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Opening the Heart in Yoga: The Camel, Melting Heart and Wheel

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Darlene Vander Hoop is the friend who brought me to yoga in 1982. She has been teaching three decades of demanding yoga classes in the hot room. We've been talking about her realization these days that people are hungry for something softer and more restorative from their yoga instructors both physically and emotionally. Yin Yoga is it, the feminine side of yoga practice.

Yin is not easy. It does take time in postures so that you don't become dizzy, to allow for a slow letting go of grasping and overachieving. Darlene brings it together with a breath mantra: "Breathe in light and space, exhale the bones and density to the Earth. Accept was 'is' right now: no judgment, no analysis, no comparisons," says Darlene.

As her student, I gravitate to these postures to counteract the negative effects of sitting many hours at a time in my profession that is added to the time I spend sitting while driving. Darlene tells me to breathe in space around the heart and connect the arms and shoulders to my heart, thinking of them as the "wings of the heart." To enhance the experience, she scents the practice space with one of her own essential oils in aerosol mists.

Darlene lightly sprays the air with the sweetness of flower petals (symbols of love) to invite more sweetness into our hearts. With so much grief and loss in life, she says we forget to take a deep breath and burst out of that straight jacket of fear and armor and say, "Ah," for as long as we'd like. "Breathe into the spaces behind and in front of the heart, sending the energy down the arms and out the tips of the fingers" she advises.

The camel, the melting heart and the wheel: These are her top favorite open-heart poses. Any back bend done safely will do. In our discussion, we dare each other to have an anxious or depressive thought while doing an open-heart posture, and we can not.

If the wheel is too advanced, start with a bridge. If you're up for one more suggestion, a move a bit more on the esoteric side, says Darlene, try to add warrior pose when you're ready. The counter-intuitive undoing of the negative in taking the pain of the warrior and turning it to something noble is an essential existential task for modern life in the fast lane, I say.

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