One area of the body that is especially vulnerable to overuse is our shoulders. Let’s explore ways to support the physical and metaphorical “wings of our heart” with gentle movement, stretching, and strengthening.
Gravity Never Takes a Holiday
If we are not attentive, the relentless force of gravity may result in forward-head position, rounded shoulders, and myriad other unpleasant symptoms. Instead of giving way to the pressure of gravity, we can engage with the force of gravity by opening into our heart space.
Anatomically, the heart is positioned underneath the powerful pectoral muscles that may become shortened from repetitive use.
Physiologically, the heart pumps blood to the whole of our body, muscles, and brain. Our heart maintains our physical life. And, the heart is recognized globally as the residence of our emotions—both negative and positive. How we feel and how we hold our bodies are undoubtedly connected. That’s why it’s important for us to acknowledge not only the physical heart but also the metaphysical heart, to support alignment from the inside out.
By committing to opening our heart space, we “disarm” ourselves. Unveiling our innermost heart to ourselves is one way we can dissolve pain and tension resulting from disconnection and lack of expression. It is important to keep our hearts open not just to receive love and light, but to let the light and love that dwells in our hearts shine forth.
“Metta” Physical Heart Opener
In addition to taking exquisite care of your physical body, it’s also a beautiful act of “metta,” or loving kindness, to give attention to your heart space. This exercise is inspired by one of our favorite teachers, Hugh Milne, who founded Visionary Craniosacral Work.
1. Find a comfortable position sitting, standing, or lying down and enjoy some deep, cleansing breaths.
2. Make a physical connection to your heart center with the palm of your hand. Imagine you are checking in on an old, dear friend as you inwardly say, “Hello Heart. How are you today, Heart?” Repeat this expression a couple more times and allow your heart to respond. You may be surprised by whatever response comes to you as you remain open to wonder. Would you be willing to enjoy and include all your feelings?
3. Notice how you feel as you savor a few more deep breaths.
The Shoulder Melt
This practice is appropriate to rehab or even pre-hab shoulder tension. This may be used as a first-aid remedy to diffuse the boulders in your shoulders or as a friendly reminder to address your slouching.
1. Begin in a seated position on the floor with one or two blankets or towels.
2. Create a towel or blanket roll and place this horizontally on the floor behind you.
3. Bend your knees, feet flat on the floor, and slowly roll back and down onto the blanket approximately along the level of your bra-line (or bro-line). The blanket roll is inferior to (below) your shoulder blades and superior to (above) your lumbar spine. Keep in mind, the thicker your blanket roll, the more intense your stretch will be. You may want to place a second folded blanket or a pillow under your head.
4. Rest your arms with palms facing up in a receptive and open position and, if it feels safe for your back, slowly flatten your legs down to the ground. This pose is a gentle way to balance the effects of gravity.
5. Rest in this position and begin to notice your breath. Send your breath into the back, sides, and front of your chest and heart. Feel where space is most needed and fill that space with your loving attention.
6. Smile into your heart and give yourself an appreciation. Appreciate yourself for creating time to stretch, and for being resourceful, kind, and generous. Rest here until you feel your shoulders melt back and down into the floor.
The shoulder melt.
Strengthen Your Heart
This practice is an opportunity to stretch your chest and strengthen the rhomboids and muscles along the spine. You can do this throughout your day. To correctly perform the stretch, bend your elbows and interlace your fingers behind your hips, separating the palms of your hands. Keeping your elbows bent, lift and square your shoulders; then, draw your shoulders back, moving your elbows toward each other so that your upper arms are parallel to each other. Gently engage the muscles along your spine as you draw your forearms away from your back and stretch the front of your chest and shoulders. Resist the temptation to straighten your arms and hyperextend your elbows, since it reduces the effectiveness of the stretch. The proper action of squaring the shoulders, bending the elbows, and bringing the upper arms parallel with each other will rotate the upper arms outward, opening the space between your upper chest and the fronts of your shoulder joints.
Opening the heart.
Toll the Heart’s Bell
Moving, stretching, breathing, and experiencing the wide spectrum of all your emotions are all friendly ways to soften your shoulders, dissolve tension, and realign your spine. Create space for what is working for you today, allowing each moment to be a new discovery of what feels best for you and your heart. Staying present and appreciating yourself will continue to toll the bell of your heart, revealing the joy of living in both inner and outer alignment.
This article originally appeared in the Winter 2018 issue of Body Sense magazine.