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.

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Lessons in Love: Self-Esteem and the 3rd Chakra

“Friend hope for the truth while you are alive.
Jump into experience while you are alive!…
What you call “salvation” belongs to the time before death.
If you don’t break your ropes while you are alive,
do you think ghosts will do it after?” ~Kabir

It’s been an interesting month with five full weeks devoted to practice around the 3rd chakra. As we’ve begun unpacking each chakra, I find myself doing a lot of my own work around each of them. This month I found myself in constant personal dialogue around my self image. Body image is something I’ve battled with since I was in middle school, and being a 30-something yogi hasn’t changed some of the same nagging thought patterns I’m still holding on to from my younger years. As the month wore on, I found myself bumping up against these old beliefs and thought patterns. At first I struggled, unsure of why all of this was suddenly coming up for me now, but as I spent another week with the energies of the 3rd chakra, I realized that in doing all these practices I was stirring my own 3rd chakra pot and what was coming out was all the unresolved issues I have around self esteem. That is the beauty and the curse of doing this energetic work (and in doing a yoga practice for that matter), the more we strive toward health and wholeness, the more the things that are out of alignment with that desire arise.  And really, at this point in my life I am ready, READY to let go of these things. What better opportunity than offering them up to the fires of the 3rd chakra and releasing these old burdens? And so, I found myself in this last week of the 3rd chakra, pondering my own idea of self-worth and how I could have a better relationship with my self and my third chakra.

Vajrapradama Mudra

image from yogajournal.it

My belief is that one of the most powerful ways to work with the 3rd chakra is in conjunction with the fourth chakra. Ignite the fire of the heart, from the fire of the belly. As we link our sense of personal power with a sense of compassion and self-love, we are able to reach a place of healthy self-esteem. The vajrapradama mudra invites compassion and understanding of self into our bodies, it is known as the mudra of “unshakable confidence.” 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.

Manipura Meditation

image from chopra.com

The 3rd chakra is known as the Manipura Chakra, which in sanskrit translates to lustrous gem. When I work with the 3rd chakra I often see light rather than colors or shapes associated with this energy center. Given its close relation to the sun and to fire, the relationship to light is an easy translation and what better image than a shining gem capturing that light at the 3rd chakra. Close the eyes and bring the awareness to the solar plexus. Breathe and after 10 cycles of breath imagine a glowing orb of light at the center of the solar plexus. As you watch, see a single flame at the center of the orb of light. With your next few breaths, see that flame start to expand, filling the orb. As the flame fills the orb, the orb continues to expand so that after 10-15 breaths the entire belly and chest hold a giant orb of light and and its center a glowing flame. Sit with this flame. Contemplate those times in your life where you do not trust yourself, times you do not believe in yourself. Reflect on those places in your life where you believe you are not good enough or strong enough. Begin to offer these up, one by one to the flame and the light. With each breath, make an offering and know that from these offerings you are growing and expanding, becoming more in line with your true nature, your own inner light. Stay here as long as you find you offerings to make. And when you are complete, watch as the flame begins to flicker and eventually go out. Left in its wake are glowing embers like those you see at  night after a campfire. Let those embers glow and shine, see the light and feel the warmth and let it radiate through your entire being. Keep this image in your mind’s eye as you return to your mat and open your eyes.

Restorative 3rd Chakra Opener

image from newdayyoga.blogspot.com

Come to lay on your back with a bolster underneath the mid-back and a blanket rolled up either underneath the neck or the occipital ridge (the bump in the back of the skull just above the neck). Knees can be bent as shown, or extend the legs like you would in savasana. Close the eyes and breathe. Direct the breath into the 3rd chakra. Here you passively open the 3rd chakra, and expose it in quite a vulnerable way. Breathe into this sensation and see what you start to notice. Imagine a flame at your 3rd chakra and breathe into the light. Invite all the feelings you have around your own self-worth that are no longer serving you to move toward the light. As you watch, allow the light to dissolve these feelings, thoughts and behaviors. Each time a thought arises that you’re ready to move past, use the breath, it is a constant and can always guide us through difficult times like this. Use the breath as an offering, gather it up with the inhale and release it with the exhale. Stay here for 5-10 minutes and when you feel ready to come out, roll over to one side into fetal position, remain there for at least 5 breaths before coming to your seat.