Yoga and the Chakras: Focus on the Heart Chakra
Part of the practice of yoga is recognizing the chakras, which are a fundamental aspect of achieving inner peace and balance. Chakra is the Sanskrit word for ‘wheel’ and there are seven chakras arranged vertically in the body from the base of the spine to the top of the head. Chakras are thought of as spinning vortexes of energy that, when balanced, lead to higher consciousness and peace.
The Heart Chakra (Anahata Chakra)
This chakra is located in the heart region of the chest. It is associated with social identity, trust, forgiveness, unconditional love, stability, patience, wisdom, compassion, and emotional empowerment. In Sanskrit, the heart chakra is called Anahata, which means unhurt, unstuck, and unbeaten. This chakra is represented by a gray lotus flower with 12petals. Within the lotus flower are two triangles intersecting, called a shatkona. This symbol in Hinduism represents the union of the masculine and feminine form.
Green is the color most associated with this chakra, and its element is air. The 12 petals of the anahata chakra all match aspects of humanity: lust, fraud, indecision, repentance, hope, anxiety, longing, impartiality, arrogance, incompetence, discrimination, and defiance.
Physiologically, the heart chakra is associated with the thoracic cavity and it governs the heart, rib cage, blood (circulatory system), lungs and diaphragm, thymus gland, breasts, and esophagus. When the heart chakra is unbalanced or blocked, it can manifest itself as upper back and shoulder problems, asthma, heart conditions, shallow or rapid breathing, and lung diseases. Emotionally, imbalance in the heart chakra is indicated by difficulty with love, lack of hope, despair, moodiness, envy, fear, jealousy, anger, and anxiety.
As the center of compassion, when the heart chakra opens, you are able to identify with other people, plants, animals, and all life. The heart chakra is also the humanitarian center. You are also more likely to become involved with social causes when your heart chakra is open.
A balanced and open heart chakra is exhibited by calm, confidence, and self-trust. A person with a developed anahata chakra is very sensitive to the feelings of others. They also have a highly sensitive sense of touch. Most practitioners of Reiki, a Japanese healing art, heal others by radiating energy through their touch, and they have strong heart chakras. Many yoga practitioners use pranayama (breathing exercises) to not only open their anahata chakras, but also meditate on positive thoughts. Opening your heart to the world can strengthen the heart chakra and bring peace and joy into your life.
Asana for Anahata
Here are three asana and pranayama that will help you to open and balance the heart chakra:
Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana)
This pose decreases lower back stiffness, enlarges the chest, and strengthens the arms and shoulders. Because it focuses on enlarging the region of the heart, the anahata chakra is opened.
How to do it: Start by lying on your stomach and resting your head on your arms. Raise your forehead, look upwards, and stretch your hands backwards. Rest your weight on your chest. Move your stomach backward (as if someone is pulling your arms back). Your weight is shifted toward the stomach so your lower back is doing the work. Put your hands and arms next to your chest (without losing the bend). They should be perpendicular on the floor. Relax your lower back and shift your weight to your arms. With every inhale and exhale, push your chest out a little further and tilt your head back. Your buttocks should remain relaxed throughout this pose.
Camel Pose (Utrasana)
This pose stretches the front of the body (chest, abdomen, and quadriceps) and improves spinal flexibility. The opening of the chest cavity stimulates and opens the heart chakra.
How to do it: Begin by coming up onto your knees (they will form a 90 degree angle). Bring your hands up the side of your body and open your chest. Reach your hands back one at a time. Grab your left ankle with your left hand, and grab your right ankle with your right hand. Bring your hips forward so that they are over your knees. On the inhale, lift your hips, arch your back, and push your abdominals forward. Let your head come back and open your throat and chest. Hold this pose for 15 to 30 seconds. To come out of the pose, slowly place hands on your lower back. For an extra challenge, try to grab the opposite ankles while in the pose.
This breathing exercise is used specifically for clearing the chest of tension and blockages. It translates to ‘Cleansing Breath’ and incorporates chest breathing rather than abdominal breathing. Inhalation and exhalation should be short, rapid, and strong. Focusing on your breathing from the heart chakra region opens and balances and opens it.
How to do it: In a seated position, take two normal breaths. Inhale. When you exhale pull in your abdomen. Repeat this 20 times, keeping a steady rhythm. Emphasize the exhalation each time. Then inhale, exhale completely, inhale fully and hold your breath for as long as you can (comfortably). Slowly exhale.