“Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.”
— DALAI LAMA
Welcome to the third article of the 5-part series on how to apply Yin Yoga on our meridians to harmonize our body and mind! We have previously discussed the Liver and Spleen meridians, this week we’ll take a look at the Heart meridian.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the Heart is considered the most chief of the internal organs of the body. It controls blood circulation and governs all of the viscera and bowels. The Heart is corresponded to the Fire element and it is sometimes known as the “Red Emperor.” It is energetically paired with the Small Intestine, which is in charge of filtering the pure and clean energy from the impure Qi. The word “Xin” translates as “Heart.” In Traditional Chinese Medicine, “Xin” also refers as much to the Mind (thoughts and emotions) as it does to the actual Heart organ.
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In TCM, the Heart stores the Mind and Spirit, also known as “Shen.” The ancient Chinese believed the Heart’s Shen was responsible for mental and emotional activities, intimacy, cognition, intelligent consciousness, and long-term memory. The Shen also has the capacity to judge, and influences sleep. Since the Heart is in charge of mental activities, dysfunctions of the Heart can thus lead to insomnia, impairment of consciousness, stuttering, amnesia, and psychosis.
The Heart meridian begins at the heart and travels down through the diaphragm to the small intestine. A second internal branch extends through the throat to the eye, and a connecting channel goes to the tongue. A third branch flows upwards from the Heart into the Lungs and emerges externally at the armpits. It then descends along the medial side of the arms and ends on the inside of the little fingers.
Based on the Daoist view, the Heart encompasses the prenatal virtues of social harmony, peace, pleasure, joy, contentment, tranquility, and boundaries. As we manifest into our human form, we acquire emotions such as nervousness, excitement, shock, anxiety, over-excitement, heartache, and mania. By eliminating excess nervousness, you can experience the energies of order, forgiveness, and peace. Your environment is then conducive for contentment, which allows self-esteem to grow.
Yin poses that help restores Heart/Small Intestine imbalances are those that target the upper inner arms. The following poses are suitable for everyone. When you practice them, hold each posture for 3-5 minutes and rest for 1 minute after each. This is per side when applicable.
Also known as the “Melting Heart,” this pose is a nice backbend for the upper and mid back. It also opens the shoulders, stretches the side of the armpits (serratus anterior), and softens the Heart.
On your hands and knees, walk your hands forward, allowing the chest to go down towards the floor. Keep the hips right above your knees. If you’re flexible, your elbows will touch the floor. You can bend the arms at the elbow, keeping the elbows on the ground and have the hands above your head to increase the intensity.
Beware: if you feel any tingling in the hands or fingers, adjust the head, arm or hand positions, or skip the pose! The tingling sensation might be a sign of a nerve compression.
Twisting is a great way to restore equilibrium in the nervous system. It activates the parasympathetic nervous system thus decreasing nervousness. The twisting motion in the body helps massage the digestive organs, allowing Qi to flow smoothly in the Small Intestine meridian.
Start by lying on your back and draw the right knee to your chest. Open your arms to the side and drop the right knee to the left side. You can extend the right leg at the knee to intensify the stretch in the IT band and gluteal muscles. To increase the sensation in the upper body, move the right arm up towards the head. You can place the left hand on the right knee or let it rest on the side.
There are a couple alternative options for the Reclining Twist. You can experiment with having both knees bent towards the chest and dropped to one side. Another option is to bend both knees and cross the right leg over the left. Hook the right foot under the left calf and then drop both knees to the left side, like garudasana pose.
Beware as there is a major nerve plexus running along the side of the neck and armpits. If you feel any tingling sensation in the arms/hands, adjust your head/arms position or skip the pose entirely.
The Camel arches the sacral/lumbar spine and opens the top of the thighs/hip flexors. It also opens the chest, inner arms, and the shoulders which help correct drooping shoulders or forward neck syndrome.
How to get into the pose:
Start by kneeling on your knees and place your hands on your low back. Take a deep inhale and extend the spine. As you exhale, slowly reach one hand for your foot and then the other hand for the other foot. If this is too difficult, you can tuck your toes and reach for the ankles instead. Slowly drop the head back if your neck is okay, otherwise, keep the head up and look towards the ceiling.
Another alternative option is to start by sitting on your heels and placing your hands behind you. Slowly lift your hips forward, allowing the spine to arch gently. You can keep the head straight and look towards the ceiling.
The Broken Wing is one of my favorite postures. It’s a great opening for the pectoral muscles and the inside of the arms stimulating the Heart meridian. It also gently stretches the inner thigh of the top leg.
How to get into the pose:
Start by laying on your chest and belly and extend both arms to the side like wings. Place the right hand under the armpit and bend the right knee and place the right foot on the outside of the left leg. Slowly push into your right hand and open the body towards the ceiling. You should feel a stretch along the inside of the left arm and chest. To intensify the posture, lift the right arm up and over, allowing it to ‘hang’ in mid-air.
There is a gentler standing version of this pose. Start by standing in front of the wall and place the right hand on the wall. Fully extend the right elbow, so that you’re exactly one arm-length away from the wall. Keep the hand on the wall and slowly rotate counter-clockwise, until you can feel a stretch along the inside of the right arm and chest.
Just like the Camel and the Reclining Twist, if you feel a tingling sensation in the hands or fingers, adjust your position or skip the pose entirely!
Chinese Medical Qigong Therapy Vol 1: Energetic Anatomy & Philosophy, by Dr. Jerry Alan Johnson.
Creator of Soulful Yin Yoga Method, Annie has been certifying yoga teachers since 2013. Through her own healing journey, Annie has become an expert in the emotional side of yin yoga and Chinese meridians. She calls for a heart to heart approach in her yin yoga classes through storytelling and genuine self-reflections.