Keeping the Heart Open

One of the joys of practicing Yoga has been the exploration of the chakra system. As systems golike the beautiful Pagan Wheel of the Year – it is an elegant and profoundly useful tool for spiritual development. Of late, I have been focusing on the link between postures and individual chakras, experimenting with those asanas that supposedly open, stimulate or balance these energy centres.

Postures that work upon the open expression of Anahata, the heart chakra, involve opening the chest and expanding the lungs. I have found it interesting that lung and breathing problems are so often connected to grief and emotional pain – Anahata linking the physical heart and lungs. Our emotional states impact upon our breathing; when we are upset or angry it becomes shallow and rapid; when we are relaxed, it deepens and slows. Working with Anahata teaches us to develop trust and openness and the postures that support this very literally open out our bodies, easing our breathing and ‘making the heart available’ (as the very lovely yogi Marlon Braccia puts it).

I love this phrase; it’s the use of the word ‘available’, meaning that others may have access to our hearts; it speaks of generosity and ultimately of trust – trust of self, others and life. The open heart becomes the open hand – we touch and are touched. The asanas that facilitate this openness articulate also our willingness to be vulnerable. Many are back bends that expose the tender line of the front of our bodies. In back bends we present to the world each of the chakra centres without defence – the sacral, solar plexus and throat are all presented and exposed along with the heart; in opening the heart with trust, we allow all aspects of ourselves a freer and more authentic expression. Unlike the more introspective and protective forward bends, backbends invite life in. Physically, they quite often take bravery and strength to perform and this reminds us that the heart develops strength in embracing its vulnerability; it also speaks of the courage it takes to truly love without fear.

Last night in my Yoga lesson, we performed two of my favourite backbends: Camel Pose (Ustrasana) and Fish Pose (Matsyasana). Both open and strengthen the chest and lungs, freeing up the breath and because of this, both feel incredible good to do when stress or fear contracts our bodies and spirits and we feel psychologically hunched in upon ourselves.

Despite my current inner upheaval, I know that keeping the heart open is vitally important –to close down, is to stop breathing and we all know what happens when we do that. Despite feeling a little cut adrift, my fear seems to be lessening, which is odd considering that the psychological scaffolding of my beliefs appears to have collapsed rather. Feeling my chest open and my lungs expand in Fish pose last night – enjoying how good it felt – I thought to myself that being suspended in this strange place of ‘not knowing’ was really alright and quite exciting. I guess I have always relied on systems to help me feel ok – and of course, my Yoga still plays its part in this way, so I am not completely without support. However, my certainty has crumbled somewhat and the great thing is that this is not the disaster I might have suspected. All my old definitions of what the Divine is have dissolved and I am beginning to realise that this is not the same as losing my connection to the Divine itself. This connection is never severed – my finite understanding of God/dess is being challenged, not because the Divine is an illusion but because any shape I might give it is limited. We can only ever get a glimpse of that greater Mystery and it seems that my personal glimpse is attempting to widen. In this process, all old assumptions are broken down. Like the lightning struck tower of the tarot, crumbling edifices are torn down that we might get a better view, that we might be liberated from those actions, thoughts and patterns that no longer serve us.

I am making my heart available – it’s scary and exhilarating – I guess it is like falling in love with life, and there is nothing more terrifying and wonderful than falling in love:

The ideal situation for really understanding another is not so much how a person reacts to extreme stress, but rather how he or she suffers the vulnerability of falling in love. –  Aldo Carotenuto ‘Eros and Pathos: Shades of Love and Suffering’.

Ustrasana - Camel Pose (www.yogasavy.com)

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Love, Life and Dancing in the Rain

Yesterday, my lovely Yoga teacher Julie gave me a beautiful Christmas card that she had made herself. In it she wrote a quote which I really like:

Life is not about how to survive the storm but how to dance in the rain.

Opening up Julie’s wonderful card which she created with love, and her incredibly apt choice of words, made me cry.

We had finished our Yoga lesson with some candle gazing, sitting in a close circle together in the dark, focusing on the light of the flame and after some time, closing our eyes and visualising the flame in our Ajna or third eye Chakra. Then we visualised moving the flame down into our Anahata or heart Chakra, feeling its glow and warmth there. We then held hands and visualised sending this golden light out from our hearts, down our arms, feeling it pass from our hands to those next to us and around the circle. It was a lovely, intimate moment. We each silently affirmed love and well-being for ourselves and for the whole group.

I returned home, opened my card, and sat on the bottom step of the stairs, not being able to stop the tears. Julie’s kindness and thoughtfulness touched me and the words she had picked for my card couldn’t have been more well chosen. If I could sum up what I believe my major life lesson is then this sentence would be the one that would express it best. I have spent so much time and energy surviving storms but I am coming to realise that when we engage with our hearts – with that Anahata centre – survival strategies are a poor substitute for dancing in the rain.

There is a wonderful book by Anodea Judith called Wheels of Life: A User’s Guide to the Chakra System (Llewellyn). She writes well of Anahata and its connection to love:

Love is not a matter of getting connected; it is a matter of seeing that we are already connected within an intricate web of relationships that extend throughout life. It is a realisation of ‘no boundaries’ – that we are all made of the same essence, riding through time on the same planet, faced with the same problems, the same hopes and fear. It is a connection at the core that makes irrelevant skin colour, age, sex, looks, or money.

More than anything, love is the deep sense of spiritual connection, the sense of being touched, moved, and inspired to heights beyond our normal limits. It is a connection with a deep, fundamental truth that runs through all of life and connects us together. Love makes the mundane sacred – so that it is cared for and protected. When we lose our sense of connection with all life, we have lost the sacred, and we no longer care for and protect that which nourishes us.

We are that love. We are its life force, its expression, its manifestation, its vehicle. Through it we grow, we transcend, we triumph, and surrender to grow again ever deeper. We are renewed, cut down, and renewed again.

In the Chakra system, we ideally express ourselves through all our energy centres but it is the heart that balances and connects these various energies, ‘the central wheel of life from which all others turn’. To close any part of ourselves down will cause pain but to close the heart causes the greatest pain of all.

When we stop trusting in life, when we have become overwhelmed with fear or have contracted with hurt, the true route to healing is ultimately through the opening of the heart. It’s not about being brave; it’s about feeling oneself a child again.