Valentine’s Day is a Great Reminder to take care of our hearts.
Many people think that you need to do vigorous cardiovascular exercise to work up a sweat and get your pulse racing for heart health. Yoga offers another approach with gentle exercise and easy meditation.
According to Swami Satyananda Saraswati, a leading expert on yoga therapy, the stress of holding negative emotions such as fear, anxiety, unresolved emotional, marital or employment conflicts can adversely affect the heart. In addition, common physical maladies such as chronic constipation and overtaxing digestion can also lead to heart problems. The ancient sages came up with ways to keep the heart chakra, or energy center, open using yoga poses.
The epitome of having an open heart would be someone like Mother Teresa, whose heart was big enough to love and care for the poorest of the poor. She thought the worst poverty was being unwanted, uncared for, unloved and forgotten by everybody. We can all open our hearts by showing kindness to each other. This can be as simple as telling someone you appreciate them or smiling at a stranger on the street. “Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing,” said Mother Teresa.
There are also gentle exercises you can do. The physical exercises will expand your chest and increase your lung capacity. The meditations will calm your mind and release sadness, impatience, frustration, anger and other negative emotions that can be hard on your heart.
Sit on the very front of your chair with your feet flat on the floor. Imagine that you are a beautiful flower, opening your petals to the sun. Inhale and open your arms to the sides and behind you, reaching up and arching slightly back with your spine. Exhale and cross your arms, holding your shoulder blades or whatever part of your body you can reach. Repeat 4-5 times.
Imagine you are standing at the prow of a ship like Kate Winslet in Titanic. Inhale, reach your arms behind you and interlace your fingers, lifting the sternum up and the hands away from your buttocks. Keep the neck long. This exercise can be done standing—just do not overarch your spine.
Seated variation 1: As you inhale, reach for the back of your chair and pull your chest forward and up. Exhale and relax. Repeat 1-2 times.
Seated variation 2: Inhale as you push down on your seat and lift the sternum. Keep the neck long. Exhale and relax. Repeat 1-2 times.
In a 9-year randomized control study by the National Institutes of Health, patients with coronary heart disease who practiced meditation had nearly 50 percent lower rates of heart attack, stroke and death compared to the non-meditating group.
There are many easy meditation techniques. Here’s one to try: Find a quiet space and simply sit still. You can begin with 3 to 5 minutes daily, then work up to 20 minutes. Don’t worry if your mind wanders. Just continue the practice, observing your breath, sensations and thoughts.
For a different easy meditation experience, try the Open Heart meditation. Take at least 15 minutes for this meditation. Sit or lie down in a comfortable position and relax completely. Let your breath become soft and smooth. Feel your heart beating. Allow it to brim with joy, experiencing the sheer ecstasy of being alive. Now fill your heart with love. Let your love pour from your heart, permeating every fiber of your being. Let it fill your ribs, your belly, your arms and legs and head. Let it spill into the space surrounding your body. Then let it flow to the people you live with or know. Now let it radiate to the people in your town, city and state. Let your love expand to fill the whole country, then the entire world. Let your love soar to the sun and moon and stars. Let the love in your heart reach the vastness of space. Now feel the love you created come back to you. Rest and enjoy this experience.