Using the Breath to Relax with an Open Heart
The sun is finally shining here in NJ and the warmth and brightness is lifting my mood and energy. Nature's uplifting support can make it easier to also - feel softer and brighter within. When things are 'easier' - it's the perfect time to deepen our practice - so it is there for us - when things get a bit 'cloudy' and 'cold' again.
I've used variations of this practice for years and it is very effective for helping to create a tactile experience, a somatic experience, of what it feels like to sit with a soft, unguarded heart center. It brings us back and forth between physically posturing ourselves so our chest oscillates between over closing and over opening.
To begin, come to all fours for a few rounds of cat cow. Place your hands slightly wider than your shoulders and knees about as wide as your hips. On your exhale, draw your belly up into your back, round your back into the sky. Push what ever is in the ground down as you empty the lungs completely. Notice the pause at the end of your breath. Relax in the emptiness. Then, as you hear your breath flow in, allow your spine to soften and release to the floor. Your heart moves forward to see the front of your mat. Pause at the top of the inhalation, feel the shape of your back bend, and notice the sensation of fullness.
Do this for several rounds, perhaps a minute or two.
Then, come into a comfortable seated position on the floor or in a chair.
Rest your hands around the caps of your knees.
Close your eyes and relax your attention in your heart center as you notice the flow of your breath moving in and out of your body.
Then using the same movement of cat cow, but here in a seated meditation posture, let your next inhale lift and expand your chest up towards the sky. Arch gently into a back bend. Feel the sensation of fullness, brightness, and bigness at the top of your breath. Completely inflated.
As you exhale, move in the opposite direction. Round the spine, gaze at the navel. at the end of the breath, when you are completely empty, let your head release completely towards your chest. Your position has a flavor of complete surrender, deflated.
Do this several times paying attention to the opposite qualities of each side of the breath. Notice the complete journey between the breaths.
Then come to balance between these two movements. Your spine straight, but at ease.
Settle back into a neutral meditation seat.
Move your awareness back to the heart.
Imagine you could breath through the chest, as if there is a nostril on the heart itself where the breath goes in and out. Enjoy the flow of the breath as you relax more, sitting as unguarded as possible. Allow the nourishing loving breath to flow in and out of you, with out exaggerating it or diminishing it.
Let the grace of your breath flow on its own; in and out of you.
And just as the breath flows in and out effortless, on it's own, consider the teachings of Morrie Schwartz "The most important thing in life is to learn how to give out love, and to let it come in."