the objects you use to find a pose where you can feel an opening but you're also comfortable.
Let your arms rest wherever they are comfortable — on your belly, at your sides, or above your head.
This pose should feel really good. If it doesn't, adjust the placement or height of your props until you feel that you can rest easily for a few minutes in this pose.
Breathe, breathe, breathe.
Allow all the muscles of your chest to soften and broaden.
Stay here for at least two minutes.
When you're ready to come up, gently roll to your right side and carefully push your torso up into a seated position.
I recommend performing this pose every day while you are feeling blah. Because we spend so much time hunched over a computer, we tend to all be a little closed off in our chest. Even if you're not feeling completely blue, try opening your heart and see how it affects your mood.
Kate Hanley is a freelance writer who specializes in exploring the mind-body connection. She completed her yoga teacher training at OM Yoga in New York City and has studied with yoga experts Rodney Yee and Cyndi Lee and meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg.