The heart chakra (also known as the “heart center”) represents our ability to love and connect with each other. When this chakra is out of alignment, it can create all kinds of problems, and it can make it particularly hard for us to cope with the grief or disappointment.
That’s why I created a video about how you can keep your heart open, even as you’re experiencing difficult emotions.
Please note: This is an older video that mentions registration for my Yoga.Psyche.Soul program. We’re not currently taking applications for that program, so please disregard those links for now!
Here are the highlights in the video:
The chakra system is such a practical map for examining how our psyche lives in our body. Once you have a working knowledge and understanding of the chakra system, you can use it as a mirror to diagnose and spot imbalances, as well as offer anecdotal treatment.
You can give your students and clients practical tools that can create changes from the outside in (lifestyle, nutrition, exercise, yoga Asana) and from the inside out (meditation, Bhakti yoga through mantra, psychotherapy, and self-inquiry).
“Chakra” means “wheel” in Sanskrit, and chakras are spinning disks of energy within your body. Each chakra corresponds to a bundle of organs, nerves, and areas in our energetic body that affect our physical and emotional wellbeing.
What Is the Heart Chakra?
The fourth chakra is called the heart chakra, or Anahata. This chakra represents our ability to love and connect to others. When out of alignment, it can make us feel lonely, insecure, and isolated.
This chakra is the energetic center of the body – we have three chakras above it (throat, third eye, crown) and three below it (solar plexus, sacral, and root).
The heart chakra is the only one that has a physical horizontal axis. The arms and hands are an extension of Anahata. When we use the body as a metaphor, we can see that a hug can be a gesture of Anahata. A hug is a moment of connection, of coming together, of unity. The heart chakra represents the place of namaste, meaning, “You and I are one. And when I rest in my highest good and you rest in your highest good and we meet there, we are.”
The way I like to teach chakras is through a developmental lens. Anahata is typically developed between the ages of four to seven years old. When we reach this phase of development, we move out of our individual sense of self. We’re building our social connections and developing friendships. We realize that our actions and thoughts influence and impact each other, and we rise into a greater collective power when we’re in the heart field.
During this phase of our development, we generate love, compassion, unity, and unconditional forgiveness. We begin to focus just as much on the quality of our relationships and on others as we do on ourselves and getting our own needs met. We realize our needs are entwined with other people’s needs, and we see that interdependence is really important.
The Imbalances of Anahata
One way to have an imbalance of Anahata is by having an excess of heart energy. Think of this as “love addiction” or giving away too much love to someone else without regard to your own wellbeing. Codependence could indicate an excess problem with the heart chakra.
Narcissism is also an excess of Anahata. That might mean being so in love with yourself that you’re not aware of another person’s needs.
The opposite of that would be a deficiency in Anahata, or not having enough love for yourself. The shadow of Anahata is grief, so if you’re grieving a loss, or if you’ve been betrayed, or if you grew up in an environment where you didn’t receive enough love, you might struggle with giving or receiving love.
1. Breath work.
One of the biggest therapies that we would want to apply to heal Anahata is Pranaya, or breath work.
The element associated with Anahata is the air element. When we take in a full, deep breath and fill our lung capacity, we’re oxygenating the blood. The function of the heart itself is to pump that blood around the whole body. So just placing your attention on your breath, you will start to focus your thoughts on Anahata.
2. Heart openers.
Another big therapy for Anahata is manipulating this part of the body (the thoracic spine, chest, shoulders, arms, and hands) with heart-opening poses. This could be something as simple as laying on a block or bolster and letting your arms and shoulder blades relax down toward the floor. Or it could mean deeper forward bends or backbends.
Shoulder openers can also be helpful. You can work on getting the shoulders into their fullest rotation while keeping the heart and chest open and supporting that with the steadiness of your three lower chakras.
3. Chanting and/or singing.
Bhakti yoga is the path of concentrating your mind, emotions, and senses on the divine. The practices of Bhakti yoga – particularly chanting – are considered to be one of the fastest doorways to healing the heart.
Chanting and the practice of coming together with other people in prayer healed me from deep depression and low self-esteem, and chanting one of my go-to methods for healing the spirit when I work with clients.
There are so many incredible musicians you can chant along with, including Krishna Das, Dave Stringer, and Jarah Tree. There’s no substitute for singing along, even if it’s just a simple mantra. It doesn’t have to be in Sanskrit. It can be any medicine song or chant that makes you feel good.
4. Other lifestyle considerations.
Lastly, when you’re working on bringing your heart chakra back in balance, I also recommend having images of people you love around your home. Images like these can evoke the quality of loving kindness and unconditional love.
Playing with kids and pets (particularly dogs) can also be very healing, because you get to spend time with awe-inspiring purity and love. Holding a baby can really touch the tenderness and lightness in our hearts and remind us of the purest qualities of love.
Cuddling touch is also a good way to express love, so be mindful of your hands and arms as an extension of your heart chakra.
Anahata is the center of our entire energy system, balancing the three base chakras with our upper chakras. When balanced, the heart chakra enables us to both give and receive love, but when there are imbalances it can lead to problems with connection and grief.
When you learn to expand your heart chakra and balance its energy, you’ll be nourished by a sense of inner gratitude and light.
You can use these strategies for balancing the heart chakra in your own life, or use them with your clients to help them be the most joyful and connected versions of themselves.