Note: this script is the counterpart to the audio file below.
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Welcome to Inner Idea. I’m Kelly McGonigal, and today we’ll be practicing a heart-opening breathing exercise.
The intention of this practice is to dissolve restrictions of the heart—both around the physical heart center (of your chest, lungs and rib cage), and the symbolic heart center (which is associated with a sense of connection and compassion).
You can practice this exercise in any seated or standing posture. It can be done on its own as a mini-meditation to awaken the heart, and it is also a wonderful way to begin a yoga practice.
Start by finding your heart center. Place your hands on the heart center, one palm over the center of the chest, and the other palm on top. If it’s more comfortable, you can interlock the fingers, palms spread wide and resting on the chest, thumbs resting just underneath the collarbones.
Give yourself a gentle massage of this area, by circling the palms over the heart center. An image I like is of clearing a fogged-up window, so that what’s on this inside can shine through. Now, reverse the circle, and continue to massage the heart center.
Let your hands come to stillness, keeping them over the heart. Begin to notice your breathing. When you first start to watch the breath, you will probably notice that the belly moves mores than the heart center. That’s totally normal. Let this happen for a few breaths, as you cultivate a smooth and steady breath. Let the belly expand as you inhale, and draw in as you exhale. Feel how the belly draws in as you exhale, and begin to retain a bit of this action when you inhale. Keep the belly lightly pulling in and up as you breathe in. As you do this, the inhalation will begin to spread upward, into the rib cage. You will feel the heart center expand under your hands. Let the breath move into the rib cage and chest, and feel the wave of the breath under your hands.
Now we’ll begin the sounding part of the practice. The two sounds we’ll use—an extended sighing sound, hahhhhhhhhhh, and a humming sound, mmmmmm—will further open the heart center. You’ll find that making a sound when you exhale will extend the exhalation and send some gentle vibrations to the heart. Imagine the vibrations of the sound dissolving restrictions of the heart.
Let’s try each sound twice. Inhale through the nose, and then exhale the sound: “Hahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh……” (with your mouth open). Notice how the throat constricts a bit to produce this sound, almost like whispering. It’s a form of intentional tension—but don’t strain. Try it again. Inhale through the nose, and then exhale the sound: “Hahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh……”
Next, the humming sound. Inhale through the nose, and exhale a humming sound with your mouth closed: “Mmmmmmmmmmmmm……” Pitch the humming sound lower, so that the vibrations go to the heart center and not into the face. If you’re not sure, trying humming at a higher pitch and feel the difference. Try the humming sound again, really letting the exhalation lengthen. Use your core drawing in an up to support the sound and to open the heart.
Now, let’s alternate these two sounds and do several rounds.
For the last part of this breathing practice, let your hands rest by your sides or in your lap. Inhale and exhale through the nose, without trying to make any sound. Imagine that you could breathe from the heart, inhaling and exhaling from the heart center. Imagine the breath entering through the heart and spreading into the lungs, filling the lungs and expanding the rib cage. Imagine the lungs emptying the breath into the heart, through the heart, and out the heart center. Imagine it, visualize it, really feel the sensation of it. Inhaling and exhaling through your heart.
Finish this practice by bringing to mind someone you care for, or someone you’d like to forgive. Or, bring to mind something you are passionate about and would like to invite more fully into your life.
Thank you for joining me today. I hope you enjoyed this heart-opening practice, and can find a way to use it in your teaching or your personal practice.