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Yoga 101: The Heart of the Sphinx

Transform yourself into the Great Sphinx, helping to open yourself up to the greatest love of all — you!

Don’t get mad, but Valentine’s Day has always kind of bothered me.

It’s one of those consumer-driven days, Hallmark holidays if you will, that can make people feel alone and brokenhearted. Let’s be real: We live in a nation where we have a 50% divorce rate; there are a lot of broken hearts out there. 

So let’s start a new tradition by making Valentine’s Day a reminder of the greatest love of our lives, ourselves. No ego, just the truth of self-love.

Today we will learn a heart opener to help us introduce love to the body and accomplish a new way of thinking in the mind.

In yoga, we have a multitude of choices for opening the heart, anahata. Just a few weeks back, someone on a teachers' discussion board posed the question: “What is you favorite heart opening pose?” It created quite a discussion because everyone has a favorite. 

For me, I wanted this week to be about finding a heart opener that was gentle enough for beginners, yet can awaken newness in a seasoned practitioner. So I choose Sphinx pose, or ardha-bhujangasana (half cobra). I love Sphinx pose, and not only because it helps my spine lengthen, strengthens the base of my trapezius as my shoulder girdle sets and is one of the most accessible backbends. It’s because it evokes our creative genius of imagination, allowing us to transport ourselves to the desert of Egypt, feeling the hot sand under our hands, forearms, belly and legs. This week we are embracing our heart.

Before we begin, make sure you have clearance from your health care or wellness professional. Although Sphinx is one of the gentlest backbends, those of use with any back injuries should be extra mindful and cautious when entering into any backbend. 

Suggested warmup:

  • Begin in sukhasana, or easy seat. Begin breathing, using dirgha pranayama. Do this for at least a minute or two. 
  • Then find table pose, with a cat, and cow vinyasa. Linking your breath and the movement, begin to warm your spine with your breathing.
  • Inhale, curling your toes under, and exhale, finding your downward facing dog. Breathe here for at least 10 breaths, slow and deep.
  • Inhale, bringing your knees down, and come into table pose.
  • Bring yourself back into easy seat.
  • Inhale, lifting your arms up, and exhale, bringing your right arm behind your back and placing your left hand on your knee. Twist gently, looking over your shoulder. Breathe here for at least five breaths, and repeat on the left side.

Sphinx pose:

  • Now let’s get to our belly and open our hearts gently with Sphinx.
  • Lie down on your belly on your mat, and reach out with long arms and legs, in full prostration. Take a few deep breaths.
  • Draw your arms in toward the body now, bending your elbows and placing your forearms flat on the ground, with your elbows under your shoulders.
  • Transform your fingers into paws, spreading the fingers wide, like you are gently gripping the earth. The feelings of the hands are as if you are clawing the earth to move forward.
  • Roll your shoulders down your back as you relax your jaw and face.
  • Feel the center of your chest moving forward and the top of your head reaching up.
  • Gently press the tops of your feet, shins, thighs, pubic bone and belly into the earth as you relax your buttocks. This engagement will help keep your lower back safe and lengthen the spine.
  • Close your eyes and visualize your heart expanding from its center and opening with every inhale and exhale.

The Great Sphinx of Egypt is the guard of sacred temples and tomb. We guard ourselves — our hearts, especially. In this posture, your arms open, your chest opens, your throat opens, your mind is open to the possibilities of letting love flow in and out of with the ease of your breath. The posture not only builds the physical endurance and strengthening in the body; it opens you up to the strength and endurance to first love ourselves. 

Over time, our physical bodies open the gates to our spiritual bodies and to the world of love around us. Practice Sphinx, and feel the strength gained by having the courage of loving yourself with every breath.

Namaste!

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