It was Valentine’s Day last Friday. Saturday was the first time I went back to teaching after being ill the better part of the week. Thinking of the recent holiday centered around all things love (and despite the holiday’s violent origins), I felt inspired to focus on heart opening in my yoga classes, incorporating awareness of the heart’s energy into our breath work and postures.
We began seated, and I asked my students to rest the back of one hand in the palm of the other, right at the heart center, creating a little cup with the hands–a mudra (hand gesture) of receptivity, a mudra of generosity. I’m not sure of the exact name of the mudra, but after scouring Google images for some time, I came across this picture, if you’d like to have a visual of which mudra I’m talking about. I asked my students to connect with their breathing while they held their hands at the level of the heart, to visualize they were taking the breath in and out through the heart.
Then I invited everyone to set an intention for their practice:
What is it that you want to receive (from this practice, the people around you, this world, this life)?
What is it that you want to offer (from your heart, to the people around you, to the universe)?
Breathing in, I asked them to visualize they were receiving what they wanted from the world around them. Breathing out, they were giving what they wanted to share, radiating the energy of their heart outwardly, in all directions, without limits.
Then we released the mudra, shrugged shoulders up to ears, breathed deeply, and released the arms down.
Next we began moving with the breath. On the inhale, we opened the arms wide, pulling the shoulder blades together on the back, looking up, lifting the heart.
On the exhale, we brought the palms together, reaching the fingertips forward, arms long, rounding the back, chin to the chest.
Opening, breathing in, take in what it is you want–let it in.
Exhaling, send out what you are willing to give, to share, to offer to this world.
We continued for a while, moving and breathing deeply, allowing the shoulders to warm up so that they might later be willing to stretch and open.
And then we moved to table top position and warmed up the spine with some rounds of cat and cow stretches. Each time we established our movement with the breath, I asked my students to come back to what it is they want to receive, and what they want to offer, and to continue visualizing the breath entering and leaving the heart.
It is so easy to become stuck in the energy of the mind. This is where we spend most of our time. But it is possible to tap into wisdom beyond the knowing of the mind, to sense with the warmth, compassion, and understanding of the heart, whose capacity for giving and receiving is truly limitless. If we are to tap into this heart wisdom, we need to remember over and over again that it is there. So keep calling your awareness back to your heart. Breathe in and out through your heart.
We practiced a few slow rounds of sun salutation A and sun salutation B. For the Sun B’s we held our warrior poses for longer, and incorporated more heart opening breath and movement with the arms and shoulders.
We practiced stargazer, revolved triangle, half-moon and revolved half-moon. We practiced a variation of tree incorporating a little back bend–more heart opening!
We started to wind down with a passive back bend, supported by a bolster, always returning to awareness of the heart, sending the breath in and out through the heart.
Then supported bound angle, with a bolster supporting the back parallel to the spine, so that shoulders could sink toward the floor, the chest could open, the belly could soften. I spoke to my students how the heart is considered to be the bridge between the physical world and the non-physical world.
It is important to meet the needs of this human body, to take care of it, to keep it well–but it is equally as important to remember the spirit in us that wants to be acknowledged, and nourished, and celebrated. The heart is the mediator between these two worlds, facilitating communication, that we might experience the totality of who we are, and from this wholeness, connect with others authentically–sharing warmth, compassion, kindness, and unconditional love.
And then our final pose, as we were settling into stillness, I asked my students to call into their awareness someone in need of love. It could be a pet, a family member, friend, coworker, or just someone they knew, but I asked them to visualize this person bathed in the compassion, kindness, and warmth emanating from their heart. To further help with creating a clear image in their minds, I invited them to imagine the heart center growing with green light. The heart chakra is associated with the color green.
On the in breath, imagine the heart center glowing a vibrant emerald green, grass green, forest green–this light stretching and expanding.
On the out breath, imagine that the person who is in need of love is enveloped in this beautiful green light. Maybe you say to yourself, “Well, I need a little love.” So imagine yourself being surrounded by this green light as you breathe out. Or perhaps you want to visualize the whole planet Earth from space, and as you breath out, you imagine the entire planet is being bathed in this energy from your heart.
This holding another being in the space of the heart, and offering the heart’s energy to them, is a very old form of meditation called metta–lovingkindness.
Traditionally you begin with offering this love to yourself, for how can you give authentically to another what you haven’t yet experienced yourself? I think, however, that we don’t have to wait to have a perfect feeling of self-love before we can offer this heart energy to others. I’m still very much working on cultivating a genuine self-love and self-compassion that heals the hurts of the past and gives me lightness in this moment. I’m such a perfectionist that if I waited and waited to find self-love before I offered it to another, my self-love would never be good enough and therefore I would never offer up what love I have found. So I love now, with what I have…and I keep working at it.
And this is why we call it a practice. Just to show up, to cultivate a little more awareness, a little more strength in this moment, gives us the momentum to keep moving forward on this spiraling path to awakening.
May your hearts be open, full of love and courage. May you know your worthiness to receive your heart’s desire, and may you trust in the beauty of what you have to offer, and to give it fearlessly to this world that waits for your gifts!
Namaste, my friends.