A Simple Heart Chakra Practice
How? By warming up before practicing backbends, also known as heart openers.
Many people dislike backbends, finding them difficult or painful. Keep in mind as you read the following directions that you control the depth of the movement. It’s important not to push your body beyond your personal limit, and to respect the time that it takes to achieve the full expression of a pose. This is true both in the moment, where relaxation and time can help to move deeper, and in terms of overall practice; some poses have taken me two years of consistent practice to achieve.
1. Start on your back on a mat. Take two blocks and set them up so that one is at its highest level, with the other on the second height. Recline over the blocks; the high one supports your head, and the medium helps to move into a gentle backbend. If you don’t have blocks at home, you can try reclining over a rolled blanket or bolster; place the prop under the heart. In all cases, begin with your arms at your side and your legs bent. After a few minutes, you may find that you can fully stretch out your legs.
2. Take a moment to focus on your breath. You can practice any relaxing pranayama that works for you, or you can simply observe the inhale and exhale. Try varying this on successive days to see how each method affects your body!
3. Setu Bandha Sarvangasana, or Bridge Pose. Start by slowly raising your arms on an inhale, palms facing inward. Bring them to parallel with your ears and then exhale, lowering them. After a few repeats, lift your rear end while you raise your arms; on the exhale, roll your back down to the mat. These are rolling, or active, expressions of the pose; from here, you might decide to try holding the pose. To do so, raise yourself up into Bridge; from here you might roll your shoulders underneath your back. Your arms then move underneath your torso. Perhaps you can clasp your hands together; if not, allow them to lie parallel to each other.
4. Come down on an exhale, and come into Apasana, or knees to chest, to release your back from the stretch. Take a moment to make this pose active; it’s easy to zone out here.
5. When you are ready, roll to the side and come onto hands and knees. Take a few Cat-Cows to further warm up your spine, perhaps followed or interspersed with Child’s Pose, Down Dog, or a combination of the two.
6. From here, lie on your belly. Take Sphinx Pose, followed by Bhujangasana, or Cobra. If you have them in your practice, you might move into other “Belly Backbends” as feel appropriate.
7. To close this practice, roll over onto your back. Take Apasana again, perhaps followed by windshield wiper knees, to release the back before moving into Savasana.
If you choose to follow this practice with a period of meditation, the Sanskrit mantra for this chakra is YAM. Bring the hands to prayer position, thumbs pressing into the heart area and the front of the body pressing into the hands. Sit with closed eyes, quietly repeating the mantra, until you feel a sense of connection and comfort.
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