The heart chakra is, unsurprisingly, all about love. But it’s not just romantic love for a partner; it’s also love for yourself. It governs affection, compassion, acceptance, trust, kindness, and especially giving and receiving (we’re not just talking birthday gifts here). In some spiritual practices, it’s the center of spiritual connection, and in chakra diagrams, it’s given the color green—which makes sense, considering that it’s often easier to cultivate those qualities when in nature. (Visualizing green helps if you’re stuck in front of a computer screen all day.)
“We use the expression ‘follow your heart’ a lot, but the job of the heart space isn’t to make decisions—that’s up at the third eye center. Let the heart be the space of receiving and giving love but not the space for discernment,” says Dana Covello, founder of Anusara yoga studio Twisted Trunk Yoga.
The tricky thing about the heart chakra is that, as with all the chakras, it doesn’t reflect only what we’re doing and feeling right now; it also takes into account what we’ve done and felt in our childhoods, early romantic experiences, and other relationships. Which means that opening and strengthening it can require some not-so-comfortable work.
Ready to take it head (and heart) on? Keep reading to find out what you need to know.
Yes, the heart chakra is as important as you think
According to Covello, who has been inspired by the work of Ellen Tadd (author of The Wisdom of the Chakras), “The heart chakra is the center of love, joy, generosity, courage and forgiveness.” It’s not all roses, however: “It can also be a place where we accumulate hurt and disappointment, which is why it can be a place that we protect.”
Since you can’t protect your heart chakra with, say, a coat of armor, you’ve got to learn to strengthen it yourself. “There are great practices to connect [the heart chakra and the third eye], such as breathing into the physical space of the heart and observing the various bodily sensations. But to strengthen the heart chakra, I vote for doing things that delight your heart—whatever they may be for you,” suggests Covello. Which means that you probably already know what would strengthen your heart chakra—but you might not be doing it as often as you should (or would like).
It’s not just about strengthening it—but also opening it up
“When we are blocked—hurt—the body assumes a protective posture to its organs and the breath becomes small and tight,” says Covello. Which, as you may have guessed, is not a good thing. But opening it back up is easier than you think.
“Get the breath moving in an unrestricted way. Think of what your breath feels like when you are in love—with a person, an idea or a place,” she suggests. It’s an easy, big, three-dimensional movement (you should visualize your breath going down into your belly and pelvis and expanding the sides of your ribs), unlike your breathing pattern when you’re afraid, hurt, or anxious. “It’s amazing how our internal state can shift when we move our bodies.”
Where does yoga come in?
“Lots of yoga systems use backbends to metaphorically ‘open the heart,’” says Covello. The midback has the least mobile vertebrae because the ribs are attached there, and their job is to protect the heart and lungs.
“Simple backbends where the body can feel safe and supported are the way to begin. Lying on your back with a block at the back of your shoulder blades and another under your head—or a blanket roll at the bottom tips of your shoulder blades—is a gentle way to connect to that space in the body. The key is to give your body enough support to feel safe to open.” (If you’re new to backbends or they make your back hurt, read this first before assuming the position!)
What about essential oils?
While most aromatherapists don’t take a one-size-fits all to essential oils, rose (surprise!) is the one most commonly associated with the heart and the heart chakra. In addition to being a big skin-booster, rose essential oil is thought to promote love, hope, nurturing, compassion, and an ability to experience more meaningful relationships. Which, whether we’d like to admit it or not, we could all swipe right on.
Struggling with all sorts of emotions stirring in your heart? Here’s how to be angry—without being hateful. And if you’re stressed out, you might want to consider trying this all-natural alternative to Xanax.