Anahata chakra – the heart energy centre

We have been working in class on the mid and upper back and focusing on the heart with reference to anahata chakra the heart energy centre. Here is an extract form a longer article by Barbara Kaplan Herring entitled “Seventh Heaven”.

Seventh Heaven

There are seven chakras, or energy centres, in the body that become blocked by long-held tension and low self-esteem. But practicing poses that correspond to each chakra can release these blocks and clear the path to higher consciousness.

The chakra system provides a theoretical base for fine-tuning our yoga practice to suit our unique personality and circumstances. Traditionally, Indians saw the body as containing seven main chakras, arranged vertically from the base of the spine to the top of the head. Chakra is the Sanskrit word for wheel, and these “wheels” were thought of as spinning vortexes of energy.

Each chakra is associated with particular functions within the body and with specific life issues and the way we handle them, both inside ourselves and in our interactions with the world. As centres of force, chakras can be thought of as sites where we receive, absorb, and distribute life energies. Through external situations and internal habits, such as long-held physical tension and limiting self-concepts, a chakra can become either deficient or excessive—and therefore imbalanced.

These imbalances may develop temporarily with situational challenges, or they may be chronic. A chronic imbalance can come from childhood experiences, past pain or stress, and internalised cultural values. For instance, a child whose family moves every year to a different state may not learn what it’s like to feel rooted in a location, and she can grow up with a deficient first chakra.

A deficient chakra neither receives appropriate energy nor easily manifests that chakra’s energy in the world. There’s a sense of being physically and emotionally closed down in the area of a deficient chakra. Think of the slumped shoulders of someone who is depressed and lonely, their heart chakra receding into their chest. The deficient chakra needs to open.

When a chakra is excessive, it is too overloaded to operate in a healthy way and becomes a dominating force in a person’s life. Someone with an excessive fifth (throat) chakra, for example, might talk too much and be unable to listen well. If the chakra were deficient, she might experience restraint and difficulty when communicating.

Anahata Chakra (Heart)

The fourth chakra, the heart chakra, rests in the centre of the chakra system, at the core of our spirit. Its physical location is the heart, upper chest, and upper back. The fourth is the balance point, integrating the world of matter (the lower three chakras) with the world of spirit (the upper three chakras). Through the heart chakra, we open to and connect with harmony and peace. The health of our heart centre registers the quality and power of love in our life. In Sanskrit, the heart chakra is called Anahata, which means “unstruck” or “unhurt.” Its name implies that deep beneath our personal stories of brokenness and the pain in our heart, wholeness, boundless love, and a wellspring of compassion reside.

This chakra’s element is air. Air spreads and energizes. Like water, air assumes the shape of whatever it fills, yet it is less subject to gravity than water. When you feel swept up in love, you often need to replant your first chakra in order to stay grounded. Air permeates breath, so pranayama practice helps balance and tone this chakra. All forms of pranayama can help you use more air, more prana, thereby increasing your vitality and enthusiasm for life.

If you notice that you are sitting with your head forward, shoulders rounded and your chest collapsed, it’s a good time to start practicing fourth chakra poses to give your heart some breathing space. When we lead with our head and not with the heart, we may be overly focused on thought and tend to cut ourselves off from the emotions and the body. When the heart chakra is deficient, you may experience feelings of shyness and loneliness, an inability to forgive, or a lack of empathy. Physical symptoms can include shallow breathing, asthma, and other lung diseases.

Asanas that enliven the heart chakra include passive chest openers in which we arch gently over a blanket or bolster, shoulder stretches such as the arm positions of Gomukhasana and Garudasana (Eagle Pose), and backbends. Being an even-numbered, feminine chakra, the heart center naturally yearns to release and let go. Doing backbends develops the trust and surrender we need to open the heart fully. When we feel fearful, there is no room for love, and our bodies show contraction. When we choose love, the fear melts away, and our practice takes on a joyful quality. In many backbending poses, the heart is positioned higher than the head. It’s wonderfully refreshing to let the mind drop away from the top position and instead lead with the heart.

Some signs that the heart chakra is overpowering your life can include co-dependency, possessiveness, jealousy, heart disease, and high blood pressure. For these symptoms, forward bends are the best antidote, because they are grounding and foster introspection. While people with deficient heart chakras need to open to receive love more fully, those with excessive heart chakras find healing by slowing down to discover inside themselves the nourishment they have been seeking from others.

The most powerful way to open, energize, and balance not just the heart chakra but all of our chakras is to love ourselves and others. Love is the greatest healer. In our hatha yoga practice, remembering what we love and appreciate as we practice fourth chakra asanas enhances the power of the poses and our general well-being.

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