Back bends open the body. Not just the chest, but the heart.
Even the simplest back bends stretch and strengthen the muscles at the front of the chest, abdomen, and legs. Of course, they work on the muscles of the back, too, as they contract to bring us into poses like salabasana (locust pose), bhujangasana (cobra pose), and even virabhadrasana I (warrior 1).
With a focus on the opening chest, inhale and lengthen the torso. Draw the shoulder blades down the back, using the lower third of the trapezius muscle. On the exhale, draw the shoulder blades toward the midline while lifting the low belly in and up to activate the abdominals. Keep the abdominals gently activated as you take the next inhale, continuing to lengthen the torso.
This is a combination of cues that can be used in any back bending pose. Experiment with a few and feel the chest open.
As for the heart opening, I do love this aspect of back bends. I gently lift my face as I open my chest, looking up and out of myself to the Creator, listening for his words to me. As God speaks to us, he often speaks affirmation and love. We learn to listen, to take those words into our open hearts and believe in their truth.
So often we live under a hellish double standard. We have no problem speaking words of affirmation to others and believing their truth. We can tell them that they matter, that they are created in God’s image, that they are pleasing to God. But we turn around and say things to ourselves, like “I’m an idiot,” “I’ll never get it right,” “I’m so stupid.” Things we would never dream of saying to a friend.
We must learn to take those thoughts captive. To hear what is true. To lift our face to heaven and believe the words God speaks to us and about us. Back bends are a good place to start.
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart. Jeremiah 1:5
Let this be your mantra as you practice this week. Open your heart. Believe.