Yoga, the name of which comes from the Sanskrit word yuj, meaning “to unite” or “to join”, has the goal of uniting the spiritual and physical body. The yogic belief that we should be in harmony with the universe first requires we achieve a harmonious mind, body and spirit. Of course, even before we can manage that kind of harmony, we must find balance in our emotions, actions and intelligence. The three main focuses of yoga – exercise, meditation and breathing – are the way we work on reaching the harmonious state the ancient yogis held as the golden standard of unity and peace.
And yet we, as humans, are imperfect beings. Among our shortcomings are emotions that tend to spring up unannounced and even unwanted such as anger, anxiety and sadness. Perhaps one of the emotions that is hardest to handle, let alone overcome, is heartbreak. Regardless of which half of a couple ended the relationship, regardless of how long you were together, heartbreak is a deep-seated, agonizing emotion. Can yoga be used to heal the pain of a broken heart?
On our mats moving through asanas (postures) and pranayama (breathing), we are focused on nothing more than our bodies and our breath. Learning to still the mind during yoga through dhyana (meditation) is vital to healing a broken heart. Although at first it may be all you can do to get yourself to class and go through the motions, with time you will find yourself returning to the peace and inner stillness yoga is all about. And when you finally begin to quiet your mind, painful memories and thoughts will probably first hit you with the power of a flash flood. Remember that you are a powerful, amazing being and that one of your greatest abilities is also often one of the hardest to practice: letting go.
When we hold on to the confusing, hurtful feelings of heartbreak such as loss, betrayal, pain and anger, we are doing harm to ourselves. Ahimsa is the first tenet of yoga and means to do no harm, including harm to ourselves. Letting go and releasing our heartache and pain to the universe is one of the kindest things we can do to help ourselves heal. In the end, it is truly easier on your spirit to let go than it is to hold on to painful emotions. Taking the energy you were using to dwell on heartache and focusing it on moving forward is a positive use of your inner strength. In the words of Rumi, “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built.”
It is also a good idea to consider the lessons of the yamas (restraints) and niyamas (observances). By meditating on them you may find answers to your broken heart you would otherwise have missed. Stop and consider what it is that is making you feel hurt over the end of the relationship. Do you miss the happy feeling they gave you? Or do you maybe miss the potential the relationship had? Perhaps you miss being part of a couple? Do you truly mourn the loss of the person themselves? These are important points to consider.
Stop and consider satya (absolute truthfulness). Answer the above questions honestly within yourself, and when you find your answer, meditate on it. It is human nature for our egos to be tied to our connections with others, and so it is understandable to be devastated by the shattering of a connection. The loss of a relationship and the understandable belief that it means we are unwanted, unloved and even unlovable is naturally upsetting, but we need not let it control us. Remember, you have control over how you feel about yourself, and you should love yourself.
Next, practice santosha (contentment). You have people in your life that love you unconditionally. Stop and be grateful for those people. Don’t focus on who you do not have in your life; focus on who you do have. Express gratitude for all the wonderful blessings in your life. By having a grateful spirit amidst heartbreak, you will begin to heal and will keep your heart open in the process.
In the course of healing a broken heart you must also meditate on ishvarapujana (devotion). There is truth to letting go and trusting the universe. When you give love, you get love. You may feel you are being given all the wrong answers, but did you ever consider that perhaps you are asking the wrong questions? In order to find your way, you must know what to look for, and only then will your path be clear.
“Let go or be dragged.” Zen Proverb
There are asanas specifically meant to open and heal the heart. By focusing on your Anahata, or heart chakra, you can bring about healing and stillness rather than hoping it simply comes to you. Beginning with lotus pose with legs crossed and hands resting on your thighs, palms up, take the time to sit, eyes closed, and focus on your breath. Try to time your breathing in synch with your heartbeat. Try visualizing your breath moving from your heart to your lungs. Yoga is all about stillness and breath and the connection to the body, and when you take the time to do nothing but breathe, you bring a calm, centered focus back to your body. If you need to take this time to visualize the source of your heartache, do so, but do so with the intent of releasing them to the universe. Wish them well, wish them peace, and let them go.
