“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.
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.