My latest post for Conscious2 is right here. It is about looking after your lovely heart.
A holiday for your heart
Here is what I vote: I vote we make Valentine’s Day a holiday for your heart. And by that, I mean let’s give your heart the sweetest, tenderest care we can. Let’s see if we can give ourselves the day off from worrying and doing all the things we think we should, or feeling the ways we imagine we should. Instead, how about we have a restful time, full of gentleness and lovely things? Mmhm. I think that sounds nice. If you do, too, I have assembled a care package that you can give your heart—or offer someone you love, for theirs. I have found each of these things to be supremely helpful and healing in their own special ways, and I am happy to share them with you. Here they are.
Having a cup of tea can be one of life’s simplest and most soothing experiences, in and of itself, and Hawthorn tea is especially good for your heart. Made from hawthorn berries, this tea is a very old healing remedy which is said to improve cardiovascular function and ease hypotension, as well as reduce cholesterol and ease tension in the chest.
You could follow Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh’s suggestion to let your tea-making be a meditative experience, where you’re really contemplating what’s actually going on in your cup; you see that the water used to be a cloud, and that same cloud was once the sea… and maybe through this, you feel your perception of yourself as limited to just your body shift a little, as your consciousness melts into something far larger. That would be quite a cup of tea.
Making mudras is like doing yoga with your fingers; a mudra is a special way of holding the hands to stimulate the flow of prana (life force) through the body’s energetic channels, just as you would in a physical asana practice, only here you’re sitting still and noticing a very subtle rebalancing of the body and mind. My favorite mudra for the heart is the Ganesh mudra, as outlined in Gertrude Hersch’s excellent book, Mudras: Yoga in Your Hands. This is a heart-strengthening mudra, and it’s a great way to start the day if you’re feeling vulnerable or wobbly; it’s good for heartache and times when you’re feeling like your confidence could do with a boost. In Hinduism, Ganesh is the deity associated with removing obstacles along yourpath, and a positive, full-blooded energy. Here’s how you do Ganesh mudra:
Start by holding your left hand in front of your chest at heart-level, palm facing outwards, fingers bent. Grab hold of your left hand with your right, with the back ofyour right hand facing outwards. As you exhale, draw your hands apart without letting go of the grip. This engages the muscles in your chest and upper arms. As you inhale, release the tension. Do this six times, and then gently place both hands on your heart for a moment or two. Then you’ll repeat this six times on the other side, so your right palm is now facing outwards. Take time to sit quietly afterwards.
I consider stones to be a big part of my healing practice. Sometimes I use them in an active way, placing them on the body during restorative poses, and other times I just like to have them in my pocket as I go about my day. Each type of crystal is thought to have its own energetic vibration, and this can have a harmonizing effect on the body.
The very loveliest stone for the heart is rose quartz. You can tell by the color—rose quartz is a beautiful, opaque pink stone and feels soothing just to look at. And its effect on the heart is equally soft. It is a gentle stone. Place it on your heart as you lay down and breathe deeply, lengthening your exhale (this calms the nervous system). If your mind is bouncing around, place a nice piece of amethyst slightly above and between your eyebrows. To support a grounded, rooted feeling of love and wellbeing in your body, place carnelian about a hand’s width below the belly button. See if you can let go of any gripping you feel in any of your muscles, however tiny, and release anything that’s weighing you down. Pink tourmaline is considered a “super activator” (!) of the heart chakra, encouraging compassion and also gentleness during times of personal growth; try keeping a piece on your nightstand and see how that feels.
Essential oils are extracted from plants according to traditional healing wisdom. To support serenity in your heart, I recommend Geranium, Sandlewood, Neroli, Ylang Ylang and Rose oils. Try dabbing a tiny drop directly on your sternum, or popping a few drops in a diffuser.
Lovingkindness meditation is like meditation in a hug form. That’s not to say it’s easy, exactly. But the peacefulness it instills in your heart can be profound. Lovingkindness meditation in its full form is usually practiced with a number of different people in mind; a teacher or loved one, someone who is suffering, someone you don’t know well, someone you have difficulty with, and then all beings. The particular variation I’d like to recommend here can be found in Thich Nhat Hanh’s beautiful book, Love, and he recommends you begin by practicing it just with yourself, for as long as many days or weeks or months as you need, before you go anywhere else with it; coming home to yourself before you go anywhere is always a good call. Sitting in a comfortable meditation posture, you gently say these phrases to yourself, letting their meaning arrive in its own way:
May I learn to look at myself with the eyes of understanding and love.May I be able to recognize and touch the seeds of joy and happiness in myself.May I learn to identify and see the sources of anger, craving and delusion in myself.
I like to add in at the end, May I meet myself where I am.
The key to all the practices I’ve mentioned is to offer them to yourself wherever you are, and however you’re feeling. You don’t need to be a “good yogi” to feel their benefits, or in terrible emotional or physical trouble to really “need” them. They are just there for you. And the more well and full and happy we are feeling in ourselves, the more we can be there for others, to offer our love and support. Happy Heart Day.