Not long ago, I found myself in an unexpected emotional experience. I felt far more senstive than usual to a topic close to my heart- connecting with family. My family lives in Australia, and I had received a phone call from a houseful of my family, who all passed the phone around to chat with me. I found this extremely moving and for a while after that phone call I felt home/lovesick for their closer presence in my life.

As the time, the feeling manifested as a thought about desiring to be closer to my family. However, it wasn't until I began to practice with more awareness of my heart/chest area in yoga that the surprise came along a week later.

Following a yoga session of heart opening poses, the emotional story about connecting to my family rose right back up to the surface again.

At the time, the feeling was beyond words. The wild, rich mess of love, sadness, gratitude, humility and acceptance flowed up. I can honestly say what a luscious and poignant mix of emotion it was to experience. These feelings felt 'magnfied' and the voice of the heart was clearer than usual. It told me what I could do to remember, recognise and celebrate my family's presence in my life more. I received the advice and now I feel much more connected with my needs and feelings around this topic. I also feel more capable and aware of how to emotionally acknowledge our connection.

So, that's the personal 'heart opening' experience which I had recently.

How do yoga poses relate to emotional experiences of the heart?

Traditionally, the poses connected with this region influnce the energetic region of the heart chakra. The heart chaka is the dwelling of the individual soul, 'ahaṃkāra'. From here, the desires and illusions of the individual soul play out. However it also contains 'a drop' of the 'cit-sakti' universal truth (non-dual, universal conciousness). The ahaṃkāra is also the vessel for life energy that flows through everything (sakti, pronounced shakti).

From a more casual angle- the heart energy is related to feeling and expressing emotion of appreciation, love, kindness and compassion. It is the domain of harmonious relationships and integrating opposite qualities within us (mind/body, masculine/feminine, ego/unity).

The term, 'heart opener' suggests a form of deep emotional surgery! What are the ways to do this through yoga postures?

Well, in the physical setting of the yoga class, it's any posture which stretches the muscles and connective tissues - such as the intecostals (muscles between your ribs), and the muscles which run throughout your upper chest and link into your arms. Okay, so not such a technical description!

Cobra Pose

Cobra Pose

Bow pose

Bow pose

Bridge Pose

Bridge Pose

It is observed that stetches like Setu Bandha or Bridge pose, Bhujangasana/Cobra , Dhanurasana/Bow pose both stretch the chest region, stimulating circulation of blood through the body, draining and moving the lymphatic system and stimulating the healthy function of the thymus gland.  The thymus gland is responsible for the hormone thymosin- a step in the creation of our T-cells, our disease fighting cells made in our bone marrow. An essential step in the development of our immune system.

thymus gland

So what does the physical exercise have to do with the emotional/spiritual experience?

That's not so easy to answer...there is more of a spiritual answer and less of a scientific one- The physical framework of the body is a manifestation of the thoughts/emotions and conditioning of the energy and spiritual body.

So when we start to tweak the physical body, changes are triggered in the bio-chemical, nervous, endocrine systems and in the pranic body too- shifting beliefs, bringing memories to the surface as well as our patterns of behaviour for our awareness to witness. Once we are aware of these thoughts and feelings, if we chose to- we can surrender into the depth of feeling. Allowing it all to be experienced and released/transformed in a natural time frame. There's a kind of 'immunity' in this, or perhaps 'flexible resiliency' or 'responsiveness' is a better word for it? Right?!

Hence the transformative psycho-spiritual effects of yoga.

Not quite an explanation 'in a nutshell', but there you are!