Dark creamy chocolate, swirling deep red wine, a nice steamy bath and the time alone to luxuriate; these things lead to a wonderful state of bliss. So too, yoga can lead to pure bliss when practiced with an open heart. True bliss occurs when your senses grow in tune with your mind and soul. This happens in yoga when asana aligns with intention and breath. So how can you find bliss without the calories of chocolate and wine? Try breathing with the intention of opening your heart to bliss.
Anahata, the fourth primary chakra, is located in the area around your heart. In Sanskrit anahata means unhurt, un-stuck or un-beaten. Bliss can be found in an unhurt and unbeaten heart. But who among us has an unhurt heart? Just like all roads, the road to bliss is savored after healing from bruises, bumps and even a broken heart. The will to push (or even better breathe) through a broken heart leads eventually to bliss. Although chocolate, wine and steamy baths provide wonderful short term bliss, yoga can lead to true bliss.
So how can I use asana to open my anahata chakra? Physically open your heart of course! No I don’t mean open heart surgery silly! I mean expanding and opening your chest to allow your heart to open. Bliss is in your heart, it just needs to be opened to let it out.
Start your heart opening asana sequence with a breathing, heart opening kriya (series of poses linked together with movement) which helps awaken the chakras. Kneel in hero pose or easy sitting pose and bend forward, bringing your arms over your head to the floor. Arch your back similar to cat pose tucking your belly button up and rounding as much as possible. On an inhale lift your arms upward, expand your chest, arch your back (as in cow pose), lifting your heart to the sky and opening your arms fully to the sides. On an exhale lift your arms over your head and round your back, bringing your arms down to the ground in front of you. Repeat this lifting and lowering, inhaling and exhaling, expanding and contracting, opening your heart to the sky then folding back down. Just like cat and cow, luxuriate in the spinal movement. Feel the relaxation of your chest muscles. Feel the expansion of your heart.
Now that you are warmed up and your heart is opening and healing, move into Ustrasana (Camel Pose). When you begin to open anahata chakra in camel pose, notice how vulnerable you may feel with your heart so expanded and open to the sky. Notice if camel pose evokes feelings of vulnerability in your heart. Allow yourself to feel these emotions. True bliss can only occur with an open heart.
How To Do Camel Pose (Ustrasana)
- From hero pose, kneel on the floor with your knees hip width and thighs perpendicular to the floor. Rotate your thighs inward slightly, gently firm your buttocks. Press your shins and the tops of your feet firmly into floor.
- Inhale and lift your heart by pressing the shoulder blades toward each other and upward.
- Extend your spine by reminding yourself to lift and extend through the top of your head. Instead of thinking about bending backward, think of lifting your heart upward, toward bliss, then open your throat and lay your head back. If you feel that crunching of vertebrae (compression) in your lower back, firm your hands onto your buttocks and lift and extend upward.
- Inhale and lift upward with your chest while expanding your shoulders outward and back, slowly release one hand from your lower back and reach toward your heel. If you are able to grasp your heel (and you may not be able to the first time) exhale, notice the heart opening sensations you are feeling.
- To come into full expression of camel pose inhale again and reach back with your other hand grasping your heel. Lift the front of the pelvis up, toward the ribs. Keep the lower spine as long as possible by continuing to press your palms firmly against your soles (or heels), with the bases of the palms on the heels and the fingers pointing toward the toes.
- Turn your arms out so the elbow creases face forward, without squeezing the shoulder blades together. Try to keep your neck in a relatively neutral position, neither flexed nor extended, or drop your head back. But be careful not to strain your neck.
- Use your Ujjayi breath to relax into the pose while retaining the strength of the posture.
- You can stay in this pose anywhere from 30 seconds to a minute. To exit, lead with your heart to come up, do not by jut the chin toward the ceiling (that would be leading with your brain; a no-no!) Lift one arm up toward the ceiling helping your abdominal muscles bring you out of the pose. Push down with your other hand if it helps to extend your arm and chest upward thereby avoiding further spinal compression.
- Try a nice Rabbit Pose or Child’s Pose to counterbalance.
While resting in child’s pose or rabbit, use your breath to regain calm and peace. Do not judge the emotions that you may feel. Your heart is opening to bliss! Just like every other muscle and chakra, opening your heart (Anahata Chakra) can be challenging, but true bliss is worth the effort. And there is nothing wrong with a glass of wine, a couple chocolates and a hot bath after a great yoga class to further your bliss!