It seems that I have gained many students at times of heartbreak or loss. Nothing quite grabs your attention like the pain of broken-heartedness: the loss of a relationship, the passing of a loved one, the brokenness that is experienced when a child leaves to go off to school or when a longtime pet dies. Financial ruin and illnesses alike bring with them lessons in opening and letting go. The key is to remain available through life’s circumstances and to fully feel.
When it is the learned response to contract and harden during these times, yoga offers an alternative. We can allow the feelings to warm us and wash over us, thawing us out from past wounds and opening us to the full range of our human emotions and our aliveness. Not only that, but the benefits of yoga are measurable. A recent study in India showed that even after just 15 days, the benefits of yoga and meditation yielded a lower resting pulse and lowered blood sugar, which helps to prevent heart disease.
What chakras represent
The chakra system represents the wheels of energy that contain all the facets of the self. The midpoint of all the chakras is located at the heart. This is the place that connects heaven and earth. The heart chakra (anahata, the fourth chakra) is located in the heart region of your chest. It is associated with trust, forgiveness, compassion, patience, wisdom, and emotional empowerment. This chakra bridges the spirit world and the physical world. It is through the heart that you are able to enjoy the human experience of Heaven on Earth. Feeling and unconditional love are the gateways from the material world to the metaphysical world.
The word anahata means “flawless” or “unstuck” in Sanskrit. I take this to mean that if your heart is flawless, then you are perfect exactly as is. The symbol for the heart chakra is the 12-petal lotus flower. The heart chakra, when healthy, gives you a feeling of vitality for being alive and allows you to feel compassion for others and to be truly connected and interested in their well-being.
Physiologically, this chakra is associated with the thoracic cavity and governs the physical heart, rib cage, blood, lungs, diaphragm, thymus gland, breasts, and esophagus. When imbalanced, it can manifest as upper back and shoulder issues, asthma, lung or heart disease, and shallow/rapid breathing. When the heart chakra is weakened you may experience feelings of loneliness, hopelessness, lack of self-esteem, paranoia, jealousy, indecisiveness, fear of letting go, anxiety, mistrust, and physical heart problems. When this chakra is overactive, you may experience dependency or breathing problems, have control issues, make reckless decisions, or be overly trusting or overpromising.
When you have a balanced, open heart chakra, you will feel calm, confident, and trusting of yourself. Here are a few ways to strengthen your heart chakra, which can bring much joy and peace to your being.
Tools for engaging your heart chakra
Use Affirmations: The words you speak have a power that literally reverberates through your body. Always speak positively and watch your heart open.
Say Yes: When in doubt, say “YES." Yes to all of it. The pain. The difficulty. Everything is exactly as it should be, and when you learn to say yes and include every single moment, your heart becomes whole. Say things like, “I completely love and accept myself.” “Love is everywhere.” Ask, “Do I love and accept myself?”
Sense: Touch. When you hold someone close, you can feel the love surge through the body. The heart is feeling and sensing.
System: Respiratory, circulatory, immune. Your heart pumps your blood to your extremities. It is what powers and feeds you. You must have a strong circulatory system to remain healthy.
Heart Chakra Food: Vegetables—especially dark leafy greens, which purify your blood. Greens reflect the green color of the heart chakra.
Inner State: Compassion
Emotions: Trust, love
Color: Green (calming color: pink)
Yoga Poses: Camel, fish, and cobra are some examples of heart-opening poses. All backbends open the chest cavity and the heart.
Herbs: Thyme, melissa
Oils/Spices: Rose, jasmine, saffron, tarragon
Flower Remedy: Chicory, red chestnut
Gemstones: Rose quartz, jade, emerald
Nature: Forests and fields
Celestial Body: Venus
Moon phases: New and full
There are so many paths that lead to the heart. Perhaps the quickest of all is becoming completely present to the awe of life. As we stand in the moment, naked and stripped of all defenses, we find a sense of surrender that feels both completely held and is holding space. May we feel supported as we journey together to find more meaning and more connection in all that we are.