In Yoga we spend considerable time healing the heart. This isn’t just the actual organ itself, but the area around the chest, extending into the shoulders, arms and hands. Of all the energetic centres, this is very often the one that has taken a battering. Grief, trauma, sustained stress, conflict, disappointment, a broken heart…
The heart is where we are vulnerable to emotional hurts. There may not be a bodily injury, but the after effects are felt physically. We may experience anxiety or depression, heart arrhythmia, breathlessness, muscular tensions, asthma, or a whole host of problems ranging from fatigue to skin rashes caused by breathing dysfunction.
Effectively the Yogic approach is to restore balance to body, mind, and emotions. This doesn’t just involve physical balance to the skeleton and muscles, but also energetic balance. Sensitivity is needed to work out if you’re energetically imbalanced. Sometimes, it’s obvious such as when we’re working on a project that requires us to use our mind a lot. We might channel energy to the head that becomes excessive causing headaches or runaway thoughts. Or we might channel energy upwards at the expense of our digestive system or basic needs.
In the case of the heart, if we’re imbalanced we either have too much or too little energy here. For example, grief is overwhelming, and if we are unable to get rid of the excessive energy and emotions, they might become bound up in the muscles and organs creating chronic tension – what we call a block. Alternatively, someone who fears intimacy might not allow energy to the heart area to avoid feeling. Both strategies will have physical consequences.
There is a lot of research into the concept of Heart Coherence. Heart Coherence is the optimal state when the heart, mind, and emotions are in energetic alignment and cooperation. Research is also showing that the heart may be as intricate as the brain, & it is sometimes referred to as “the little brain.” The heart-brain sends more communication to the head-brain than the other way around. In fact, the heart has 40,000 neurons and the ability to process, learn, and remember. It also has its own emotions.
When the parasympathetic and the sympathetic nervous systems are out of sync (in other words when we are energetically out of balance) from emotions such as anger, or grief, or from dissociation, this produces an erratic rhythm or incoherent state in the heart.
With an electrical component about 60 times greater and an electromagnetic energy field 5000 times greater than the brain’s, the heart has a significant influence on the body down to the cellular level. The brain’s rhythms along with the respiratory and blood pressure rhythms entrain with the heart’s rhythm.
Healing the Heart
You can work to restore balance to the heart in a number of ways. In yoga we use movement and postures to remove blocks from the tissues. We also restore functionality to the breath, and restore Heart Rate Variability to re-balance the Autonomic Nervous System.
Since the heart space is associated with emotions, working on an emotional level can be an effective healing strategy. Emotions are energy. And elevated emotions such as compassion and love have been shown to successfully generate a harmonious pattern in the heart’s rhythm, leading to optimal coherence throughout the body.
Exercises: Elevated Emotions
Sit quietly, close your eyes, and settle. Soften your shoulders and neck, and let that softening spread across the upper back and chest. Bring your hands to the centre of the chest (hands (touch) being an extension of the heart), and become aware of the physical sensations of your hands touching your chest. As your breath slows, without judgement, notice what you feel here. Any feeling is valid, even numbness.
The natural rhythm of the heart is soft, yielding, and open – see if you can start to bring elements of that to the muscles, bones, and organs. Now choose an elevated emotion – gratitude is a popular choice, but you might equally choose forgiveness. You could also call to mind someone you love deeply, or immerse yourself in a memory of bliss. Let the corresponding feelings develop and amplify them. Let them awaken and energise the heart, allowing any emotional release happen.
If you’re interested in working more with the heart, check out the Archive which contains a number of heart-based practices. Alternatively join me for a free breath class every Friday morning 8-8.30am GMT – email for details.