Tag Archives: heart chakra

Opening the heart

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When we are ruled by our emotions, we create a knot, a constriction, around the heart area. In yoga philosophy, this is called vishnu granthi, representing the constraints we place around our heart space when we hold on too tightly, finding it hard to let go of our hurts and move forwards.

Conversely, when we start to work with our emotions, recognising them, truly feeling then and then releasing them, we begin to create a sense of space, a new sense of ease and comfort in our chests; we release the tightness we maybe hadn’t realised was there. There may well be tears as we release old griefs, losses we may not have fully acknowledged before….there may be an emotional outpouring, but we will be taking a step towards greater freedom, a space for our breath to deepen and relax, and a new sense of ease in the muscles of the chest, the upper  back and the shoulderblades.

To find this space, I thoroughly recommend sitting quietly with the breath, in meditation, or, if that word sounds too intimidating, too unreachable, just mindful of the rise and fall of the breath. The aim is not to empty our minds of all thoughts, but to flow with whatever arises, without holding on. Emotions and thoughts will surface, and without judgement, we watch them and let them go. I recently read the wonderful The Cancer Whisperer: How to let cancer heal your life by Sophie Sabbage, and found the chapter ‘Dancing with Grief’ particularly moving. As she says, for someone diagnosed with a terminal illness, dealing with our sense of loss and regret is a matter of urgency; for all of us, though, feeling and releasing rather than burying our emotions is vital.

If you can, attend a mindfulness or meditation class so that you can learn appropriate techniques and have the opportunity to share and gain support from others if you feel you need help with this. If you prefer movement, try a Dru yoga class and learn Energy Block Release 3, a flowing sequence which can help so much with releasing tightness in the chest and finding this sense of space, of peace, in the heart.

I teach regular Dru yoga classes in which you can learn these techniques, as well as classes in mindfulness, incorporating both mindful movements (yoga), breathing and meditation. Either of these can help you to start untying your knots, and become easier in your body, mind and soul.

To find out more, please go to http://bit.ly/sunfishclasses, or sign up for my regular newsletter with articles like this and details of upcoming classes at http://bit.ly/sunfishnews. You’ll also receive a free relaxation, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

Alison x

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The heart chakra

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I just wanted to share the following response I received to my earlier post, ‘Entering the heart space’ :

Hi Alison

Thanks for your blog post on heart chakra meditation and for publishing
this quote:

    ‘The little space within the heart is as great as this vast
universe’

    ~Chandogya Upanishad

A I practise a bit of yoga and meditation and recently my local buddhist
centre gave me a set of keys so I could use their meditation room before
work in the mornings. It’s a lovely big room with a shrine with about 15
buddhas. It’s a joy to sit there alone.

On wednesday moring I did a heart chakra meditation and when I opened my
eyes I realized that the space in my heart and the room I was now sitting
in were the same space and the thing that separated them was just my paper
thin sense of self.

I was searching on line for a similar experience and found your blog post
and the quote.

Namaste

Richard

Thank you, Richard, for taking the time to contact me with your experience.  Although not every meditation can be wonderful, those that are can be so amazing in their spaciousness and peace, and I love your description of ‘the paper thin sense of self’.  To those who are  just starting to practise meditation, and just starting their journey through the chakras, your story is an inspiration.

The power of speech

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throat chakra, communication, yoga, meditation, mantra

The words we use, the language and tone of our voices when we communicate with others is so important. We have all at some time in our lives said something we  later regret, whether saying something to hurt in a moment of anger, or being unable to resist the temptation to indulge in some juicy gossip. And the power of those words to cause harm may be so much more than we thought. They can never be taken back. Once the energy of those words is in the world, their damage is done and may continue for many years.

As Robert Browning writes so presciently in ‘A Lover’s Quarrel’, what we say may not necessarily reflect our true feelings, and yet can still cause untold damage:

Not from the heart beneath –
‘ Twas a bubble born of breath
Neither sneer nor vaunt
Nor reproach nor taunt.
See a word, how it severeth!
Oh, power of life and death
In the tongue, as the Preacher saith!

