The Heart Chakra: A Bridge Between the 3rd & 5th Chakra

This was our final week exploring the heart chakra. This last week we worked with the flow of energy to the heart center. The heart chakra holds a unique place in the chakra system as it governs as a bridge between the lower/physical chakras and the upper/spiritual chakras. It is the melding of the gross and the subtle here with love that we find the true union of the physical world and the spiritual world.

If, as we’ve discussed in previous weeks, we have built walls, blocks and other protection around the heart, running this energy becomes increasingly difficult. Lower chakras can atrophy without the touch of the divine, and upper chakras have trouble staying grounded without the the touch of physical reality. We need both kinds of energy and the heart is the bridge. Use the following practices to fortify the bridge of the heart and bring your energy into alignment in the chakras.

Mudra for the Heart

Gyan mudra is a simple and widely used mudra. It is often used in meditation and in beginning yoga practices. It is also a beautiful practice for opening the heart and it offers the bridging of energy of the lower and higher chakras much in the same way the heart bridges the energy of the lower and upper chakras. To practice this mudra, bring the thumb and the first finger of the right and left hands together. Bring the left hand to rest on the leg, palm face up. Bring the right hand, palm facing the chest, to the chest with the thumb and first finger resting on the sternum. Close the eyes and start to find the breath. Give yourself about 2-3 minutes to drop into the flow of the energy in the body. Feel the rise of the energy up the spine on the inhale and the descent of energy down the spine on the exhale. Follow this for 10 breaths and then move your awareness into the heart. Focus on the heart and begin to draw energy up the spine from base of spine to heart and down the spine from crown of head to heart. Keep drawing breath from earth and sky into the body and into the heart. Stay here for 2-5 minutes and when you are done, release the mudra and spend 10 breaths noticing any shifts in your body.

Poses for Feeling the Bridge of the Heart

In each of the poses shown below, feel the energy running along the spine–tailbone to heart and crown to heart. Connect with that flow of prana and then connect with the flow of prana extended out through the arms on the second and third poses. Do this is a series, beginning with Bridge and ending with Bridge.

Bridge Pose

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lunge with Twist

 

 

 

 

 

 

Warrior I with Arm Variations

 

 

 

 

 

Bridging Earth and Sky Mediation

Come to lie on your back. Close your eyes and bring your focus to the heart. As you focus on the heart center, envision a deep emerald green orb of light resting at the chest. Take an exhale and drop a green cord of light from the back of the heart through the body and into the floor. Send it deep into the earth and let it fan out like roots of a tree. With each breath send the roots deeper. After 5 breaths reverse the flow of energy and like nutrients and water rising up roots to feed a plant, draw diamond white light up the root system, through the cord and into the heart. Fill the heart with diamond white light. Continue with this visualization for 10 breaths. Then move the awareness to the front of the chest, push an emerald green cord of light from the heart center up toward the ceiling through the roof and into the sky. Send it up toward a celestial body of your choice: sun, moon, stars or planets. Connect with the energy of that body and then draw it back down the cord of light, see it as shimmering golden light that travels back into the the heat center and fills the heart. Take 10 breaths allowing diamond white light and golden light to mingle in the heart center. Stay here for 5 minutes and when you feel complete slowly begin moving the body and as you’re ready open your eyes.

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Healing the Heart: 4th Chakra Practices

“Just as we open and heal the body by sensing its rhythms and touching it with a deep and kind attention, so we can open and heal other dimensions of our being.  The heart and the feelings go through a similar process of healing through the offering of our attention to their rhythms, nature and needs.  Most often, opening the heart begins by opening to a lifetime’s accumulation of unacknowledged sorrow, both our personal sorrows and the universal sorrows of warfare, hunger, old age, illness and death. At time we may experience this sorrow physically as contractions and barriers around our heart, but more often we feel the depth of our wounds, our abandonment, our pain as unshed tears. The Buddhists describe this as an ocean of human tears larger than the four great oceans. As we take the one seat and develop a meditative attention, the heart presents itself naturally for healing.” – Jack Kornfield, A Path With Heart

