By Casey Ready
What better time than mid-February, mid-winter and mid-Covid to seek to open our hearts. And while it truly is mid-February with all its beauty, cold and increasing light, I hope we are further along than ‘mid’ with the other two!
I’m excited to release my first entry to the Salti Yoga Online collection. It’s a Heart Opening Flow class, perfect for warming our hearts and helping us embrace the light as we move through winter. While there’s likely no connection between Valentine’s Day and Yoga, mid-winter seems like a perfect time to connect with our hearts. And, a perfect time to explore the benefits yoga offers to our hearts.
Yoga practice identifies seven chakras, or vital energy centres, which are responsible for balancing all levels of our being. The chakras are but one of many aspects of yoga, along with yoga poses or postures, breathing, meditation and other practices. The yoga poses we so carefully practice help us open and balance our chakras. Each of the chakras supports energy within us: they bring us to places of well-being when they are balanced and places of stress when they are not balanced. Yoga practices of postures, breathing and meditation help us to increase balance in each of the chakras.
The fourth chakra, Anahata, is often referred to as the “heart chakra.” The translation for this Sanskrit word actually means “unhurt, unstruck and unbeaten.” This chakra is seen as the centre of love, a place where we recognize our unity as well as our diversity. Interestingly, the colour for Anahata is green, not red, as we might identify with a heart chakra. (Red is associated with the first chakra, Muladhara, or root chakra, which is connected with groundedness, rootedness and connection to the earth. More on this another time!).
The yoga practices of the heart, through breathing, postures and meditation, help us seek and feel experiences that benefit ourselves and others. These include: Compassion: the desire that all beings be free from suffering; Loving-Kindness: the desire that all beings be safe, healthy, happy and free; Equanimity: a steadiness and composure that is undisturbed by life’s ups and downs; and Joy: finding joy in others’ happiness and success.
In other words, finding balance in our heart chakra, or Anahata, helps us find ways to give and receive unconditional love and to experience and offer love, openness, compassion, and peace. Finding this balance helps us to be more cheerful, friendly, self-loving, self-caring, patient and understanding. And, it helps us extend these experiences beyond ourselves, to reach out to others and to express love of the earth, love of humanity and altruism.
But, when we lack balance in this chakra, we can experience the opposite, with feelings of depression, pessimism, self-doubt, co-dependency and anxiety. Being unbalanced in this chakra can exacerbate feelings of loneliness and isolation, something we may want to be seeking to reduce this mid-winter!
So, how can we seek to balance our heart chakra, or Anahata? Much more than can be shared in this brief blog, but here are a few ways we can reach and connect with this chakra through yoga postures, breathing and meditations.
Postures to connect with this chakra include those that truly feel “heart-opening.” They include those that go beyond the heart to reach the shoulders, lungs and arms. Bending and expanding the torso are on top of this list, so think of forward folds such as Child’s Pose, Forward Fold and Half Forward Fold. Think also of back-bends such as Camel, Cobra and Upward Facing Dog, and side-bends such as Triangle, Half Moon, Seated Twists and Supine Crescent Moon. To integrate it all, think of a long Savasana, as you melt into the floor. Turn your palms upwards to open your heart to the sky and take it all in!
Well, don’t only think of these poses, try them out! Your heart will thank you.
But, there’s more. Continued below...
We can seek heart opening through meditations, affirmations and the intentions we set for our yoga practice. These can include heart-opening phrases such as: “I open my heart to embrace life as it is,” “I am vulnerable and open myself to the universe,” and, “Whatever I give to others, I give to myself.” You can say these words as you begin and end your practice, repeating them several times. Your heart will be thanking you more.
Anahata, the heart chakra, is at the centre of our chest and our circulation. An open heart requires attention to our breath. How many times have I/we found ourselves barely breathing? Going through our days with small shallow breaths, big enough to keep going but small enough to almost collapse our hearts? The first yoga practice in breathing is to simply pay attention to our breath. Notice our inhales and exhales. Then, allow them to deepen, encouraging longer exhales and deeper inhales. We can notice our breath as we move through our yoga poses and can deepen this experience by setting time aside to practice breathing. Your heart, lungs and feelings are thanking you now.
So much to do and not do. I close with a few words from a revered author, offering grace and awe to our heart-opening practice:
“I’ve been referred to as odd before. Nowadays, I prefer to refer to myself as “awed.” I want awe to be the greatest ongoing relationship in my life. I want to move through my days floored by the magnificence and generosity of [life]. The breaking of a day, the silence between words, the light emanating from a real conversation, and kindness, truth, love and the apparently random hand of grace. I want to…be rendered speechless by wonder. I await the next unfolding. Peace, friends. Be awed today.”
Join me in a Heart-Opening Flow practice on Salti Yoga Online!
Gates, Rolf. Meditations on Intention and Being, 2015.
Le Page, Joseph and Lilian. Integrative Yoga Therapy: Yoga Toolbox, 2015.
Le Page, Joseph. Integrative Yoga Therapy Manual, 2007.
Wagamese, Richard. Embers, 2016.