Some of our speech may be empty of true meaning, as empty as a bubble and disconnected from the truth of our hearts.  Our throat chakra, Vishuddhi, is situated between Anahata, the heart chakra, and Ajna, lying in the brain.  When we are focused and centred in our true selves, our speech will reflect the wisdom of both the head and the heart.  Yoga encourages us to adopt right speech, tasting our words before we speak them, assessing whether they are kind, whether they are true, whether they are necessary.  How much of what we say is completely unnecessary?!  The quality of truthfulness, satya, is one of the five yamas of Raja yoga.  This quality is not only about our speech, but also about living our life honestly and decently, in line with our own spiritual values.

I recently came across a prayer to the Divine Mother, in the excellent book Living the Practice: Collected Writings on the Transformative Potential of Yoga by Swami Radhananda, which begins:

May all my speech and idle talk be mantra 

A mantra is a word or phrase which is repeated in yoga and meditation practice and which connects us to our spirit.  The thought of all our speech being mantra is inspiring.  Could we really elevate our every word to the level of mantra, using our speech to connect us with our spirit, and that of those we are talking to, rather than disconnecting as we so often do in our everyday speech?  When we gossip about others, we are creating the illusion of  ‘them and us’, looking for differences between individuals, and creating separation.  When we speak unkindly, when we criticise others, we are using the power of our speech to disconnect from the person we are talking to, rather than building a connection from our heart to theirs.  By consciously improving the quality of our speech, by connecting what comes out of our mouths with our hearts, our minds and our inner spirit, we  begin to live truthfully and to honour the oneness of ourselves with everybody else.

Changing the way we speak can be so hard. Like any habit, gossip or criticism can take a  long time to weed out.  But perhaps a good way to start is to choose just one aspect you’d like to change, from raising your voice to gossiping about a neighbour  or acquaintance you don’t like.  Once we become conscious of the need for change, of how our behaviour is creating separation, both between ourselves and someone else, and between our actions and our true spirit or motivation, we can continue to take small steps in the right direction.  We will at times get it wrong, and revert back to our old ways,  but we keep on trying, until  it  becomes easier and easier.  Until, one day, you notice that you really are more conscious in your interactions with others, that your speech really is like mantra, and totally aligned with your inner values.

 

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The symbol of the lotus

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lotus-587335_1280Back in the summer, I visited Kew Gardens for the first time.  One of the -very many- fascinating things I learned there was that the lotus flower, although in appearance quite similar to the water lily (which is a much more common sight here in England!), is in fact closely related to the plane tree, which grows to up to 50 metres high!

An aquatic perennial with large showy flowers, the sacred lotus has long been considered a close relative of water lilies. However, lotus flowers differ markedly from those of water lilies, most notably through the obconical (ice-cream cone-shaped) receptacle in the centre, into which numerous free carpels are sunken. Recent molecular research has shown that the closest living relatives of the sacred lotus are the plane trees (Platanus spp., Platanaceae) and members of the protea family (Proteaceae). Their isolated phylogenetic position indicates that both Nelumboand Platanus may be living fossils (the only survivors of an ancient and formerly much more diverse group).

                  ~  http://www.kew.org/plants-fungi/Nelumbo-nucifera.htm

The lotus flower is held as a sacred symbol by yogis, as well as by  Buddhists and Hindus.  Its rhizomes grow from the mud at the bottom of a lake and rise up above the surface of the water, so that its stalks may be as much as 1 or 2 metres tall.  In yoga, each chakra is symbolized by a lotus flower, of different colours and with different numbers of petals for each chakra.  For Sahasrara, the crown chakra, the lotus is said to have thousand petals, although this may also be interpreted as meaning an infinite number (Swami Satyananda Saraswati, ‘Kundalini Tantra’ (1984), p 189). 

The symbol of the lotus flower is highly relevant to those of us working through our chakras.  Just as the seed germinates in the mud at the bottom of the lake, we begin in the dark, and in the earth of our base chakra (Mooladhara).  We then strive to ascend through the different chakras, through our energy system, developing and growing along the way, just as the stalk of the lotus ascends through the water, until we reach the air above the water, coming into the light of the sun, and into our true potential in the higher energy centres.  The element of the air is found at the heart centre, Anahata, and this is where we first start to really change as a result of our yoga and meditation practice.  Anahata is the centre of our energy system, and acts as a transitional point between the lower chakras (Mooladhara, Swadisthana and Manipura) and the higher chakras (Vishuddhi, Ajna, Bindu and Sahasrara).  At the heart we find it easier to truly commit to our yoga practice, and as Swami Radhananda says,
‘If you really set your heart on your higher goal in life, your commitment can lift you out of the merry-go-round of the first three Cakras’ 
Swami Radhananda (2010) ‘Living the Practice’
And so we reach up to the light through our yoga practice, just as the lotus flower reaches up to the surface of the water, and finally blooms in all its beauty.  If we persevere and commit to our practice, it will lift us up to our true potential. 

