Opening Anahata, a practice of love
As the fourth of the chakras that traverse the length of the spine, Anahata is the midpoint between the lower and upper three chakras, or triangles. Anahata is the bridge between earthly and divine concerns. It connects us to our friends, family and our own earthly being and infuses that connection with divine, unconditional love.
It is no coincidence that the namaskar mudra (palms together in front of the heart, also called anjali mudra) is the traditional gesture used when we say ¨namaste,¨ a phrase that recognizes the shared divine nature of all beings. The spiritual heart is where the divine and the earthly meet, and its energy allows us to see and honor both.
Centering: Begin in a comfortable seated position with hands in namaskar mudra. Allow yourself time to feel the movement of your breath and the observe the pattern of your thoughts. As you feel your body and breath begin to settle, focus your awareness on the space between the center of your chest and your hands. Perhaps you feel warmth, imagine a light or perceive a quality of energy. Continue for three to five minutes focusing on this space.
Warm-up: Keep the smooth flow of breath as you transition to motion. Come to hands and knees and practice cat/cow for several breaths to warm up the spine. Maintain your focus on the space surrounding the heart and chest. After several sets, hold cat pose for a few deep, slow breaths, feeling the space between the ribs expand with each inhale, and imagining pressing the space between your shoulder blades (the back of the heart chakra) up toward the ceiling as the top of your head drops toward the floor. When you are finished with cat pose, pull your hips back and rest in child's pose.
The Sequence: The following poses have been selected to maintain a focus on opening and moving from the heart chakra of the body, and they emphasize mobility of the thoracic spine. Use your breath to allow the pose to deepen--remember that each inhale expands the rib cage and requires the muscles surrounding the thoracic vertebra to lengthen. The action of spreading the collarbones wide and turning the shoulder blades inward will deepen the poses as well. Hold each pose for five to ten breaths, or longer as you like.
- Sphinx Pose
- Cobra Pose
- Upward-Facing Dog Pose
- Downward-Facing Dog Pose
- Warrior I
- Warrior II
- Humble Warrior
- Lizard Pose (with optional twist)
- Garland or Crow Pose
- Bridge or Camel Pose
- Rabbit Pose
- Bridge Pose or Shoulder Stand
- Fish Pose
Pranayama: Bliss Breath, a variant of Alternate Nostril breathing. Close off your right nostril and inhale through the left for three counts. Then close both nostrils and retain your breath for six counts. Release the right nostril and breathe out through the right for six counts. Follow the pattern on the other side. Repeat for three to seven minutes.
Savasana: Spend 10-20 minutes in deep relaxation, lying flat on the floor or with support as needed.
Lovingkindness (metta) Meditation: Find a steady and comfortable seat and close your eyes. Take as much time as you need to let your mind disengage from the external world. Bring your awareness again to the space surrounding your heart: feel its openness, and the expansion each inhale brings to it. Let your heart feel soft as you repeat these phrases in thought or speech:
May I be free from harm.
May I be happy.
May I be well.
May I be peaceful and at ease.
Once you have repeated these phrases several times, you may choose somebody in your life to direct these phrases to. Begin with somebody whom you love, then perhaps direct these phrases to a more neutral acquaintance. Lastly, you might send this intention of lovingkindness toward those who you find challenging to feel love toward.
For more information on lovingkindness meditation, visit the Metta Institute.