How Yoga Helps the Heart
It goes beyond the Cardiovascular System
When I tell my yoga students we are going to focus on the Heart Chakra (Anahata in Sanscript), there is usually a sigh of relief. We have worked our way through the physical Chakras of root, sacrum and core. The Heart Chakra, fourth of the 7 energy wheels in our subtle body, lies in the space to the right of the heart along the spine. This area of our spine is one of the strongest of our skeletal system for good reason. It is protecting a very important physical organ—the heart.
We consider both the physical and emotional aspects of the Anahata chakra. Our heart can be very vulnerable depending on our life experiences. What may result is a heart chakra imbalance – respiratory issues, heart issues, depression, fatigue, to name a few of the possible symptoms. When you are unhappy, your thymus, which controls your hormones slows down, which can result in a general lack of thriving. Emotionally an imbalance in this area can either lead to shutting down or just pretending to be happy.
“The fear of giving and receiving love blocks health, joy and goodness from coming into our lives,” according to Ambika Wauters, the author of The Book of Chakras who adds, “The heart’s unique intelligence is to remember love, It never forget acts of kindness, friendship or love. “
In order to access love, one must be willing to be vulnerable. At the beginning of class, I offer my students doTERRA geranium essential oil if they need to open up more or melalueca if they need to protect their heart more. Both sides of this coin leave one feeling vulnerable. It’s the paradox of the heart chakra, according to http://nyapatrinos.blogspot.com/2015/08/chakra-series-yin-yoga-heart-chakra.html “through humility, we find our power; through discipline, we find liberation; by cleansing the physical body, we become more mentally clear and attuned.”
We begin our practice in a seated pose to try and still the mind and tap into the heart; easier said, than done. It takes practice to distinguish what your heart is telling you versus what your mind is chattering at you. One clue is if thought starts with love then it is coming from your heart. According to Yoga Journal’s Stephanie Snyder in a 2015 article, “Over time you will be able to observe both. This inner listening cultivates a discrimination. Discrimination supports skillful choices, which lead you toward your heart’s calling, your purpose. The result is bringing compassion and love into all you do.”
I invite my students to set an intention for the practice, which is often very personal.
It might include forgiving someone who has hurt you, or opening yourself up to love again after a bad relationship. It could be working on loving yourself or trusting other people, or being less critical of people. Be sure to listen closely to your heart to ensure your intention rings true for you.
We do the following practice. Feel free to attend one of my classes on balancing the Chakras or try the routine at home.
In a seated position we begin by loosening our neck and shoulders. Be sure to sit on a blanket or bolster to protect your spine. Sitting on a bolster helps lean your pelvic bones toward the front which keeps your back from rounding. Half way through this neck and shoulder routine, change the cross of your legs to keep them from falling asleep. (2) Preparatory arm stretches will also include cow face arms and eagle arms (shown). Roll over to hands and knees. A modified cat/cow with a child’s pose focus on shining your heart each time you stretch up and forward helps get problems “off your chest” (3)
Rest in Child’s pose. Then move into Puppy pose also known as Melting the heart. (4) Draw your shoulders back toward each other, but be careful not to dump your belly. Move into thread the needle or revolved child’s pose. (5) This is an intense stretch for your shoulder. Metaphorically speaking, your shoulders are the branches from your heart, which if strong can lead to generosity and compassion. Repeat on both sides.
Move into downward facing dog (6)—focusing on your shoulders drawing toward your back. You might need to bend the knees a great deal to feel this in the upper back. High lunges, Low lunges or Warrior 1 on both sides will be modified to reflect the opening of the shoulders. (7) Do both sides. Our balancing series will include both Eagle Pose (8) and Dancers pose (9). Both work the upper body. Dancer pose opens up the heart while Eagle pose protects the heart. Do both sides.
Add two full sun salutations, focusing each move on a gratitude practice. For instance when reaching to the sky, express thanks to the sun, the forward fold, thanks to the earth, half way up, thanks to your parents, all the way down, thanks to your children or friends, going through plank, thanks to yourself including your body. Upward dog, thanks to your mind, and coming back up, thanks to the higher being that you believe in. You can even chant these as you go through the sequence. This practice came from Seane Corne. Make sure to open your heart during your back bends.
Perhaps the most vulnerable heart chakra pose is Camel Ustrasana (10)
The following description of this pose comes from Yoga Journal. “Camel is an upper-spine backbend that comes from narrowing in the belly and widening your hands to your hips and drive the legs and pelvis down as you lift the low belly, ribs, and chest upward. Finally drop your head back gently as long as it doesn’t cause neck pain. Spend about 3 breaths here and repeat this pose three times. When you finish, sit on your heels, close your eyes, and enjoy the rush of being alive in an open-hearted body.”
Modified Fish Pose is offered as part of this series. I do not do a full fish pose. Fish Pose (Matsyasana) 11 is known as the destroyer of all diseases. It stimulates your thyroid and para thyroid as it strengths the muscles of the upper back and back of neck and stretches your front body muscles.
We end the practice in a restorative version of Reclined Bound Angel Pose. Supta Badda Konasana (12) Lie on on your back placing either two blocks or place a bolsters length wise and incline it with a block or two. Lay back with your spine directly over the bolster. If you are using blocks make sure one block is right across your shoulder blades (for ladies, no lower than the bra line). Once comfortable open your heart and allow your shoulders to sink towards the floor. Then place your feet together and let you knees fall out to the side. Roll a blanket into a rope and wrap around your ankles or place blocks under your knees to support you. Visualize the color green, which protects your heart or pink to represent your heart as you relax in this pose. The heart seed mantra is YAM. Breathe in unconditional love for yourself and others. Exhale and release old hurts, regrets, anger and grief.
I wish you health and joy in your day. Namaste, Andrea
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