Recently I began reading Katrina Kenison’s latest memoir, magical journey, which recounts her personal transition after her children leave home. She had unexpectedly advanced on that path when her younger son chose boarding high school, emptying the nest several years earlier than anticipated. I readily identify with the grief, confusion and aimlessness that she describes, though the death of a close friend from cancer intensifies her emotional process beyond what I’ve experienced as two of my three have departed for college. With my antennae attuned of late to movement as prayer, an aspect of her yoga practice several months into her first empty-nest year captured my attention.
“Each day, at the end of my practice, I lie on my back in a pose I think of as “heart on a block.” With a yoga block resting beneath my shoulder blades, my chest wide open and arched to the sky, it feels as if my lifted heart is fully exposed, beating and vulnerable, a kind of physical sacrifice to the present moment. And this is when I cry.”
From the physical standpoint, I’m always on the lookout for new stretches, especially for the upper body, so I definitely wanted to try out this pose. The symbolism of “opening the heart” also spoke to me spiritually somehow, made me curious what it would be like. The first time I tried it (at my gym; I don’t own yoga blocks) with a single block beneath my shoulders, my neck felt strained and I wondered if I were doing it correctly. Googling “heart on a block yoga pose” turned up a helpful YouTube video, so next time I went with its suggested two-block approach, neck supported, which provided an underlying stability to the slight discomfort of stretching the pectoral muscles. It did not make me cry, but I did carry away a pleasant sense of openness in the chest that makes me feel like I’m standing up straighter. I want to stay with this pose and see where it leads. Serendipitously, random online reading led me to an article by Cynthia Bourgeault that nicely connects a heart-centered practice, Jesus, and Holy Week. She writes:
“Even if Jesus had believed that God had finally abandoned him and the whole thing was a failure, he would still have kept an open heart. His death was an intentional act – an act of conscious love. If we can really come to know this in our deepest knowing, we too can see our way through our personal terrors and fears including our fear of death. Jesus’ death was entirely held in love.
The open heart is an absolute gesture. It has an intelligence of its own.”