In one of his fresh cadaver dissections, Gil Hedley made public a beautiful video showing the fluid nature of the heart. He offered another showing how the lungs inflate and deflate around this malleable heart. When I first saw these videos years ago, I began to weep. The tenderness of these strong, yet so supple organs, the supportive and receptive relationship they share was a reminder of the miracle of who we are and how we are built to be.
You see, each time you inhale, your lungs lovingly caress and compress the heart, and with every exhalation, the heart expands and fills up the space it is given. All the while, the blood rhythmically pulses through the heart and out to the rest of the body, keeping us alive. This life, so generously offered to us through this mechanism, is filled with joy and pain and love and fear and ecstasy and heartbreak and grief. Our nervous and fascial systems react to these stimuli by contracting or relaxing, by keeping us present or by disconnecting. But still our breath dances fluidly with our soft and supple heart, the blood continues to pulse through.
The frozen quality of fear, the walled-off hardness of disconnection or anger or numbness can create an unnatural barrier to the fullness of this heart-lung relationship. We hold our breath, our chests and backs tighten, preventing us from feeling into our tender and sweet hearts. These walls can limit the natural rhythm, literally hardening the heart, creating barriers in the protective layer surrounding it. The devastation of heartbreak and grief can cut us wide open and as time heals us, scars may remain. Some of these scars are small and the resiliency of the fluid nature of the heart can easily compensate. Some scars leave an impression that lasts, and the innocent and natural softness may not ever be the same. But the heart continues to expand and contract, to pulse and mold between the gentle waves of our lungs.
Our hardships beckon us to feel. Our fear of feeling creates barriers that present as numbness or anger or feigned strength that is really just avoidance. Our inner knowing nudges us toward feeling by manifesting as physical pain and strain that we can specify and locate. We have a starting point that we can begin to address. We can access this pain through stretching and pressing and moving. We see that by giving this area attention and awareness, it can find a little bit of relief. Sometimes this is enough. Other times, our heart continues to whisper, deep beneath the walls we have constructed, to pay attention. She beckons us to risk being vulnerable, to remember her soft and supple nature, to remind us of the relationship she has with the supportive neighboring lungs: Breathing in, they fill her with life as she yields to the gentle compression, breathing out, they release as she has the freedom to expand and let go. Supple. Receptive.
If we are brave enough to feel the tenderness that is our heart’s true nature, we may end up meeting our grief and our fears. We may have to see and feel the walls of anger and resentment that have been standing guard, sometimes for years. We may have to drop that “strength” that we thought we had and see it as a coping mechanism to avoid feeling pain and heartbreak. We may catch glimpses of shame and self-doubt and confusion and chaos. But these walls are not your heart. They swirl around and shield and protect, but they do not define you. Something lies underneath it all. Energetically they call her Anahata, which translates to unbeaten or unbroken. In this place we are whole.
It takes real strength to remember our soft, watery and resilient nature. And healing from emotional pain can be scary and difficult to endure. But that beautiful supple heart of yours also carries your joy and your vitality. She holds love and compassion and optimism and hope. She knows inherently that she is supported and pulsing with life and a vital part of the whole, and that you are too. She whispers this truth to you with every heartbeat. She receives the support and release of every breath. She is always there, waiting for you to hear her, to feel the beauty and truth she has to offer, to remember what you have to offer. Soft. Watery. Supple. Receptive. Strong.
Yoga Asana Suggestion:
Restorative Supta Badha Konasana: Supine Bound Angle Pose with a bolster.
Bring a yoga bolster or a couple of pillows and place it length-wise against your sacrum so that when you lie back, it can support your whole spine. Make sure your head is supported. If you are tall, you may need an extra couple of blankets or a block or pillow so that your head is in line with your body. Lie back over the bolster, creating a mild lift in your chest and back. Allow your palms to face up along your sides, feeling the gentle opening in the chest. Bend your knees and place the soles of your feet together, allowing the knees to open and fall to the side like a butterfly. Place blankets under your knees to support this posture without strain. Once you are settled, simply rest into the feeling of support, or bring yourself through the guided meditation below.
Lie down in a comfortable position. Feel gravity pull you down, so you begin to relax and melt into the support of the earth beneath you. Feel your pelvis and legs get heavy, and your belly relax, kidneys and ribs soften into the support behind you. Feel gravity pull your shoulders and upper back down toward the earth. Feel your chest settle in as your lungs and heart sink back into the back-center of your body. Notice your throat and neck relax and your head get heavy. Feel your brain relax.
Now, tune in to the feeling of your lungs. Notice that as you inhale, they softly and gently nudge against your heart. Notice that as you exhale, the heart relaxes and settles into its home in your chest. See the heart being softly compressed with each inhalation, and relax with each exhalation. Hold your attention on this supple, fluid, and nurturing relationship between your heart and your breath.
If other feelings, sensations, or emotions come up, give them your full attention for a few breaths until you feel them soften their edges or express through you. Then gently return your awareness to the soft and sweet tenderness of your heart. Know that there is nothing you need to do. Simply feel the miracle of the lungs nurturing the heart, and the relaxing expansion that occurs with every single breath.