February is American Heart Month—a great time to learn more about behaviors that can keep your heart strong and healthy. It’s also the perfect time to enjoy a heart-centered yoga practice. Yoga philosophy suggests that there are seven major chakras (or energy centers) in the body that affect not only the physical self, but also the emotional and spiritual selves. Try this yoga sequence to awaken the heart chakra.
Begin in a comfortable seated position. Bring your awareness to your breath. Next, bring your hands together to rest in front of your heart. The Sanskrit name used for the heart chakra is anahata, which translates to unhurt or unstruck. Some of the feelings and emotions associated with this chakra are love, compassion and acceptance. Take a moment to allow yourself to feel all of these things—love, compassion and acceptance, not only for others, but also for yourself.
When you’re ready, take your time coming to your hands and knees. Use your inhale to extend your spine and open your heart to Cow Pose. As you exhale, flex your spine so that your back rounds into Cat Pose. Focus on initiating the movement in the middle back. Repeat this sequence for five to 10 rounds.
Downward Facing Dog Pose
From all fours, curl your toes under and lift your hips high to come into an upside down “V” shape. Use this pose to create space in the back body and legs. Feel free to pedal your legs a few times by alternately bending the right and left knees.
Warrior 1 Pose
Next, step your right foot forward. Bend your right knee and lower your back heel down so that it’s pointing toward the upper left corner of your mat. Press evenly into both feet, and stretch your arms up toward the ceiling. Bend the arms into a “goalpost” shape and lift your heart toward the ceiling. Take 10 full breaths before lowering your hands to the mat and stepping back to Downward Facing Dog. Take a few deep breaths here before switching to the left side.
Mountain Pose with Upward Hands
Stand on your mat with your feet hips-width distance apart, pressing the feet into the earth and lifting up through the crown of your head. Reach both arms up toward the ceiling while keeping your shoulders soft. Keep your core engaged and knees slightly bent; gaze up, taking a slight backbend in the upper part of the back to stretch the chest and open the heart.
Forward Fold Pose with Chest Expansion
Interlace your fingers behind your lower back, soften your knees, and slowly begin to hinge at the hips, coming into a Forward Fold with Chest Expansion. Take five full breaths before releasing your arms and bringing your hands to the top of your mat for a full Forward Fold. Again, you can keep a slight bend in your knees and shift your weight toward the balls of your feet to keep your hips over your heels. Let the crown of your head be heavy toward the earth and keep your core active.
Lower your body to the mat and come to a kneeling position with your knees hips-width distance apart. Tuck your toes under and rest your hands on the back of your pelvis, fingers pointing down. Lengthen your tailbone down toward the floor, engage the abdominal muscles, and begin to lean back, keeping your hips over your knees. You can stay here, with your gaze toward the sky, or deepen the pose by reaching back and holding onto your heels. Come out of the pose mindfully, reversing the steps you took to enter the pose, and sit back on your heels for five breaths.
Lie down on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the mat about hips-width distance apart. Lengthen your arms alongside your body. Press into your feet to lift your hips, coming into Bridge Pose. Keep the breath deep and steady as you focus on opening your chest. Hold for 10 breaths before lowering your hips to the ground and drawing your knees in toward your chest.
Release your feet to the earth, about mats-width distance apart, and bring your arms into a “T” position, allowing the backs of both shoulders to anchor down into the earth. Mindfully let your legs fall all the way to the left edge of your mat and hold for three to five breaths. Engage your core to move the whole unit of the legs over to the opposite side.
Release your whole body to the mat, allowing the breath to flow naturally and letting all of the muscles in your body to completely relax. Spend three to five minutes in Relaxation Pose before coming back up into a seated position.
The heart chakra connects all of the physical elements of the lower chakras with the spiritual and emotional elements of the upper chakras. After completing this heart opening sequence, you may wish to spend some time journaling or simply contemplating your responses to the following heart-centered questions.
- In what ways am I open to giving and receiving love?
- Are there areas of my life where I could practice more compassion for myself? More compassion for others?
- What could I do today to be more accepting of myself, flaws and all? How can I use self-acceptance to offer acceptance to others?