 

Entering the heart space

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You may have heard of the ‘heart space’.  If you’re lucky, you may have encountered your own heart space during meditation.  It’s that space in the chest, around the heart chakra, anahata, which feels supremely still and peaceful, and which – on a good day – we may find in our meditation practice.

But it’s not really just in the chest.  There is such a sense of spaciousness that it cannot be contained within our physical body.  It is a space which transcends the physical heart, in which we feel boundless joy, peace, equanimity, love and compassion.  It is, like all our experiences of meditation, hard to describe fully, as it is beyond mere words.  But my own experiences of the heart chakra in meditation, and my reflection upon these experiences, has led me to some interesting realisations and insights into the Safety Energy Locks (SELs) located around the heart and chest area, and which I use when treating with Jin Shin Jyutsu.

The only way in which we enter the heart space, and attain an experience of our heart centre, is by letting go of our attachments to the way things should be.  By gaining an acceptance of what is.  By letting go of our overwhelming emotions that live in our lower chakras.  And so it’s interesting that SEL 9 is located at the lower end of the shoulder blades, within the heart area, and is associated with ‘the end of one cycle, and the beginning of the new’.  Whenever we feel ‘stuck’ in our lives, trapped by familiar patterns of behaviour and reactions, we are trapped in the lower energy centres and are resisting the natural flow of energy in our lives, and in our physical bodies.  At these times, we are less likely to experience the peace of our heart space!  But when we let go of our resistance, and move through whatever is blocking our peace we step into this vast space.  So it’s really interesting that the next SEL, half way up the shoulder blades, is SEL 10, known as the ‘warehouse of abundance’.  If we are not feeling abundant in our lives, we  need to let go at SEL 9, and step into the peace and joy which is waiting for us at the heart.  We learn to recognise that:

‘The little space within the heart is as great as this vast universe’

~Chandogya Upanishad

Another Safety Energy Lock situated in the region of the heart chakra, at the level of the third rib, is SEL13, which teaches us to ‘love our enemies’.  To develop unconditional love and compassion- maitri – for others and for ourselves.  To see ourselves and others clearly, with all our faults, and love ourselves anyway.  To embrace the lessons others present us with, rather than pushing them away,  and to see the blessings within all the events of our lives,  without labelling them ‘good’ and ‘bad’, ‘friend’ and ‘enemy’.

When starting out in meditation, it can be hard to rise above the churning of emotions at our lower centres, but once we find the stillness and the joy of the heart, we are encouraged along the way.  If you have a lot of emotional issues surrounding the heart centre, it can take time and perseverance to step into the peace of the heart, but rest assured that it is there, just waiting for you to let go, and to step into your warehouse of abundance.

 

 

True giving

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Think about the last time you gave someone something – your time, your friendship, a smile, or a gift of some kind.  If you are totally honest with yourself, did you truly give without expectation of return?  So often we give to others as if we are entering into an unspoken contract with them; we are thinking ‘I’ll cook you dinner this week, then it will be your turn’, or ‘I’m looking after your child, so when I need someone to do the same for me, I know you’ll offer’.

Whilst there is nothing wrong with this per se – reciprocity has been the foundation of our economics for centuries – it is a world apart from true giving.  Of course it is reasonable to expect that if we smile at someone, they will smile and be friendly back.  If they don’t, we may not smile so readily ourselves the next time we see them.  But sometimes we must give for the sake of giving.  When we donate to a good cause, we are not expecting any benefit to ourselves, at least in the short term.  We give because someone or something else’s plight has touched our hearts.  We give because we care, because we have allowed something external to ourselves into our hearts.

When we offer our help, our companionship and our time to our friends and neighbours, we may well find that they reciprocate.  But when they don’t, that can be fine too.  We help because we want to help.  Because we can empathise with their situation, and with their needs.  When we truly give, we give selflessly, and without thought of ourselves.  We are in touch with our more spiritual selves, with our sense of compassion,  as we open our hearts to those around us, and make their needs greater than our own.

