When I began my journey of emotional healing, my chest was literally in lock down. My muscles were tight. My breathing was shallow, as was my capacity for feeling things in a truly "heartfelt" way.
Then I came to the practice of yoga and mindfulness and started what has turned out to be a life-altering journey — to learn to live life from an open heart space.
An open heart can illuminate the darkest of places, increase vitality, emotional balance and the ability to meet life with fluidity and grace. When our heart is open, we are in touch with our needs and desires. We are better communicators. We are more compassionate friends and lovers.
The heart becomes blocked when energy patterns (that yoga calls Samskaras) get stuck in our minds. Whether or not the idea of "blocked energy" resonates with you, I'm sure you've felt the negative effects of having a nagging worry or thought coming to haunt you throughout your day. These thoughts are like energetic-roadblocks, and they can deplete you. A heart full of unfinished events and worries is something that we hold onto out of anxiety — and in turn, it holds onto us.
Of course, when we don't experience intense difficulty with the events in our life, we can take them in, experience them and allow them to pass through as we move from situation to situation. But if there is a personal trigger at stake, the heart and mind become fixated and we become stuck.
The question is how can we tap into, open, and begin to heal our heart space releasing these imprints? Well, here are seven ways that anyone can begin to open and heal their heart to nurture the health of the body and the mind.
1. Consciously breathe into your heart space.
Spend some time each day consciously breathing. As you feel each inhale and exhale, don't just "focus on the breath," as we are often taught to do. Make sure to direct attention to your heart center itself, as if all of your energy were resting there. Then listen. This is one of the first and most powerful things I did as I began my journey. Through being mindful of my heart space, I began to recognize old energy patterns, create space for new ones and rewire my thoughts and behaviors.
2. Experience heart-opening yoga poses.
There are yoga poses that can regulate and balance the flow of energy into the heart center. If you practice yoga, you may have experienced the subtle and sometimes profound emotional and spiritual aspects of deep heart-openers.
Practice heart-opening yoga poses as you focus on breathing into the heart center. For more gentle heart openers try Cobra, Upward Facing Dog, Cow Face, Locust and Fish Pose. For deeper openers try more advanced poses like Camel, Upward Bow, and Dancer Pose.
3. Practice more compassion than you know what to do with.
As my yoga practice deepened, so did my capacity for compassion. And I'm not just talking about feeling for those around me, but also for myself. Many of us don't realize it, but compassion is really about acceptance, and about making space for our assumptions and judgments to just be, rather than to take hold of our emotions and ways of thinking.
When we make a habit of practicing compassion, of truly seeing ourselves and others, we are better able to see the stories our minds come up with, and understand how they are based on old wounds. From there, we can allow ourselves to exist in a different and more open heart space.
4. Remember that gratitude isn't just a cliché.
As I became more present and committed to letting go of old wounds, I began to experience gratitude in a much deeper way. Gratitude has a powerful way of shifting our energy and bringing warmth into our heart space.
Sometimes, tapping into what we're grateful for seems cheesy or like a chore. But if we make the conscious effort simply to pay attention to our lives in a certain way — one that focuses on seeing the light, rather than the dark — we will feel much happier and more open to continue this practice.
5. Get far outside of yourself.
Let's face it: there are just sometimes when we cannot muster up feelings of gratitude. When we find ourselves in this space, there is something else we can do: give. Whether it is a meal, your time, or just a smile, give something of yourself to another. Giving has a way of connecting us to our heart center and to the hearts of others as well.
6. Make connections — consciously.
Set an intention to deepen your connections with loved ones. Engage a person you would not normally make contact with. Reveling in the mystery and potential energy of life itself, look into another's eyes, listen to their voice and watch their actions. This is a simple but powerful practice for us to begin forgetting any and all the stale stories about ourselves and our relationships that we carry around in our heads, and helps us feel the power of "connectedness" at a deeper energetic level.
7. Get super silly!
Be that child you once were, before the world told you who to be. Play your favorite music and dance. Sing in the shower. Walk barefoot in the rain. Laugh.
My inner child was walled off along with my heart, before I began my journey. In an unforgettable moment during meditation, I experienced a significant shift and emotional release. In that moment, my inner little girl danced. As a matter of fact, she hasn't stopped dancing and singing and playing and laughing since that moment. That doesn't mean that life is always a dream or that I'm always smiling. It simply means my inner child is alive and well, and once again a part of who I am.
Living from an open heart space creates more energy, vitality and inspiration in our lives, so we can feel our innate ability as humans to feel part of all beings in existence.
An open heart space allows us to be authentically who we are and it allows us to experience the joy of deep connection, of love and of peace.