02/08/2013 07:10 am ET Updated Apr 10, 2013

This Valentine's Day, Practice Opening Your Heart

Valentine's Day accentuates our cultural ideas of what it means to give and receive love. During this holiday, we gravitate toward symbols that touch our hearts, uplift our spirits and boost our sense of attractiveness -- from champagne and flowers to chocolates and negligees. Side by side with the hope, eros and tenderness of Valentine's Day, there is a shadow side: We run towards that which is superficial and fun, while running away from that which is deep and challenging. Love, however, is about embracing and experiencing it all.

As the holiday approaches, I am reminded of the story of Valerie*, a woman who, years ago, came to one of my workshops on Heart Rhythm Meditation. She seemed to have it all: She was young and beautiful, with two children, a supportive husband and a fine career. When I used the emWave software to find her heartbeat, however, I was surprised to discover that her Heart Rate Variability was as low as it is for those who have heart disease. In addition, the pattern of Valerie's heart's rhythm was locked into a dangerously unhealthy, flat-line pattern.

Valerie confided in me that she had taken anti-depressants for many years, as a result of a profound sense of loneliness and isolation from her husband and children. In exchange for taking away the lows of depression, the anti-depressants also had taken away Valerie's joy -- including her libido. I worked with Valerie for a few months, during which time she went deep into her heart and strengthened it -- by facing and processing through the wounds of her life, instead of ignoring or masking them. Ultimately, with the supervision of her doctor, Valerie was able to stop taking her anti-depressants.

Many of us fall into the trap of thinking that if only we had the right pieces in order -- job, friends, marriage, house -- we would be happy. We spend tremendous energy chasing after these external measures of success, hoping they will keep our darkness and pain at bay. Constantly running from our shadow, however, we drain our energy and lose the color of our lives. It is not surprising that, according to the Center for Disease Control, depression affects one of ten adults in America and that in just over five years, depression is expected to be the second leading cause of disability throughout the world.

Rejection, disappointment, loss and grief are a natural, unavoidable part of life and love, yet we generally do whatever we can to avoid these experiences -- frightened that our hearts will be broken, subdued or defeated. The secret we need to learn is that the heart is stronger than any feeling we may experience and it is in fact through feeling the spectrum of emotions, deeply and fully, that we find peace. In addition, the inner fullness of authentic experience is the best possible aphrodisiac! So this Valentine's Day, I invite you to fall in love with roller-coaster ride of life and love. Here are seven exercises that will help you open your heart and find the illusive sweet nectar you have been seeking:

1. Strengthen your breath.
When we are anxious, we tend to interrupt our breathing, introducing pauses where there should not be any. Strengthen your breath by taking slow, deep breaths throughout the day.

2. Open your chest.
We unconsciously avoid pain by hunching our backs and burying our chests. Resist this tendency by consciously opening your chest. Take a deep breath and let your heart shine.

3. Nurture your body.
Give your body some love by doing something that feels good -- whether taking a hot bath, eating a nutritious meal or getting a relaxing massage.

4. Share praise.
We often receive through giving. The next time you genuinely appreciate what someone is doing, saying or wearing, let that person know. You will energize your heart and elevate your mood.

5. Do something that scares you.
We grow at our edge, so do something that makes you tremble - like asking out that special someone!

6. Bless your heart.
Your experiences and feelings are a sacred part of your life. Celebrate the blessings of your heart, with an affirmation of choice.

7. Enjoy the sweetness.
Life, as they say, is short. Even if you have been dealt a bitter hand, take the time to notice and appreciate even the tiniest sweetness -- a pretty sunset, a kind word, a beautiful song.

From my heart to yours: May you give and receive great love this Valentine's Day.

*Name has been changed.

Earlier on Huff/Post50:

10 Date Ideas For Valentine's Day