Exchanging ourselves for another

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Everyone has heard, at some point in their lives, the advice that they should  ‘think of someone worse off than themselves’.  It’s not always welcome, and it’s not always that easy to do.  Our own pain, whether physical or emotional, can be so overwhelming that it can be hard to imagine anything worse.  Unintentionally, we are frequently rendered more selfish, more self-absorbed, by our own suffering.

But if we can, for one moment, put that pain aside, we will be able to see that, yes, indeed, there are many others who are in worse pain, who are suffering more than we are.  So we have a choice. We can allow our own suffering to shut us off from others, or we can use it to connect more deeply with the trials of those around us.  To acknowledge our common humanity.  To realise that even those who we feel ‘have it all’, will be struggling with their own private demons.

And so the first step is to not run away from our pain, but to look straight at it. To really see it for what it is.  To truly feel our emotions and to stay with them.  If we are sad, to really be sad, not to shut it away and numb ourselves with something else.  If we are angry, to experience how that anger makes us feel, without acting it out – yes, it’s hard!

And then we can start to think of others who are feeling the same thing – in their own way, and their own circumstances, yes, but just to acknowledge that there are others who we know, as well as millions who we don’t know, who are suffering  the same despair, fear, anger – whatever it is.  Millions of people experiencing their own pain.

And this is not just a logical, mental acknowledgement, it is an emotional process.  We feel our own pain, and we feel that of everyone else.  And, ironically, this can help to strengthen us in our own time of need.  We are not alone in our suffering any longer.  We no longer feel so helpless.  We are more able to extend ourselves to help others.

Because strength isn’t all about solidity, it’s about softness.  In Dru yoga, we soften the joints, even in ‘strong’ postures, so that we don’t block energy from flowing freely around the body.  Whilst we move from a strong core, we maintain a fluidity of movement through the body, learning where to soften and let go.  True strength comes from flowing through our lives with courage and determination, not from standing still and building up the walls between ourselves and those around us. Knowing when to accept help from others, and when to offer it. It can be wonderful to feel the effects of a beautiful yoga posture or sequence – but even more wonderful to send those benefits to someone who is in need of them –  whether or  not they are capable of accessing them for themselves.  When I teach Energy Block Release 3 in my class, a profound heart-opening sequence, we always pause at the end, hands in Namaste, to experience the peace generated by the movements, and each of us is then able to ‘send out’ that peace to anyone who comes to mind in that moment.

The Buddhist practice of tonglen is the exchange of ourselves for another. It reverses our natural tendency to run away from what we perceive as bad (suffering) and instead encourages us to embrace it.  It turns our natural tendency to shield ourselves from hurt on its head.  It gives us courage and strength, by allowing us to truly experience our weakness.  As Pema Chodron writes,

‘It is a method for overcoming our fear of suffering and for dissolving the tightness of our hearts’

~ Pema Chodron,’When Things Fall Apart’

We start by identifying our pain, and we breathe it in. On our outbreath, we breathe out softness, relief, and send it out.  This is a very powerful practice – instead of saying ‘no’ to what we see as ‘bad’, we say ‘yes, OK, this is how things are’.  We are accepting what is. Then we can think of someone else who is in similar pain – physical or emotional – and we breathe in their pain, too. We allow all this pain to open us, to free us, and we breathe out, softening and sending out this softness to them as well.  We can then move on to everyone who is sad,  angry, has a headache – whatever it may be – and  on our outbreath, send out that relief to them all.

When we have had a disagreement with someone, instead of isolating ourselves and allowing ourselves to make ourselves right and them wrong, we can instead try to breathe in their anger, opening ourselves to their viewpoint, and breathe out the softness, the spaciousness that we find. When we are anxious and troubled about someone, we identify with their pain, making it bigger than our own feelings about them.  We breathe in their pain and send out relief on our outbreath. There really are no limitations to this practise.  Whenever we feel good, we send it out.  Whenever we feel bad, we breathe it in. We can use it in formal meditation practice, or on the spot, whenever we remember.

If you have experience of working with tonglen, I’d love to hear about it.  If you haven’t and decide to give it a try, let me know how you get on.