The past few weeks we have started gently exploring the heart. Heart work is deep, profound and sometimes scary work. As we open up the heart we are witness to all of our old hurts, traumas and heartaches. Reliving this pain can be difficult, but is the only way to release it and let it go. This week we began to explore some of the barriers around the heart. It is quite common that when we experience heartbreaking moments in our life we put up walls to protect ourselves. While it serves us briefly, in time, as we build up walls we block our ability to receive love and we also create holding in the physical body in the area too. Tight chest, shoulders and mid-back can all be signs of physical armoring created by energetic heart protection. Our work this week involved ringing out that tightness to release old holding in the physical body and in the subtle body. We often alternated poses that squeezed the heart, either front or back and then opened the heart. The entire practice focused on remaining present, and as Jack Kornfield wrote, bringing a “deep and kind attention” to our practice.

Sounds & Color for the Heart Chakra

Sound and color are an easy way to activate the energy flow of the heart before beginning a practice like this. As we initiate the flow of energy, we can start to feel those places that are flowing evenly and smoothly. Simultaneously, we can also start to feel those places where energy bumps up against blockages, walls and stagnation.

Use the color of the heart for visual meditations and use the sounds to open practice or during poses where things feel particularly stuck. The heart chakra is associated with the color green. I often see this green as a deep, dark emerald color that not only fills the heart center but travels out through the lungs, shoulders and out through arms, through forearms and into the hands.

The seed syllable of the 4th chakra is YAM. Chant this as you open your practice just like you would chant the sound of OM or use it when you run into a particularly strong barrier around the heart.

Eagle Arms Variations

Working the arms of eagle pose is a great way to work on gently squeezing the front of the chest, ringing out tension and when coupled with chest openers, a beautiful way to promote the flow of blood and lymph in the chest. The following sequence is adapted from a sequence taught by Tias Little in his Bones, Blood and Joints workshop.  Come to lie on your back, legs long, feet active. Bring the arms straight up toward the ceiling, arms stacking over shoulders. Bend the elbows, hold either elbow (as Tias says, like a Russian dancer) and lengthen the forearms up toward the ceiling. Take 5 breaths and then drop the shoulders down into the floor. Now take an exhale and drop the arms to the right, head to the left. On inhale find center and exhale to the opposite side. Do 5 rounds both sides and come to center. Extend the arms straight up this time brining them together into prayer. Lengthen the fingertips toward the ceiling by drawing up and out of the shoulder. On exhale cross right arm over left into eagle. Press the forearms and elbows up toward the ceiling. Breathe into the back heart and the gentle pressure on front chest. After 5 breaths, take an exhale drop arms right, head left. Inhale center, exhale arms left gaze right. Complete 5 more rounds each side and then switch the eagle cross. Complete the sequence with left arm over right. Once complete come to center, extend the arms up toward the ceiling and clasp the hands, press the palms up to the ceiling. Lift the shoulders off the floor, take 5 breaths. On exhale drop the shoulders back to the floor, inhale here and exhale let the arms float up overhead to the floor behind you. Press out through the heels of the feet and the palms of the hands. Lengthen the body and feel the space in the heart center. Allow the breath to be deep and connect with the flow of the breath. Take 10 breaths here, release the arms and draw the knees into the chest to complete.

Vajrapradama Mudra

image from yogajournal.it

After all the breaking down that happened during class, it was important to take time to build things back up. Vajrapardama mudra is perfect for this. The is one of my favorite mudras to practice when I’m feeling tender around my heart. It helps to build back up the energies of the heart and fortify us through our own compassion for self. To practice this mudra, find a comfortable seat. Clasp the hands in front of you, palms facing in toward the body, and draw the hands to the chest. The center of the palms should be resting directly over the heart center, thumbs pointing up toward the collar bones. Close the eyes and begin to breathe into the space underneath the hands. First simply feel the movement of the lungs and the rise and fall of the breath. After 10 breath cycles, connect with the sensation under the hands. Notice if you feel warmth or coolness, tingling in the hands or sensations of tightness or opening in the sternum. Breathe into the experience and connect with the feeling of compassion. If it is easier to do so, first think of someone or something you feel compassion toward. Draw that feeling into your chest and then if your are able to, begin to direct that same feeling toward yourself. As you experience the state of compassion toward self, breathe and continue to hold the mudra. Stay here for at least 2 minutes, but longer if you like. When you feel complete lower the hands and complete 10 cycles of breath with the eyes still closed. Notice changes in the breath and body and when you feel ready, open the eyes.