Sphinx Pose opens your chest and is meant to help you feel openness in your Anahata. In Sphinx, you lie on your stomach with your legs extended straight out behind you. Your elbows should be under your shoulders, forearms parallel to one another and pointing straight ahead, hands palm-down with all fingers extended. As you inhale, lengthen your spine and lift your head and upper body off the mat. Raise your chin so you are looking straight ahead. Typically this pose is held for one or two minutes before slowing releasing back down to the mat. Repeat if you like, making sure to rise into your Sphinx-like posture on an inhale.
Marjaryasana, Cat Pose, is meant to soften the muscles of your neck and back that could stop you from opening your heart. Raise up onto your hands and knees with your hands directly under your shoulders and your knees square under your hips. Slowly, gently round your back, arching it like a cat. Drop your head and let it hang, heavy and relaxed. Hold for several breaths before returning to your starting position and repeating.
Salabhasana, Locust Pose, helps release blocked emotions. Slowly return to lying on your stomach. Arms should be alongside your torso, palms up, and your forehead should be on your mat. Press your legs together and tuck your tailbone towards your pelvis. On an exhale, slowly lift your head, upper body and legs up off the mat. You should be reaching strongly with your legs, big toes staying together, and your gaze should be forward. Both arms should be raised parallel to the floor and reaching back actively throughout the pose. It is important to keep your neck long and not to jut your chin out. Hold this pose for thirty seconds to one minute before releasing on an exhale. Repeat if you like.
Ustrasana, Camel Pose, opens the heart and stretches the muscles of the chest. Rise up on your knees with your knees hip-width apart and your arms neutral at your sides. Place your hands at the low of your back as though you were tucking your fingertips into the back pockets of your jeans. Keeping your spine long, lean back over your hands, gently arching backwards. Let your head drop backwards as well. If you are able to move beyond this point, go into the full pose by clasping the insides of your ankles with your hands. Keep your neck long and don’t allow your hips to pop forward. In the full pose, your body should form a “D”. Hold this pose for thirty seconds to one minute before slowly returning to neutral.
Balasana, Child’s Pose, is meant to help us surrender to grief and is also a restorative pose between more difficult postures. Kneel on the floor and sit on your heels. Leaving your toes touching, separate your knees to hips-width. On an exhale, lay down over your thighs. Rest your forehead on your mat and lengthen your tailbone away from your pelvis. Your arms should be alongside your torso, hands towards your feet, palms up. For extended Child’s Pose, slowly reach your arms in front of yourself, arms and fingers extended, palms down, leaving your forehead on the mat. Hold for one to three minutes.
Matsyasana, Fish Pose, creates physical space over your heart by opening the intercostals muscles between the ribs. Begin by lying on your back with your knees bent and the soles of your feet flat on the floor or with your legs straight. As you gain experience you will do this pose with your legs in Padmasana. On an inhale, slowly lift your pelvis off the floor and place your hands under your buttocks, palms down. Both hands should stay under your buttocks throughout this pose. Your forearms and elbows should be tucked in alongside your torso. On an inhale, press your forearms and elbows into the floor while pressing your shoulder blades into your back and lifting your upper torso and head off the floor. Once your upper torso is lifted, gently drop your head back. If you arch high enough, your head will touch the floor, but it should never be bearing any weight. You may leave your knees bent or straighten your legs (unless they’re already straight), and if your legs are straight, your thighs should be active and you should be pressing through your heels. Hold for fifteen to thirty seconds.
Finishing your heart-opening series with one more Child’s Pose can be a refreshing finale. From your final Child’s Pose, enter your resting period in Shavasana, or Corpse Pose. Simply lie flat on your back, arms at your sides, palms up, legs straight out but relaxed. Stay in your final pose for several minutes, and take the time to reflect on your heart. If you would like to add to your heart-opening poses, Extended Side Triangle, Upward Bow and Wild Thing also offer benefits to your heart chakra.
When we are faced with heartbreak, we are all tempted to simply shut down and not face the pain of loss. And if we can better protect our hearts from future devastation by shutting down, all the better, or so it may seem. But the reality is that it is far better to open our hearts wide to accept all the good things in store for us. A closed heart means we are not only failing to process our emotions in a healthy manner, it also means we are robbing ourselves of future happiness. Take the time to allow yourself to feel the pain, grieve, and move forward. Practice your heart-opening asanas and remember, we must give love to get love. “Let it come, let it go, let it flow.” (Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal Rinpoche) Namaste.
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