In various schools of yoga there is tremendous emphasis on lifting the chest to open the heart. “Lift your sternum, raise your chest upward, do not collapse your frontal ribs…pin your shoulder blades down your back, raise your front spine, expand your heart…” These directives, although effective for opening the lungs and thoracic cavity so that breathing may flow better, can have the effect of a mask. By mechanically opening the front chest, lifting it upward and outward, one risks mere pretense of creating openness around the heart. The simple upward expansion of the rib basket can also over-ride a feeling of humility or vulnerability inside. The movement is martial, resembling the ferocity that warriors must have going into battle and a readiness to cut off from any emotional pain.
The student with the activated upward moving front chest ends up masquerading openness. The up thrust of the heart is more about presentation and risks simply being phony. True openness must include an intimate connection to one’s own pain and suffering—and by extension—the pain and suffering of all beings. For this reason, in certain meditation practices the “heron” pose is encouraged. In the heron pose, the front chest is slightly stooped and the back elevated. This helps to relax and soften all the tissues around the heart and to generate a feeling of tenderness and sensitivity inside. This sentiment, this tenderness is what brings about a sense of affinity to all beings. The slight downward relaxation allows us to find the “soft spot” inside and to connect with an interior felt sense of humility.