Breath of Life: The Air Element & The 4th Chakra

As I mentioned last week, direct access of the heart center can be intimidating and scary. After heartbreak and loss in our lives we build protective barriers and shields energetically (and sometimes even physically through tight muscles in the chest) and blowing right through these can actually create more protective layers rather then letting them gently fall away. This week, we again explore a “side door” to the heart through the 4th chakra’s element of air. The quality of air is lightness, movement and openness. As we explore air in the body we look for these elements and move stagnancy and heaviness out of the body through the breath. Below are some practices for accessing air and the 4th chakra in your own body.

Vayus: Five Vital Forces

image from sarahricher.blogspot.com

In the body we have what are known as the five Vayus (literally the “winds”). These vayus govern the movement of prana in the body in specific regions. When they are in harmony and functioning well, the body is able to find a true state of health and ease. In our practice this week we brought our focus specifically to the prana vayu which governs the zone of the heart, propulsion and forward movement and its opposing vayu, the apana vayu which governs elimination and digestion. These two vayus facilitate the action of the inhale and the exhale. The prana vayu with its movement up and the apana vayu with its movement down. I invite you to bring your awareness to these movements of prana through the following exercise adapted from a shadow yoga practice by Dr. Scott Blossom:

Find a standing squat, ensure the shoulders are aligned over the hips and the spine is erect. Bring the hands down in front of the belly button and imagine you are holding a large beach ball there with the palms facing each other. Hold the hands here on inhale and on exhale draw the palms toward one another until they almost touch. On inhale turn the palms up toward the ceiling and lift them up the center line, in front of the body, toward the crown (prana vayu). On exhale turn the palms toward the floor and lower them back down the front of the body, until they reach the front of the belly (apana vayu). Begin again by inhaling and expanding the palms away from each other imagining the ball in front of the belly. Know that if it gets to be too much in the squat you can straighten the legs. Practice at least 8 rounds. At the end of the last round, circle the arms out and up as you straighten the legs, keep the legs straight and exhale the hands to the heart.

Sama Vritti: Balance in the Breath

What air practice would be complete without pranayama? For the practice of sama vritti you can find a comfortable seat or take a restorative reclining position of your choice. Because of its capacity to slow down the nervous system, I find this pranayama is particularly lovely at the end of practice as the body and breath are slowing down (see picture to the left for one of my favorite ways to practice sama vritti).

The practice of sama vritti is the art of matching the inhale to the exhale. Find a breath count that works for you where there is no strain or struggle in the breath and the breath is as long and extended as is comfortable. Begin with a cleansing breath, an inhale through the nose and an exhale through the mouth. Then begin with an inhale to the count of 8, without pausing at the top, proceed with an exhale to the count of 8. Both inhale and exhale should happen through the nose and should be long and even. If the 8 count doesn’t work for you, find a count that does. Complete at least 8 cycles before returning to normal breath.

Asana for Opening to Air

There are lots of asanas to work with the air element in the body, below you will find a selection of poses to add to your practice to embrace air!

Urdhva Uttanasana: instead of traditional uttanasana take this variation to create more space in the chest and lungs. Allow the breath to flow and circulate as you hold the pose.

 

 

 

 

Warrior II: work this warrior first finding the extension of the arms out from the lungs. Take the breath into the fingertips and allow the breath to  move. Now take flowing variations, finding the mobility of air through variations such as eagle arms that are lifted and lowered as the bent knee is straightened and bent.

 

 

Upward Dog/Cobra/Sphinx: work any and all of these three poses. Feel the breath moving into the front of the chest. Feel the expansiveness of the lungs. Work with movement–flow from downward dog to upward dog, raise and lower in cobra or take gentle head movements in sphinx. Remember, air is about movement.

 

Just Breathe: Accessing the Heart Chakra through the Lungs

Working with the heart is scary business for most. We’ve all been hurt at some point in our lives and as a result we want to protect ourselves. I see many clients for intuitive work who have shields, walls and other sorts of energetic protection around their hearts. This is natural, we’ve been hurt before and we want to keep from getting hurt again. Yet when we create barriers like this it also makes it harder for us to receive love and we create this feedback loop of protection and inability to open to love which often leaves us feeling more and more unloved.

