I like to think of the shoulder blades as two hands that rest on the upper back. When we relax the upper back, the shoulder blades move apart and away from the spine. When the upper back is engaged and active, they move back in toward each other and frame the spine in a beautiful way. From this physical action, the front of the chest lifts and expands, opening the front of the heart.
While I was reading The Art and Business of Teaching Yoga by my teacher Amy Ippoliti, something caught my attention in the section about planning and theming yoga classes. Amy gave an example of "shoulders as a gateway to the heart," and it reminded me of one of my favorite things about yoga.
When the shoulder blades are strong and hug together, they prop up the heart. Like two hands holding us from behind, they support and encourage our opening. From this strength in the back of the heart, we are then able to receive and be vulnerable. We express our hearts and exhibit our capacity to love and be loved. Like opening a door or window, we dissolve the barriers and air out the stale.
Bringing the shoulder blades together acts as a container for our heart to safely and more easily reach out to others. This safe space reminds us that we can be strong and vulnerable at the same time. We can expose our truth and feel protected all at once. When held, we are given permission to let go.
How do these two physical actions (strong shoulders and an open heart) translate to our everyday lives? When we ask for support from our loved ones or our community, we can feel uplifted and inspired. We gain accountability and perhaps work harder to reach our higher goals and desires, knowing there are people who are witnessing this progress.
Try it at home
Come to kneel, sitting on your heels. Extend your arms out wide (like wings) with your palms facing forward. Start to take your arms back in space. Pause. Draw your lower ribs down and in to stay strong through your midsection. Keeping that, continue to reach your arms back behind you, hugging your shoulder blades together strongly on your upper back and reaching through your fingers. As you strengthen your upper back, inflate your chest.
Close your eyes. Inhale through the back of your heart and exhale through the front of your heart. Keep directing the breath through your heart space, staying aware of how your strength and openness work together to hold you in this shape.