Do you enjoy deep relationships and feel connected to others? Or do you struggle to relate to other people, even becoming withdrawn or antisocial? The heart chakra, the center of love in the body, governs our relationships and connections to one another. If this is an area where you struggle, try giving your heart chakra some extra love through asana, meditation, and pranayama practices.
WHAT ARE THE CHAKRAS?
Yogis often think of the self as consisting of multiple different bodies, predominantly the physical body and the subtle body. While the physical body is exactly what you’d imagine, the subtle body is the plane of existence that relates to our life force energy. Many practitioners believe that the energy of the subtle body controls the movement and behavior of the physical body.
The chakra system is a key component of the subtle body, and often the first one yogis learn to work with. Chakras are centers of energy in the body, and the seven main ones run along the spinal column, from the tailbone to the crown of the head. As “chakra” is the Sanskrit word for “wheel” or “disk,” the chakras are generally thought of as spinning circles of energy.
Each one governs not only the part of the physical body where it’s located, but also particular qualities and components of holistic health. In the search for well-being, yogis work toward achieving balance in all seven of the chakras; however, one or more of them is often either underactive or overactive, resulting in pain that may be physical, mental, or emotional.
THE HEART CHAKRA
The heart chakra tends to be one of the most talked about chakras and is often discussed in yoga classes. It’s the fourth of the seven, and as such, is associated with the color green, the center of the rainbow. Also called the Anahata chakra, which translates to “unstruck” or “unhurt,” it governs everything related to love, connection, and relationships, as well as acceptance, gratitude, and beauty. The heart chakra is found in the center of the chest, just to the right of the actual heart. With its proximity to the lungs, it’s also associated with the air element.
At the center of the chakra system, the heart chakra plays a special role in the subtle body. The seven main chakras are divided into two groups of three: the lower chakras (root, sacral, and solar plexus), which relate more to physicality, and the higher chakras (throat, third eye, and crown), which relate more to spirituality. As such, the heart chakra is the bridge between them, connecting the physical and the spiritual.
The heart chakra is also the source of how we relate to each other and even to ourselves. Our capacity to love, feel gratitude, exercise generosity, and forgive all stem from the heart chakra. When balanced, it allows us to connect deeply to others and to develop meaningful relationships, and it helps us appreciate beauty and recognize it in all things.
But a blocked heart chakra usually manifests as difficulty in relationships. People with a blockage here often put themselves in situations where they can play one of two roles: the savior or the victim. It also becomes hard to relate to others, and easy to get excessively jealous or codependent. We might become antisocial, withdrawn, and defensive, or start to fear intimacy. The inability to forgive is also a symptom of a blocked heart chakra, leading people to hold a grudge for far too long. With its location by the heart and lungs, imbalances in this chakra can manifest physically as circulatory or respiratory ailments.
As with the solar plexus chakra, a blocked heart chakra is often the result of having experienced harsh rejection or extreme grief. People who have lost loved ones, had difficult break-ups, or suffered other betrayals often end up with a blockage here.
UNBLOCKING THE HEART CHAKRA
Yoga classes are sometimes designed to target the heart chakra, and they often focus on backbends like camel and bridge, which are two of the best poses for opening this chakra. Other good options include melting heart, sphinx, and cobra, as well as humble warrior, which opens the chest without requiring a backbend.
Because the heart chakra is associated with the air element, pranayama practices are also very useful for unblocking it. If you’re new to breathwork, just start by slowing down your breathing. Take longer, deeper breaths, and try making your inhales and exhales the same length. Alternate nostril breathing, in which you alternate inhaling and exhaling through each nostril, will also help open the heart chakra.
As with all the chakras, meditation can also be extremely beneficial. In your meditation, bring your focus to the middle of your chest, imagining a green wheel of energy spinning at your heart center. As you meditate, focus on your desire to feel the love, connection, and acceptance that stem from the heart chakra.