By: Stephanie Heino
A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post on how to balance your chakras through meditation. However, that is not the only way to open up your chakras and to live a balanced happy life; chakra yoga poses are also very effective in doing this. By opening the heart chakra you will instantly increase your self-respect, and you will open yourself up to love and gain a more positive outlook on life. All we ever want is to love and be loved, that is our ultimate goal in life. That very human desire creates an immediate and deep connection with the heart chakra. Not only is it located at center of your physical heart, it also marks the transition from the lower three chakras (which are associated with relationships to the society around you, your loved ones and yourself) to the higher chakras that relate to enlightenment and to connection with the Divine. The heart chakra is the bridge between the earthly and the eternal. To open our heart chakra we have to know what throws it off balance. Keeping it in balance requires a deep and ongoing commitment, not just a one time thing. It can be difficult not to let your heart harden when a loved one passes away, when a partner or friend hurts you, when you solely depend on others for your happiness and someone lets you down, or when you unleash negativity on yourself on a regular basis. But that only leads to isolation and even more pain for yourself. By seeking freedom in the heart chakra, you remain open to finding true connection with those around you and with yourself.
The color green represents the heart chakra. Green represents harmony, creativity, abundance, health and is also representative of nature, offering new energy and revitalizing your body. The best heart chakra yoga poses are those that open the chest area while breathing deeply, as well as poses that draw energy into the heart. Let me show you how to practice 4 asanas to assist you in opening your heart chakra and start love yourself and others in a way that feels freeing and secure:
Ustrasana (Camel Pose). Kneel on the floor with your legs hip width apart. Press your shins and the tops of your feet into the floor. Place your hands on the back of your hips. Inhale and slowly lift your heart up and allow your hips to move forward. Draw your shoulders back as you breathe into the posture then together once you are in the asana. If you are more advanced or flexible, you can lower your hands to your ankles or your Achilles tendon. Hold for 3-5 breaths then take a moment in child’s pose.
Benefits: This heart-opening pose stretches the muscles of your chest.
Sphinx Pose. Lie on your stomach, with your forearms flat on the mat, elbows under the shoulders and legs together. Press forearms down into the mat and inhale as you lift your head and chest off of the mat, keeping the neck in line with the spine. Bring big toes together and zip all the way up your legs engaging the gluts. Keeping your elbows close to your side using your arms to press the mat away, keeping your shoulders out of your ears. Hold here for 6-10 breaths then, again, relax in your child’s pose.
Benefits: This gentle backbend opens your chest, helping you to feel the receptiveness associated with the heart chakra.
Bidalasana (Cat Pose). Start on your hands and knees. Position your hands directly under your shoulders and your knees directly under your hips. Have your fingers fully spread with the middle fingers pointing straight ahead. Make your back horizontal and flat. Gaze at the floor. This is your “neutral” positioning. Take a deep inhale here and on the exhale begin to tilt the pelvis in. Do this by gently pulling the abdominal muscles backward toward the spine, tucking the tailbone under, gently contracting the gluts. Press downward with your hands so you stay lifted away from the shoulders, and press the middle of your back toward the ceiling, rounding your spine upward. Curl your head inward. Gaze at the floor between your knees. On the inhale offer up your heart center while tilting your tailbone up towards the ceiling and lifting your gaze. Take this flow as much as you like!
Benefits: This arching pose helps to soften and release tense muscles in the neck and back that keep you from letting your heart open.
Matsyasana (Fish Pose). Begin on your back with your knees bent and your feet on the floor. If you are experienced in the pose, you can bring your legs into Lotus Pose. Either way, inhale, lift your hips slightly and place your hands, palms down, under your hips. Lower your pelvis onto your hands. Inhale and press into your elbows and forearms to lift your upper back and gently place the crown of your head on the floor. Be careful not to let your head take too much weight. Remain in the pose for 15 to 30 seconds before releasing and hugging your knees into your chest.
Benefits: This deep backbend opens the intercostals muscles between the ribs, creating more physical space in your heart center.[Photos: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5]
Who doesn’t love love? Especially, on Valentine’s Day? Even the most bitter of us, who loses sleep in anxious preparation of an anti-Valentine’s Day event, still at the heart of her heart loves love and knows with every fiber of her being that love and happiness are inextricably linked.
Well, I am here to tell you that there is neuroscienctific evidence for this positive correlation. And that joining the mainstream masses in an overly capitalized Hallmark Holiday could increase your mood, even if you love in a non-romantic way.
Scientists have long been working to show how and even prove that love gives us health benefits beyond the obvious advantageous security of always having a date for Valentine’s Day. Researchers are not yet able to determine that romance trumps close bestfriendships or an affectionate/adoring family when it comes to health and wellness. But researchers are finding that sex, partnership, intimacy and caring for another all seem build a case for making us stronger– with health benefits that range from improved healing and management over chronic illnesses (which means living longer!).
How can we practice this on a daily basis… or, specifically, today with our Valentine’s Day date?
Doctors at the University of North Carolina have found that hugging may result in dramatically lower blood pressure as a result of boosting blood levels of oxytocin, the relaxing ‘cuddly’ hormone that plays a key role in orgasms, labor and breastfeeding. Oxytocin is linked to attachment and is a factor in bonding and monogamous pairing. In their fascinating study, researchers asked couples to sit close to one another and talk for 10 minutes, then share a long hug; their findings were positive, albeit small, changes in both blood pressure and oxytocin.
However, the power of frequent daily hugging was intense! The women with the highest oxytocin levels had systolic blood pressure that was 10 mm/Hg lower than women with low oxytocin levels—an improvement similar to the effect of many leading blood pressure medications, says Kathleen Light, Ph.D., a professor of psychiatry at UNC and one of the study’s authors. It’s amazing that something as simple as hugging can do that! In a recent study published in the Biological Psychiatry, there was support that Oxytocin was also linked to lower secretion of cortisol (a stress hormone) and when administered, cortisol aided conflict resolution in couples compared to their placebo-given controls.
Dopamine (the ‘feel good chemical’) is the key chemical in the brain’s reward system, a network of cells that is associated with pleasure and addiction. Sean Mackey, MD, PhD, recently conducted a study at Stanford University Medical Center in California, where his hypothesis was that love affected the brain in the same way many addictive drugs do, by targeting this “feel good” chemical in the brain known as dopamine, which was demonstrated by an fMRI (brain scanning machines that allow us to see areas of the brain when certain thoughts or emotions occur). So that saying ‘love is a drug’ seriously has some scientific validity.
In a nutshell, yes. Dopamine brings people together and oxytocin keeps them attached, studies show. Obviously there are other factors that contribute to who we find to love (eg. compatibility, geography, socialization, timing, to name a few). But it is fun to know that our bodies were designed to make experiencing love fun and healthy!
And now for the part where I tested this theory and conducted a little bit of my own research…. Actually, these findings more or less explain an experience I recently had. I was on a first date with someone and we spent the evening sitting very close (talking and sharing with maybe a bit of hand holding) and when the night was over, we exchanged a great bear hug. My thinking about him (and for-no-other-good-reason giddiness) for the next 24 hours could be evidence of that release of oxytocin. The fluttery feelings I had that made me want to experience more intimacy with that person is part of a very natural process of growing attachment. It’s wonderful to know that they also have some direct effects on lowering (my already low) blood pressure!
There is evidence that love improves long-term health and wellness. I would say that even if celebrating Valentines Day is merely a reminded to value love, it is worth celebrating!