Into the Back of the Heart

Tara Goddess of Universal Compassion

Often when we think of ‘opening the heart’ we imagine pulling the shoulders back, puffing out the chest, and pushing the rib cage up. While this extension of the thoracic spine has a marvellous effect on both our bodies and minds, it often leads us to focus on the front of the heart. If we take time to remember the back of the heart we remember that it is often here, tucked underneath the shoulder blades and beneath the back ribs, that we store old emotions and painful injuries. While opening up to the front of the heart can bring in new emotions, making us available to new relationships or new feelings of compassion to those around us, opening up to the back of the heart can allow us to bring some much needed love and light to old hurts. You can often observe when people are carrying these old hurts around with them in their bodies, they walk with a slouch, or a slump typical of hunched over shoulders and an unnaturally curved upper spine. The appearance is both of attempting to shelter from allowing anything new to enter in the front heart and that the weight of the back heart is so heavy it is like a burden, an extra backpack, that sticks out of the spine and has to be dragged around everywhere. Who needs this kind of struggle to deal with everyday?

One of the best antidotes I have come across for bringing attention and light to the back heart is the simple forward fold: paschimottanasana. Sitting on the floor with your legs extended, knees bent, breath in as you extend your arms above your head. As you exhale fold your torso onto your thighs, relaxing into the low back, the upper back, and neck, simply letting the weight of the skull bring the heart and belly button further towards the toes with every breath. Let the arms be soft, without using them to pull you deeper into the pose, or expecting them to land anywhere particular (for example your toes, heels, calves) – just let them drop to the floor beside you. Many people think this is a hamstring stretch but if you bend the knees enough and breath into your depth you will find that this can be a beautiful opening into the back spine, releasing an entire store of tension you didn’t even know you were holding there.


Pictured: Tara is the Goddess of Unconditional Compassion, born of tears shed by the great Lord of Compassion when he witnessed the unending suffering of human beings. Tara lovingly guides her devotees as they navigate the turbulent waters of life and helps them to find safety, peace and freedom.

Green Tara China, Tibeto-Chinese style, Ming dynasty, Yongle mark and period (1403–1424). The Berti Aschmann Foundation of Tibetan Art at the Museum Rietberg Zurich. Courtesy Art Gallery of NSW.

About karen2202

I am writing my PhD on children's yoga and it's place within mainstream education. I am also a yoga teacher in Sydney, Australia.

Posted on October 6, 2011, in Asana, Meditation and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Into the Back of the Heart.

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