Yet its near impossible to go into the heart and demand it to “open up” to “be vulnerable.” When we go right in and force change and opening we can often create more barriers around our heart. When I work with clients privately I often find that going in through a side door to the heart is less intimidating and can give us even great access because the heart is not being made to feel vulnerable in the same way. With that in mind, we began our exploration of the heart chakra this week with the lungs. Physically the lungs rest around the heart, feeding the heart, in a way protecting the heart and even squeezing and cleansing the heart as we take deep full breaths. The heart chakra is also ruled by the air element and thus the lungs give us another access point to this chakra. Here are some lung practices that will guide you into the heart…

Lung Meditation

Find a comfortable seat and close the eyes. First find the breath, as you inhale and exhale simply notice it moving in and out of the body. After five cycles of breath bring the awareness to the chest and as you breathe feel the rise and fall of the rib cage. Feel the lungs expanding underneath the ribcage, visualize them moving with each breath. After ten rounds of breath bring the awareness to the breath moving in through the nostrils and throat. As you inhale, feel the coolness of the breath as it enters the body, as you inhale feel the warmth of the exhale as it leaves the body. Visualize the breath traveling through the nostrils down the throat and into the lungs. As you take your next few breaths, now imagine the breath moving through the nostrils, the throat and the lungs as illuminated by emerald green light–the color of the heart chakra. As you take each inhale draw emerald green light into the body and as you exhale imagine stagnate energy in the body and lungs leaving the body as black, grey or brown light. Each inhale draws in vibrant green light, each exhale cleanses the body and the lungs. Continue this practice until you can see the lungs in your mind’s eye filled and overflowing with deep emerald green light. Then, on an inhale sweep the arms out to the side, up overhead and on exhale trace the midline and bring the hands to the heart. Imagine all of the green light in the lungs now condensing inward to the heart and breathe. Stay here as long as you like.

Opening the Lungs with Asana

image from blog.gaiam.com

After you have warmed up, try this sequence of poses to open the lungs (and the heart). With each pose, feel the arms as an extension of the lungs and that with each inhale you take you draw the breath through the fingertips up the arms and into the lungs and each exhale breathe out from the lungs through the arms and out through the fingertips.

Start in Downward Dog, extend the right leg back into 3-Legged Downward Dog. After 5 breaths step forward into a Low Lunge, arms extended overhead. After 5 breaths, imagine the biceps pulled down by heavy weights and let the arms drop out and down on exhale as if you were holding a giant beach-ball. On inhale lift the arms back up. Complete this 5 more times and on the last 3 exhale through the mouth. After the last round, inhale the arms up and clasp the hands, bend the elbows and bring the hands to the back of the head. Press the elbows back, rest the head in the hands and imagine you could scoop the head and chest up with the arms. Press the elbows back. Stay here for 8 breaths. Breathe into the lungs, fill the collarbones. On inhale press the hands into the head to bring the head back to neutral. Stretch the arms back up and on exhale circle them down. Step back to a 3-Legged Downward Dog with the left leg extended back. Take 5 breaths, roll the hip open, bend the knee. Take 5 more breaths. Breath into the length of the left side from left hand through left lung out to left knee. On exhale unwind and finish in Downward Dog. Take a flow here if you like and then complete the same sequence on the second side, beginning with the left leg extended back.

Restorative Lung/Heart Opener

image from yogawithkatrina.com

Finish you practice with a restorative lung opener. For this pose you will need at least one bolster (the bolster under the back of knees and blanket underneath the seat is optional, but can certainly help to make you more comfortable). Come to your seat and slide the bolster right up against the low back. Recline over the bolster and set the legs any way that feels comfortable, use the support of props as shown. Let the arms extend out from the body at a T. Breathe into the front the chest. Feel the rise and fall of the ribcage and feel the arms as an extension of the lungs. Breathe into the entire front body and let the breath lengthen and deepen. Bring the awareness to the front the of the chest and as the lung expands feel how they gently expand to hold the heart and as you exhale, they give the heart space to open and expand. Go into this place and be still, do not force or try…simply be with the experience of being present with your heart and notice what comes to the surface.