Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it. ~ Rumi
Take a moment to celebrate your breath. Each breath is free, and there is an infinite supply—you will never run out. Each inhalation is an opportunity for a new moment, each exhalation a chance to release the old. Every precious breath expands your interior, softens your resistance, and allows you to open wider. From your very first gasp to your last expiration, the breath defines the length of your life.
The fourth chakra, also known as the heart chakra, is related to the element air, hence the breath. The middle chakra in a system of seven, the heart is a balance point, and balance is essential to inner peace. As the central chakra in this architecture of the soul, the heart is the great integrator of opposites: inside and outside, self and other, mind and body, heaven and earth. Its holy principle, love, is the cosmic force that brings things together, and keeps them in relationship, meaning relating to each other. When relationships are in balance, they tend to last.
Within this sacred chamber lies the jewel of the heart chakra: the Inner Beloved whose teachings are always about love. Opening the heart to yourself and the world around as Beloved brings expansion and joy through a profound sense of universal love and connection to all that is. As the heart of the chakra system, this chakra takes you another step closer to the essential meaning of yoga as union.
The key to opening the fourth chakra is to soften, which will then allow you to open and expand. In the hard, masculine world of today, there is too little emphasis on softness, and this is as true in yoga classes as anywhere else. Third chakra yoga uses effort and strength to push to new levels. Fourth chakra yoga moves from doing to being, from effort to surrender, from muscular strength to yielding tenderness.
Softening opens the gateway to the heart. Softening allows things to join, to match their edges together. It invites openness, connection, and reception. That could mean softening your body or your breath, but it also points to softening your judgments or your stance. Next time you find yourself holding a hard line with someone, try softening your resistance and see what happens. Once you find your alignment in a pose, notice if you are rigid or if you have the ability to soften your face, your eyes, your shoulders, your breath–and most of all your heart.
Love is a natural state of being, not only within your Inner Temple, but through all of creation. Everything is a myriad of interconnecting relationships, exchanging energy and information, singing together, vibrating and sparkling. Even though love is the universal force of connection and healing, we simultaneously fear it and long for it and this creates blockage in the heart. Opening the heart chakra breaks through the bondage of that conflict into ecstatic joy, radiant love, tender compassion, and a deep intimacy with your own (and another’s) interior.
When you create space inside yourself–as well as spaciousness in your life– you have room to truly enter your heart. Spaciousness can mean free time, peace and quiet, relaxation in the body, or physical space that is expansive, such as being outside.
As Rumi has suggested in the quote above, our key to finding love is to remove the barriers we’ve built against opening to love. The reasons for these defenses are many: past hurts and betrayals, childhood wounds, and the exquisite sensitivity—and therefore potential pain– of a center that holds the very essence of our core and the unifying force of life.
Opening the heart chakra involves taking down those defenses to experience the love that is the natural state of our being. Unfortunately, defenses get hard-wired into the body and become permanent body armor. This rigidifies the upper back, chest, and shoulders. It constricts the breath and can even shorten the connective tissue in the front of the body, drawing the shoulders forward and collapsing the chest. Then it becomes more difficult to breathe, to align your posture, and the heart feels depleted.
When the heart chakra is blocked, people often experience a kind of pressure against their chest, as if someone were pushing down against it. The tissue around that area may be sore or tender to the touch, especially over the sternum. The shoulders may round forward in protection, or the heart area may collapse from lack of energy, indicating a fourth chakra deficiency. Alternatively, the chest may be frozen in a puffed up fashion, like a military chest, and it becomes difficult to exhale fully, which makes it harder to relax, yield, or soften.
Yoga for the heart chakra seeks to remedy this armoring of the heart, by opening the chest and upper back, and working with the breath. The result is more spaciousness in the Inner Temple, more freedom and relaxation through the chest and shoulders, more softness all around, and more room for the natural state of love and joy. In this way the subtle energy that is activated in the third chakra expands in the fourth chakra, escaping its boundaries to gradually dissolve the barriers between inner and outer and bring us back to the unity that is the ultimate nature of reality.
Adapted from Anodea Judith’s Chakra Yoga
Anodea Judith, Ph.D. is a world-renowned workshop leader who has been writing and teaching about the chakra system for over 40 years. She is the author of several best-selling books on the chakras, including Wheels of Life, and Eastern Body, Western Mind, and the more recent, Anodea Judith’s Chakra Yoga. She brings the combined skills of yoga teacher and somatic psychotherapist, ritualist, and philosopher for her own blend of “bioenergetic yoga” — a playful experience of divine Shakti breezing through your inner world. If you want that world rocked, the chakras are the wheels that will take you there. For more info: www.AnodeaJudith.com