According to the yogis, happiness is not about “getting” from any external source and bringing in; rather it’s a practice of cultivating our internal propensity for happiness, growing that which we already possess. And for yogis, the body is an ideal tool to encourage our innate joy to blossom into every area of life.
This simple daily practice offers a way to tend to what I call “the happiness garden.” It will open the chest while strengthening and stabilizing the shoulders. That basic shape shift of “heart opening” interrupts the habitual hunch (over the phone, computer, car, meal, etc.) and will immediately uplift the spirits. Broadening and lengthening the ribcage gives the lungs greater space to expand. We can breathe bigger, fuller breaths, feeding the brain with oxygen, soothing the central nervous system, and releasing happiness hormones to free up some space in our heads and hearts.
Interlace fingers, flip the palms to face forward and then place the backs of hands on top of the head. As if pulling the fingers apart, widen the elbows and drop the shoulders away from the ears. Inhale to maintain that space at the tops of the shoulders and base of the neck and on an exhale, press the palms straight up to the sky, lifting the sides of the navel up as well. Firm the upper arms in towards the ears while gliding the shoulder blades down and continuing to stretch the arms up. Iyengar famously said, “If you open your armpits, you’ll never get depressed.”
Straighten the arms, turn the palms forward and smile the collarbones open. Reach one hand behind the back and hold the opposite upper arm. Continue to spread and lift the collarbones on inhales and with each exhale lift the abdomen in and up to maintain length and strength in the back.
Broaden the and lift chest to spread shoulders wide. Maintain that space and soften the front ribs down. Clasp the hands behind back and again hug front of hips and lower ribs towards each other to widen the lower back as the upper chest swells with breath. Raise the heart up as the hands reach down. Lay the head back if the neck can stay long and open or for greater comfort look to the sky or down towards the nose.
Open the arms apart and then given yourself a great hug, with one elbow beneath the other. For more stretch, lift the hands and forearms and double wrap the wrists. The shoulder blades will naturally spread across the back here. To bring equal expanse to the front body, press the tips of the blades in towards the chest and expand the spread of the collarbones.
Play with placing the heart above the head for an inversion. You can come into Downward Dog, or any inversion of your choice.
Photos by Chloe Crespi