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February 5, 2010

The Yoga of a Softened Heart. ~ Donna Freeman

How to soften one’s heart and allow love and appreciation into one’s life—just in time for Valentine’s Day.

With Valentine’s Day around the corner, I’ve been focusing a bit on softening my heart, opening it to the daily richness and wonder of our world, and to increase my ability to connect in a meaningful way with those whom I come in contact.

And so I’ve been contemplating my heart.

As one diagnosed with a heart murmur as a child, I learned early on the mechanics of the heart. Scientifically-speaking, it is a muscular organ with four chambers, which pump blood throughout the body by means of rhythmic contractions.

Symbolically, of course, it’s the center of our emotional and spiritual life.

In Indian thought, the heart chakra is the centre from which feelings of love, joy, generosity, understanding, compassion and respect flow. It is the centre of positive (yang) energy in the body, and when it is open and connected to the breast, these feelings course throughout the body. Ultimately, when the heart is softened, we can sense the divine in all beings and epitomize the sentiment behind namaste (the divine in me, sees the divine in you) in all our actions and interactions.

So how do we achieve a soft heart?

To begin with, simple awareness helps. As we become aware of the state of our heart, we open it a bit wider, allowing the light of our awareness to penetrate. The hardness that blocks us from experiencing caring, loving relationships may begin to breathe, relax, and melt as we become less judgemental and more accepting of ourselves and others.

Physically, we allow our heart to expand, soften and move forward in the chest. Developing a heart-opening yoga practice includes making a concerted effort to place the shoulder blades on the back, bringing the heart front and centre. In addition, there are various heart opening poses such as Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose), Matsyasana (Fish Pose), and Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose), which gently expand the heart.

We may however need to heal psychologically before we can open up emotionally and spiritually. When this is the case, restorative poses such as Balasana (Child’s Pose), Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclining Bound Angle Pose), and Viparita Karani (Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose) can be practiced with blocks and bolsters, allowing the body to open and the heart to mend with gentle intention.

Of course, the heart pumping Salabhasana (Locust Pose), Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward Facing Dog), or Urdhva Dhanurasana (Wheel Pose) assist in enhancing heart heath and increasing circulation. Alternatively, resting the heart with Sukhasana (Easy Pose) and contemplating opening the heart through acceptance and awareness during meditation—then ending with Anjali or Hrdayanjali (the Reverence to the Heart) Mudra—allow the spirit to soar and the light to enter and soften the heart subtly and profoundly.

Finally, an open, soft heart is a matter of being present and available to whomever is in your  space at any given moment. As you genuinely interact with, show interest in, and demonstrate kindness towards those with whom you come into contact, life will blossom, contentment will grow and your heart will be continually nourished. An open heart creates positive energy, while a closed, hard heart diminishes it.

This Valentine’s Day, take the time to search your heart. Allow it to lead without reservation— soft and open to the wonder that is life.

Namaste.

Donna Freeman is an author, teacher, and yoga instructor who firmly believes yoga can be practiced anytime, anywhere, by anyone. She is an expert in yoga for kids and teens, and writes extensively on the topic on her website Yoga in My School.

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