February: the month of love. It’s hard not to think about the heart right now. They’re everywhere. Valentine cards pop up all over the place, from supermarkets to petrol stations. In the mail box if we’re lucky! Restaurants create special heart-emblazoned menus. Even the British Heart Foundation gets in on the act with its “Heart Month” campaign.
In our yoga world, the heart is associated with one of the “chakras” – the meeting points of the 72,000 unseen energy channels running through our bodies. There are seven key chakras, working from the top of the body downwards we have the crown, the third eye, the throat, the heart, the navel, the sacral and the root. The Sanskrit name for the Heart Chakra is Anahata and it’s symbolised by a green, twelve pointed lotus flower.
Each chakra is associated with a different emotion and serves a different purpose. Not surprisingly, Anahata is associated with loving kindness, compassion and joy. It governs the heart and circulatory system, respiratory system, arms, shoulders, hands, diaphragm, ribs/breasts and thymus gland.
As the fourth and central chakra, anahata is also our point of balance between the spiritual and physical, as the lower chakras are concerned with our physical bodies while our upper chakras are all about intuition, interconnectedness, mind and spirit. With balance comes calmness and serenity.
Yogis often talk of opening the heart centre – but what exactly do we mean? Physically, postures such as ustrasana (camel), bhujangasana (cobra) and dhanurasana (bow) stretch out the front of the body, creating a sense that the heart is reaching out, that our love can flow freely to others, as we share our love for one another, for our yoga practice and for ourselves. We’re usually happiest when we’re in love, and so focussing on love flowing from our open hearts will lift the spirits, energizing and nourishing us.
For more challenging heart openers, try chakrasana (wheel) or camatkarasana, which we usually call “wild thing” but a more poetic translation is “the ecstatic unfolding of the enraptured heart”. Is there a better yoga posture to bring our focus to the heart?
So during the month of February we invite you to focus on Anahata during your practice, especially during those heart-opening asanas. Perhaps try setting your “sankalpa” – the intention or affirmation for your practice - as something quite simple such as “My heart is open and full of love”. See how you feel after practice… carry that warm glow with you as you leave the studio and spread some love in the world.