by Lydia Richards
An open heart free of fear and vulnerability can help you to lead a much richer life full of deeper experiences. However, opening your heart isn’t just about throwing yourself into a gnarly back bend, first you must learn to love yourself…
What is the heart centre?
In yoga philosophy, this is known as the ‘Anahata’ or ‘Heart’ chakra, a major energy centre located at the centre of the chest, and responsible for giving and receiving love. The heart, lungs and upper extremities are all influenced by ‘Anahata’ and an unbalanced Heart chakra can often translate to emotions like shyness, fear of getting hurt, feeling unloved or fearing relationships. Sound familiar?
Why is opening this space often difficult?
Imagine that you’re born wearing lens-free glasses. Every time something happens in your life, like not passing maths in grade 6, being bullied or, dumped in high school, losing a loved one or even having a child, a pair of lenses is applied to those frames. Eventually, you are looking at the world through multiple lenses. So, in theory your vision should now be blurred, right? Not at all, this is just YOUR way of seeing. Our experiences shape us and every lens that is applied tells us something different about ourselves. With our seemingly clear perception of the world comes an equally blurred perception of who we are. As a result, loving our selves can become more difficult the older we get.
It is also basic human instinct to protect the heart space. When we are stressed, frightened or if we feel threatened, our shoulders hunch forward in an effort to close off and protect the heart space, much like a turtle retracting into its shell. From a physical point of view, our sedentary lifestyle spent seated behind desks and in front of computers, and the “fear of missing out” which has us scrolling social media channels up to five times a day – all significantly contribute to the posture of a closed heart space.
What does leading with my heart actually mean?
Imagine removing the screen from an open fireplace. Standing before it, you feel more vulnerable and exposed because you are more likely to be scathed by it’s burning embers. On the flip side, by removing the screen not only do you now have a full view of the fire in all its beauty but also the capacity to connect more closely with the warm dance of its flames. All of a sudden, you can see this fire in all its glory. You can connect to it more deeply, on a richer and more intrinsic level.
The same can be applied in our lives. Living despite our vulnerabilities and the fear of getting hurt is how we open ourselves to deeper and richer connections with ourselves and the people around us. The ability to lead with your heart is made possible by strengthening our self-love. Developing this first comes from honouring where we have been and acknowledging the experiences that have shaped us. Remember the lenses in those glasses. Through this acknowledgement we are able to accept things as they are. Once we have acceptance, we are able to see and access more fully our truth. And the truth is, we are love. Let me explain…
When I was little my parents used to tell me “money makes the world go ‘round.”
For so long I believed this and felt that my success was determined by how much money I made. It has been only recently in deepening my studies of yoga that I have finally understood: Actually, it is love. Love is the currency of affection, respect, kindness and compassion. Without these things, we would live in the unruliest of societies. We certainly don’t have to like or get along with everyone, nor do we have to love them, but never forget what lies at the heart of our capacity to make it through the day (for the most part) unscathed. Love.
How does yoga help?
Before we can love others, we must love ourselves and the yoga journey reminds us of this. Our time on the yoga mat facilities deepening connections, and firstly that shows up as our relationship with ourselves. Without those lenses we see ourselves before we step into the world and into other relationships, jobs or hobbies; before failing maths in grade 6 or being bullied or dumped in high school. Through this connection we discover who we truly are (love!), we can see more clearly what we want from life and what no longer serves us.
The practise of yoga asana facilitates a physical and energetic heart opening, but at the same time reminds us that in order to open our hearts we must first build strength in our core and our foundation.
So that you can experience deeper and richer connections with yourself and others in 2018, here are five ways you can lead with your heart:
1. Set a 'Sankalpa' for your year.
Setting a sankalpa or “intention” is about choosing a positive affirmation to guide your practice. I like to explain this as being a feeling you wish to first propagate on your mat and then take out into the world. It has been my experience that most yogis come to the mat to restore balance in their lives, so setting an intention is really about invoking a feeling or emotion you feel you need more of. Examples here might be love, gratitude, forgiveness or acceptance.
Consider that you can also set a sankalpa for your year. So, think about how you want to FEEL in 2018 and write a positive affirmation around it. For example, “I love and I am loved,” or “I am calm, I am clear.” Write it down and keep it close or somewhere you will see it regularly.
2. Do something every day that’s for you.
I get it, we’re all busy. So, this can be as big or as little as you like. Maybe it’s as grand as a massage or as little as a peppermint tea or a glass of wine. It’s actually the intention behind the act that counts the most.
3. Give your shoulders the love they deserve.
The simple act of loosening up your shoulders helps you to open up your heart space. We tend to hold a lot of tension, stress and anxiety in our shoulders. Try some shoulder rolls (backwards and forwards), stand in a doorway and cactus your arms on either side pressing your heart space gently forwards, get a lacrosse/yoga ball and stand against a wall massaging gently into this space. By opening and mobilising the shoulders, we are in-turn opening the heart space.
4. Do some yoga. Duh.
Well this was always going to be in the top five, wasn’t it? Building a regular yoga practise into your schedule is perhaps the grandest act of self-love. Most yoga studios, including Yoga Corner, offers an affordable trial package which will help you to understand how you might build yoga into your life. Remember, 80% of the effort is in simply turning up.
5. Keep a journal.
There is no better way to listen and connect to yourself than to give your inner most voice a microphone and a stage. You will be surprised at just how much you get to you know yourself by unleashing this inner dialogue.
The journey to self-love and leading with your heart is of course different for everyone, but at the heart of yoga is Self, the most profound connection and realisation that we are love. As a yoga teacher, it is my hope that you discover that there is no distinction between love and Self. You are love and it’s you that helps to make the world go ‘round. May knowing this be enough for you to lead with courage and experience endless possibility.