Heart-Opening Yoga & Meditation

Love is hard. Balancing giving and receiving is hard. Sometimes, being human is hard. Yoga helps. Let’s talk about our heart space today, where our spiritual self meets love. Let’s talk about heart-opening yoga and meditation. Intrigued? Read on, my friends.

The magical thing about yoga is that it is good for your physical and energetic body. Today we are going to specifically talk about our hearts and all the beautiful benefits of yoga. Physically, yoga builds cardiovascular health, boosts blood circulation and decreases inflammation… Now, it gets even more interesting. Yoga also works on the energetic body and can help unblock the heart chakra (the Anahata chakra). With an unblocked and awakened Anahata, our beautiful spirits can truly shine through. But what is the Anahata chakra? And what are heart-opening yoga and meditation? Let me explain…

What is the Anahata Chakra?

The Anahata chakra is located in the center of the chest. It is where the divine spiritual self (Atma) meets love. Very often we have a tendency to build walls around our hearts, convinced that this will prevent any pain. Maybe you had a bad breakup? Lost a loved one? Put yourself out there and got turned down? So then you think, “Well if I hadn’t loved, if I hadn’t been vulnerable, then I wouldn’t have been hurt.” And hurting is… well… painful. So the walls go up. And we block this beautiful sacred place.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the answer. A blocked Anahata affects our ability to give and receive love. But what does this really mean? A huge part of all healthy relationships, not just the romantic, is the ability to be loved and to LET ourselves be loved. When I look back on previous romantic relationships I see that I was too obsessed with whether they loved me. Actually, sometimes I still do this and have to stop to observe myself. Anyway, I never used to think about how I was giving love. Now I realise I was the one not able to give love properly because I didn’t have any for myself. And relationships are mirrors of our internal world.

Sometimes I also tend to give a lot and then not really know how to receive. Letting someone love you, and trusting them, means that you believe that you deserve this love. And this is hard. So walls go up, as do the excuses. It is important to be able to go inside and gently ask, why am I blocking love? Am I really open to loving? Am I scared? Do I think I don’t deserve it? Does loving feel unsafe? You tell me.

Heart-Opening Yoga

In yoga, we can work on unblocking the Anahata by practicing “heart-opening” yoga and meditation. This means chest-openers and backbends. By lifting your heart, expanding your chest and bringing your shoulders back you are increasing your heart space, and stimulating the Anahata. This practice can help us release tension and trapped emotion. It can also help to start knocking down metaphorical walls. Meditation can help us to start tuning into ourselves, and see what our heart tells us. Slowly as we open our heart space we can let in all the good that life has in store for us. Sounds good right?

Let’s start by opening our arms wide and saying (or shouting), “I open my arms wide and declare with love that I accept ALL of the good that life has in store for me!” (Thanks, Louise Hay, for the idea). I do this, in public, or to the sea… and I’m not remotely embarrassed.

Anyway, back to the heart-opening yoga. Here are some chest-opening, heart-expanding, love-generating asanas for you:

Heart-Opening Asanas

Virabhadrasana 1 Modification (Arching Warrior Pose)

1. From tadasana (mountain pose) take a 3ft to step back with your left foot. Turn your back toes out diagonally slightly. Bend your right leg, whilst keeping your knee directly over the ankle.

2. Make sure your front knee is pointing out towards the second or third toes. Keep your hips squared with the front of the mat. The back leg is straight and engaged.

3. Inhale and raise your arms above your head next to the ears.

4. Let your shoulder relax down the back and feel your chest opening and lifting.

5. As you exhale, sweep your hands behind your back and clasp them together. Roll your shoulders back and expand the chest.

6. As you inhale feel your chest expanding. Maybe visualize that warm loving energy flowing from your heart space. Also, realize that your chest is open to receive it right back.

7. As you exhale feel yourself grounding your back foot into the floor.

8. Hold for 5 breaths.

9. Inhale, your arms back up to the sky and step your back foot to meet your front foot.

10. Exhale, palms to your side. You are ready for the next side.

11. Repeat on the other leg for a balanced practice.

Utkata Konasana (Goddess Pose)

1. From tadasana step your feet wide apart. Face the side of the mat and turn your feet out towards the corners of the mat.

2. Take a deep inhale and raise your arms so that the arms are parallel to the mat and the palms are facing up towards the sky.

3. As you exhale, bend your knees and lift your heart to the sky. Make sure that your knees are over your ankles and pointing in the same direction as your toes.

4. Bend your elbows slightly so your hands are higher than the shoulders.

5. Inhale, and let your shoulder relax down the back and feel your chest opening and lifting.

6. Draw your belly in and tailbone down.

7. Hold for 5 breaths. Look up and really feel the chest space expanding. Maybe even say in your mind, “I open my arms wide and accept ALL of the good!” Feel your heart open.

8. Exhale, straighten your legs and lower your arms.

9. Jump back to the front of the mat.

Chakrasana (Wheel)

1. Lie on the floor on your back.

2. Bend your knees and place your feet on the floor as close to your seat as possible.

3. Bend your elbows and press your palms next to your ears. Make sure your fingers are pointing to your shoulders.

4. Exhale, press your inner feet to the floor, and press your tailbone up the pubis. Activate the buttocks and start to lift them off the floor.

5. Firmly press your hands to the floor and press your shoulder blades against the back. Lift the upper body onto the crown of your head.

6. Make sure arms and legs are parallel. No sticking out knees or elbows.

7. Exhale, push into hands and feet, and push the tailbone up and shoulder blades together. Lift your head and straighten your arms.

8. Turn the upper thighs slightly in and activate the outer thighs. Turn the upper arms outwards and spread the shoulder blades across the back.

