By Yoga Journal
Open your anahata to listen to your inner voice and find your path to your heart's calling.
This is often the most popular chakra to work with because of its association with love. But don't forget that every chakra has equal value and one chakra cannot operate optimally without the others in equal good balance. It is an integrated system.
Begin your practice seated. Close your eyes and turn your attention inward toward your heart. Be still and quiet and take this time to witness your innermost self. Drop down beneath the mind chatter into the cave of your heart and listen there for the inner voice. It takes practice to get quiet enough and willing enough to connect this deeply with your true self. So do not be discouraged if this seems challenging -- it is! Through regular practice of listening in, you will slowly be able to tell the difference between the inner voice of your heart and the neurotic chatter of the mind. Over time you will be able to observe both. This inner listening cultivates a discrimination. Discrimination supports skillful choices, which lead you toward your heart's calling, your purpose. The result is bringing compassion and love into all you do.
Set Your Anahata Intention
Now set your intention for this practice. To grease the wheels, here are some themes that relate to the fourth chakra: offering and receiving love with ease; trust; cultivating compassion; allowing for happiness and unalloyed joy; releasing the fear of getting hurt; letting go of old heartache; and cultivating humility. Feel free to use any of these or choose your own. As long as your intention feels true for you it has value.
Stimulate Heart Energy
As a preparatory practice bring your hands to Anjali Mudra at the heart and begin to lightly tap the sternum with the thumbs. Let it be a rhythmic and gentle tap. As you are tapping keep the spine long and the heart open. This is a great way to stimulate the heart energy. Spend at least two minutes tapping, more if you like. When you are done release your hands to your lap and take a moment to feel the resonant vibration at the heart.
From Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana), step your right foot forward. Gently release your left knee to the floor and reach the arms up into a Low Lunge. Square your hips toward the front end of your mat. Bring your left hand to your left hip, reaching your right arm up. You may stay here or slide your left hand down the inner left leg as your curl your spine back, in, and up to open the heart into a deeper backbend. Next, actively press your left hand into your inner right leg and as the leg and hand resist each other you will feel stronger and avoid sinking into the low back. Isometrically, hug your left knee and right foot in toward each other, this will lift the pelvic floor and help you draw your low belly in and up. Finally press down through your right foot and let the heart fly up a little more. Spend five breaths here. Move through vinyasa or simply change sides.
High Lunge with Shoulder Opener
From Downward-Facing Dog, step your right foot forward and rise up into a High Lunge. The right knee is bent at a right angle and the left leg is reaching long and straight behind you. Reach your arms behind you and interlace the fingers. Move your pelvic bones down, as the heart rises up and opens. Lift your low belly and widen your collarbones. Gaze upward without jamming your neck and feel for the spacious of the rising heart energy. Spend five breaths here and then vinyasa through to the other side or transition through Down Dog.
Low Lunge, variation
From Downward-Facing Dog, step your right foot forward into a Low Lunge and place your left knee on the floor. Keep your left hand down and reach your right arm back. Lift your left foot and catch the left foot with the right hand. Kick the left foot back and let that carry the shoulder and heart into a deeper opening. Corkscrew your left arm bone to the left for an external rotation. Keep your collarbones super wide and open your sweet heart. Spend 3-5 breaths here and then vinyasa to change sides.
From Downward-Facing Dog, lift your right leg up and back. Open the right hip and bend the right knee to stretch the right quadriceps, hip flexors, and belly. You can stay there or keep going. As you turn your heart up, touch the right foot down behind you and your right hand lifts off the floor as you go. Then reach your right arm up and overhead. Really press down into your foundation to help lift the back body and spine. This is a big heart opener that requires some faith courage and a little experience so work up to it over time if you need to! You will only linger here for 2-3 breaths and then flip back to Downward Dog and change sides.
Urdvha Mukha Svanasana
Lie on your belly and feel the back body soften down into the front body. Let this moment bring release and suppleness into the low back, kidneys, and lungs. Extend your legs back long and strong, spread your toes and the soles of the feet wide. The legs should be no wider than the hips. Bring your hands under your shoulders and begin to peel the heart up off of the floor. Lift a reasonable amount with elbows bent and pubic bone on the floor and then pause. Again soften the back body. Then pressing the tops of the feet and hands straight down, begin to lift the heart higher, allow the hips and thighs to come off the floor until the only points of contact are the hands and feet. Curl the upper spine in and up as you pull the upper arm bones back to open the heart. Spend two breaths here and then rest.
Camel is an upper-spine backbend that comes from narrowing in the belly and widening in the chest. Come to stand on your shins with knees hip-width apart or closer. Bring your hands to your hips and drive the legs and pelvis down as you lift the low belly, ribs, and chest upward. Start to curl up and back as you reach one hand and then the other to touch its corresponding foot. Once in the pose, reach the thighs down as you lift the back of the ribcage up. Create as much space as possible in the side waist by lengthening from outer hip to ribs. Move the tailbone and pubic bone toward each other. Finally drop your head back gently as long as it doesn't cause neck pain. Spend about three breaths here and repeat this pose three times. When you finish, sit on your heels, close your eyes, and enjoy the rush of being alive in an open-hearted body.
Setu Bandha Sarvangasana
Lying on your back, bring your heels to your sitting bones and arms by your sides with palms face up, as you lift your hips up toward the sky. You can stay here or interlace your fingers beneath you. Tuck your upper arm bones in toward center to help open your chest. Now drive down through your feet, outer arms, and pinky edges of your hands to evenly lift the spine. This pose is part of your warm down so stop short of your edge and keep it friendly. Place a block under your sacrum for a supported, more restorative version of the pose. Spend five breaths in this pose and then rest.
Reclining Bound Angle Pose
Supta Badda Konasana
Lie on your back and draw your knees in to your chest. Enjoy a breath a two there. Then bring your feet to the floor and let your knees fall away from center, bringing the soles of your feet together. If this hurts your knees or doesn't feel good, try placing a stack of blankets, pillows, or a bolster under each thigh. Once your legs are comfy, bring one hand to your heart and the other to your belly. Close your eyes and allow yourself this time to soften in to the heart energy. Consciously invite this resource of love compassion and joy into all that you do.
Heart Chakra Chant + Meditation
Now that you have spent some time connecting with the fourth chakra through asana breath, and intention, please have a comfortable cross-legged seat. Keeping your eyes closed you will begin to chant the bija mantra for anahata chakra which is YAM. You may either chant it out loud or silently to yourself. Think of this mantra as a code. As you chant, the code begins to unpack itself and reveal to you the sacred intelligence of the fourth chakra energy center. As you chant this word YAM, try to sense the vibration of the sound all around the heart. Be receptive to the love, compassion, and joy within. Feel free to experiment with pace and volume and chant in a way that resonates with you. Spend at least two minutes with your chant, more if you like.
When you finish chanting lie back in Savasana and consciously soften around the heart space, letting your attention linger for a moment or two. Then release all thoughts and relax into the earth as you drift into a quiet and restful repose.
About Stephanie Snyder
Stephanie Snyder is a San Francisco-based vinyasa yoga teacher. She's written, modeled, and created DVDs for Yoga Journal in addition to presenting at Yoga Journal LIVE!