February 01, 2016

Glowing with Gratitude

This week is all about the heart – love, joy, compassion, kindness, connection,etc.  In other words all the good stuff in life!  This is the domain of the fourth chakra, aka the heart chakra, aka Anahata in Sanskrit.  The element for this energy is air, so physically it is fairly easy to connect with this chakra simply by breathing deeply and focusing on our breath.  Of course we will be doing breath work in class, but we’ll also work on expanding and opening up the chest.  How often do you let your heart lead?  Does it feel natural to allow your chest to open, or do you tend to hunch the shoulders and close off?

Energetically, this chakra is all about doing those things that makes us feel good which sounds easy, but how often do we really do this?  In the work that I’ve done, I find that there is this often a struggle between the heart and the head. In an ideal world, the heart and the head would work together – the heart telling us what we need, and the head setting out the plans to get there.  However, most likely due to conditioning, the heart tells us what would be good for us, while the head tells us why we can’t do it, why someone will do it better (so we shouldn’t even bother) or why it is a stupid idea.  Thanks for your opinion head, but . . . . not really helpful (especially if I want to support and open my heart!) 

To get out of the head and into the heart, I have found the practice of gratitude life changing.  It can sometimes be difficult, but even with those days or asanas (poses) we find challenging or difficult there is still some small thing we can appreciate.  I am grateful that I get to end this day and snuggle up in my comfy bed.  I am grateful that I have the strength to kick my legs up to attempt a handstand even if I can’t do one yet.  I am grateful for whatever experiences come up in this day.  Give gratitude a try, whether in your life or yoga practice, and see how your heart starts to glow!

Salabhasana (locust pose) to support and open the Heart Chakra

Let’s begin by lying on our stomachs with our hands along our body with our palms facing down and resting against the floor.  You can either keep your hands here, or you can bring them to your lower back, clasping your hands and extending the arms straight behind you.  We’ll bring our forehead or chin to the mat (whichever is most comfortable for you).  Our legs are extended straight behind us either side by side or hip distance apart.  On the inhale, we’re going to lift and then lengthen everything.  Our shoulders and head come off the mat, the feet and thighs lift up and our weight rests on our lower ribs, front pelvis & belly (which is drawing in and away from the floor).  Once we come up, we are not as concerned with height and how high we can lift, but with how long we can allow our body to become.  Our legs and toes draw back, the chin is slightly tucked to keep the length in the back of the neck and the crown is reaching forward.  Focus on leading with the chest (where the heart chakra is located) as the chest draws forward, and drawing our shoulder blades back in order to widen across our collarbones.  

There’s a few options with the breath in this posture.  You can lift up on the inhale, hold for a number of breaths (5, 10, etc.) and then lower on the exhale or you can bring in a three-part breath pattern.  If you’re using the number 3 for your breath pattern, you will breath in for a count of 3 as you lift up into the pose, hold the breath with the lungs full as you stay in the posture for 3 breaths and then as you exhale for 3 breaths, you will lower down and release the posture.  You can use any count as long as the inhale, hold and exhale are all the same count.      

Vayu Mandala Pranayama for the Heart Chakra
*** this breath technique comes from the Gitananda yoga tradition.
*** this specific technique uses a breath retention, so should not be practiced by those with hypertension, heart disease, asthma, ulcers or when pregnant.  If you are new to a pranayama practice, breath retentions can be intense so please STOP if you feel any strain, irritation or cramping

This technique involves a three-part breath:
  • Inhale for a count of 6
  • Exhale for a count of 6
  • Hold the breath (with the lungs empty) for a count of 6 

You will work with this breath pattern for at least 9 rounds working at your ability.  If the 6 count feels like too much (especially with the breath retention), you can lessen the count to 5 or 4.  If you feel like you could go deeper, you can increase the count to 7, 8 or 9.  Any number works as long as all three parts have the same count.

There is an audio recording of this technique that includes a visualization of a symbol that represents the heart chakra below.  Feel free to listen and follow along.

Happy breathing and enjoy your week of gratitude.  
“This is a wonderful day.  I’ve never seen this one before.” - Maya Angelou

See you on our mats!

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