Consider the relationship between support and openness--how does that work in your life in general? Think about a situation in which you were vulnerable—your metaphorical heart opened--but you lacked backing... My guess is that it wasn’t your favorite experience. Our physical hearts, too, need support, and what I shared in the last blog about the corocoid corner can shed light on what I mean. I’m re-posting the same video below so you can look at the part (just past the halfway mark) when I show the narrowing of the back when the chest is lifted by pulling the scapulas back (with the rhomboid muscles), in contrast to the broad back achieved by supporting the shoulder girdle via serratus anterior, lower trapezius and latissimus dorsi. Last time my point was how this broad band of activity across the mid-back creates space under the outside edges of the collar bones (the corocoid corners). This time I’d like you to observe how that same band of good tension provides backing for your heart.
Breath Support for the Heart
Consider this illustration of heart and lungs. Notice there is more lung tissue in the back of the ribcage than in front; more lung in the lower than upper ribcage. (The lower lungs are richest in capillaries too—that means they are best equipped for oxygen exchange. For more about respiration, see Chapter 4 of The New Rules) Notice how the lungs appear to wrap around the heart. When you inhale that actually happens: the lungs swell to embrace and massage the heart with each breath. Take a moment now to feel or imagine that (remember: imagined sensation is as pertinent to your brain re-mapping process as “real” sensation). Sit upright in your pelvis, weight resting slightly forward of your sit bones.Breathe in through your nose, inviting your lower back ribs to open like venetian blinds (or like fish gills). During the out-breath, bring your awareness to the weight of your body. Continue with this, while imagining your lungs caressing your heart.
Now consider the photo of a woman in standing in mountain pose. Notice the lifted front chest, and pinched back ribcage. Imagine her breathing into the lower back ribcage. Can she do it?
This posture may be touted as “heart opening”, but without the support of breath, it’s necessarily an un-responsive posture. Many approaches to fitness and posture emphasize lifting the ribcage—it’s not exclusively a yoga teaching. For most people, lifting the ribcage means lifting the front of it because they have not yet become aware of the back of the body. I’m hoping that information about how the lungs work can provide incentive for you to revise this posture in whatever workouts you may be doing.
Arm Support for the Heart
In this illustration you see the arm buds of a human fetus developing from the same embryological tissue as the heart. Amazing, right? From our very inceptions, our arms are forming the gestures of our hearts’ intentions.
For carrying out those intentions, our hearts require that our arms be well supported. And here’s where your “corocoid corner” awareness comes in. When you have that supportive band of “serratus and company” across your mid-back and your corocoid corners are spacious, your humeral heads (the little balls at the top of your arm bones) will roll back into the shoulder socket when you raise your arms forward. That’s a secure way for your arm to connect into your trunk. With support from the spine, your arms can securely and openly express your hearts intent.
If, however, you lift your chest by retracting the shoulder blades (pinching them together), that only appears to widen the corocoid area, but may be masking tightness there. When the scapula retracts like that, the humeral head is forced forward in the shoulder socket. In this position it’s much more difficult for arm movements to find support from the shoulder blade and secure connection to the spine.
Body Fashion and the Heart
Consider the star of the moment. I’m not commenting on Beyoncé’s structural organization, though from the recent Super Bowl extravaganza, it’s clear she is super fit and well coordinated. I’m submitting this image as our culture’s current expression of an ideal woman’s body. But note, while the heart area appears open, the corocoid area is withdrawn. This is indicative of lack of arm support for the heart. While provocative, it’s not a generous posture. You’ll see it everywhere in our media—Beyoncé is not alone. A contradiction in our cultural expression, perhaps? Let me know what you think.