One definition of a Yogi is someone who has space around the heart.  An open, yet well-balanced heart is capable of giving and receiving love freely, with no strings attached, yet has healthy boundaries and knows when to say "no."

In our Yoga Asanas a lot of attention is often given to back bends - partly to counteract the "slouchy" posture a lot of us are carrying, partly to give back to the heart some of that open, spacious feeling.  Part of the reason why we are such a slouchy society is the lifestyle, with the gadgets and computer, and cars shaping our bodies. Part of it is poor boundaries - we are either too isolated or too enmeshed (often both) to have a healthy sense of Self.

The shoulder is the most mobile joint in the body, capable of an amazing range of movement, just as our hearts have the capacity for an amazing range of experience.  By improving physical mobility in the shoulder, we are able to access loving feelings in the heart with greater ease.  And our ability to engage in well-balanced relationships in life is enhanced by proper alignment, opening and strengthening of the shoulder.  It begins in the "back heart" with the shoulder blades.  The muscles between the bottom tips of the shoulder blades become weak due to poor posture, the chest collapses in, restricting the breath and contributing to a feeling of being stressed out.

Start by re-discovering the rhomboids between the bottom tips of the shoulder blades by squeezing them together a few times. Some push-ups against a wall or on the floor, some isometric work would be a great way to learn to use those muscles again.  By strengthening there you are able to give relief to the trapezius in the neck and upper shoulder, where many of us report constant tension.

However, rhomboids alone are not enough.  As the bottom tips of the shoulder blades come towards each other and firm into the body, broaden the top of the shoulder blade (the spine of the scapula), creating a shape of the heart in your back body.  It will give your heart a sense of broadening and lifting in the front, but without the harshness of the chest that is too aggressively pushed out.

That sense of broadening and lifting in the front body together with a firmness and slight downward movement in the back body is a well-aligned, open heart that will take you into your best back bend ever.  By activating the back heart you are able to direct the back bend into the upper back, instead of the low back (where it often goes instead), distributing sensation evenly along the whole spine.   A back bend does not need to be deep to feel expansive, bringing lightness along the spine and opening of the front body with it. 

One more thing to make it complete.  After you learn proper engagement of the rhomboids and placement of the scapula, radiate that energy down the inseams of the arms to the index finger knuckles in your Downward Facing Dog or Upward Facing Dog, in your Cobra, or even in a simple table pose with a small back bend.  Imprint the fingers into the mat, sending awareness from the core outward.  As the heart line travels down, grounding you into the present moment with juicy imprints of the hands into the floor, sent it back up again by pulling up the center of the palm.  Create an endless circuit of energy from the engine at your back heart down the arms and back up again, and maintain concentration as you flow from Down Dog to Up Dog. 

Reward of a well-balanced heart center is ability to give and receive unconditional love.  Read my blog "Love Thyself" to learn more about how you can cultivate that in your life.

Watch a video on Youtube for Balancing your Fourth Chakra.