9. Let your head hang.

10. Hold for 5-10 breaths.

11. Slowly lower. Lie down and rest.

12. Maybe go again? Yaaay.

Bhujangasana (Cobra)

1. Start by laying on the floor on your front. Stretch your legs back with the top of your feet on the floor.

2. Place your hands on the floor under your shoulders. Keep your elbows tight to your body.

3. Press your feet, thighs and pubis into the floor.

4. Inhale and begin to straighten the arms to lift up the chest. Press the tailbone towards the pubis. Firm the glutes without fully hardening them.

5. Press the shoulder blades against the back, whilst pushing the side ribs forward. Lift the sternum.

6. Hold the pose for 5-10 breaths. Make sure you are breathing easily.

Ustrasana (Camel)

1. Begin in an upright kneeling position. Keep your knees hip-width distance apart. Rotate your thigh inwards. Don’t clench the glutes. Push your shins and the top of your feet into the ground.

2. Exhale and bring your hands onto your lower back. Keep your fingers pointing to the floor.

3. Inhale, lengthen your tailbone down towards the floor and lean back. Keep your chin gently tucked in. Beginners stay here. Focus on opening that chest and keeping the hands on the lower back.

4. If you are comfortable, take the pose further. Reach back and gently clasp the heels. Point your fingers towards your toes, and your thumbs should hold to the outside of each foot.

5. Make sure your thighs are engaged and your hips stay directly over the heels.

6. Push up through the pelvis and focus on maintaining a long lower spine.

7. Allow your head to drop back

8. Hold for 5-10 breaths.

9. To come back, bring your hands back to your lower back. Inhale and straighten up leading from the heart. Your head should be last.

Anahata Meditation

Lay down in Shavasana. Bring your attention to your body touching the ground. Feel how this earth is holding you, supporting you. Come to the realisation that the ground is always there for you. You are safe.

Slowly start breathing into your chest. As you inhale feel your chest expanding and filling with warmth. As you exhale start to feel this warmth radiating from you. Feel your heart space softening and expanding. Keep slowly inhaling and exhaling.

Feel yourself going deeper and deeper into your heart space. You are entering a beautiful never-ending ocean. Start observing everything that comes. Gently, start asking yourself… What do I feel? Do not push or judge, simply observe. Notice any sensations. Maybe there is tension or a need for expansion? Notice any emotions. Is there any fear or hope? Know that there is no wrong or right. Whatever you hear, it is exactly what you need. Let yourself sink deeper into this well of love. Keep observing what comes up.

Slowly come to the realisation that it is okay for you to love yourself. I invite you to embrace yourself. Feel how your fingertips feel on your body. Gently feel your skin and the sensations your palms make pressed against it. Get to know yourself. Maybe you’ve never done this before? The world never told you that it’s okay to embrace yourself, but how can we really love others without loving ourselves first? Hold yourself tightly. Feel this deep love from your chest spreading all over your body, warming you.

Now, gently tell yourself one thing you like about yourself. Maybe this is hard? Maybe this makes you want to cry? Maybe you feel nothing? Whether it is good or bad, just let it be. Whatever you hear, it is exactly what you need. Allow the warmth to continue flowing from your heart.

Bring your arms back to the ground, palms facing up. Realise that you can express and give this love and joy to everyone. Allow this joyful and loving energy to radiate from you like an infinite fountain. Now, bring to mind someone you don’t really know. A stranger… You don’t even know their name. Send this radiating warmth and love from your heart to them. Maybe picture this love as a green light, the colour of the Anahata chakra, flowing from your heart surrounding them. Visualize it truly connecting you both. Now, think about one thing you like about them. Feel the beauty of giving without expectation.

Now think of someone you love. A partner? A parent? A close friend? Feel yourself sending them this love, surrounding them in your healing green light. Realise there is no limit to this loving energy. Feel yourself wishing them all the good and bring to mind something you love about them. Realise how good giving feels.

Come to the realisation that being able to receive love is as beautiful as giving. And that it is as important to love yourself as others. Feel the light and warmth expanding all over your body. It flows down your legs into your beautiful toes. You feel your toes shining and breathing. The green light flows into your arms and into your fingertips. You glow. You shine. The light continues into your head and face. Your jaw relaxes and you keep glowing. You feel warm wrapped up in your self-accepting and loving light. Think about something else that you really love about yourself. Feel the sensations that arise in your body. Do not judge any emotion. I know this is hard, but you made it here. You are brave.

Finally, think of someone you feel hostility towards. Surround them in your shining green light as well. Send them understanding, forgiveness, and warmth. Truly realise the power of understanding and forgiveness. When we hold on to hostility we are really only hurting ourselves. We carry that burden, not them. So then send them your love and think of one thing that you like about that person. Really focus on this.

Maybe you have hostility toward yourself? Realise it is okay to forgive yourself. None of us are perfect, and we always just do our best with what we knew at that time. Love that beautiful human who has made mistakes. Really love them. Dive deeper and deeper into your heart space. As you exhale discard all hostility, and as you inhale feel that heart space filling with love.

Be sure that you are capable of love. Now let’s say one final thing that we like about ourselves. Congratulate yourself for actually sitting with yourself. It can be difficult to do.

Stay in silent meditation for 5-10 more minutes.

When you are ready gently come back to your body. Feel the loving light energising and moving your fingers and toes. Feel your whole body energising and preparing for the beautiful day ahead. When you are ready, bring your knees to your chest and turn to your right side. Keep this loving light and warmth with you for the rest of the day. Remember this feeling of loving warmth. With your eyes closed come to a sitting position at the front of your mat. Bring your hands into namaskara (prayer) position. Thank yourself and your body for coming to your mat today. Remind yourself of the three things you loved about yourself. Remember how whole and perfect you are. Gently hug yourself. Find your softness. Then gently blink your eyes open. It is a beautiful day.

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