What are chakras, and how do they play into emotional and physical feelings?
Chakras are centrally-aligned points throughout the body where our energy flows. Anatomically, they run from the crown chakra at the top of the head, passing through the third eye chakra in the forehead, down the length of the spine, through the throat, heart, solar plexus, and sacral chakras, ending in the root chakra at your feet.
“Sometimes the energy centers can be overactive, where we are outwardly expressing too much emotion from that epicenter,” says Emily Schmookler, CorePower Yoga master trainer. “Sometimes the energy centers can be underactive, where we are unable to express or feel those emotions blocked in that particular epicenter.” Physically, she says these blockages can make the area feel tight or cramped, and lead to physical imbalances. Emotionally, she explains that blocked or overactive chakras can lead us to be closed off, or too expressive in negative ways. “When our chakras are balanced, we feel more clear and easeful, communication is clear and boundaries feel unrestricted,” she says.
To put it more simply? “Think about the chakras as intersections where a massive amount of traffic crosses,” suggests Kino MacGregor, founder of Omstars. “When there’s a traffic jam, it can feel like a stuck emotion or a behavioral rut.”
What’s special about the heart chakra?
While every chakra plays a role in physical wellbeing, possibly the most important emotional energy center is the heart chakra, or Anahata. “The heart chakra is the bridge between our connection to the lower three chakras, representing how we experience the world and how people perceive us, and the upper three chakras representing our connection to the universal divine energy and what roots us in our innate purpose,” Schmookler says. “The heart chakra is the root of how we love, we serve, we give, and receive.”
It’s especially important to keep this area unblocked during stressful times, as the heart chakra sits at the midline of the other six chakras in your body, and plays a role in balancing and enlightening the system as a whole. “The heart chakra is the bridge between our connection to the lower three chakras, representing how we experience the world and how people perceive us, and the upper three chakras representing our connection to the universal divine energy and what roots us in our innate purpose,” Schmookler says. “The heart chakra is the root of how we love, we serve, we give, and receive.”
MacGregor notes that the heart chakra plays a vital role in processing our energy and lifting our thoughts and behaviors towards compassion and kindness. “Once the energy rises to the level of the heart, it will keep rising,” she says.
8 Stretches to Help Open Up Your Heart Chakra
Since the heart chakra plays such an important role in maintaining balance, cultivating compassion, and projecting positivity, it helps to know how to open it up to ensure it’s flowing to the best of its abilities. To help you do just that, MacGregor, Schmookler, and Jeffrey Posner, a New York- and New Jersey-based yoga teacher and the creator of Yoga Framework, share eight stretches to keep top of mind during stressful times, below.
1. Eagle Arms
“Wrap your right elbow under your left, flip your palms in, and hook your hands together or receive shoulders for easeful access,” Schmookler instructs, noting that this opens the back of the heart space and helps to soften the heart. “Switch arms (wrap left elbow under right). Again, this can be expressed in any pose in the lower half of the body and for more shoulder release, lift elbows up in line with shoulders.”
2. Locust Pose
“In a face-down position, ground your legs and hips and lift the trunk taking the spine into extension,” Posner instructs. “Avoid using the hands or arms as leverage against the floor. Then slowly add the legs as a tool to enhance the extension in the spine.” FYI: This is also frequently referred to as Superman pose.
3. Camel Pose
“Start off in a kneeling position,” MacGregor says, noting to align the knees and feet with each other and keep both hip-width apart. “Inhale as you lift your ribs away from your hips and create space between each joint of the spine. Send the pelvis slightly forward as you engage your back muscles. Exhale and bring your hands back behind you. Place the palms on the soles of the feet, fingers pointed towards the toes. Internally rotate the shoulders, drop the head gently back and gaze at the noise.” Once in position, stay for five deep breaths before releasing one vertebra at a time.
4. Half or Full Binds
You can do binds sitting with one leg bent or standing in a side angle. Whichever you choose, Schmookler says to sweep your top arm (read: the arm opposite from the bent leg) behind you, reaching for the top of your bent thigh. This simple reaching motion is a half bind. For a full bind, she says to reach your other arm (the one aligned with your bent leg) underneath that thigh, reaching for your other hand. “Once in the lock, pull your hands apart and rotate your chest upward for a deep heart opening,” she instructs.
5. Cobra Pose
“Start off lying on your stomach,” MacGregor instructs, noting to point the feet and align the legs hip width apart. “Engage the thighs and soften the glutes. Inhale as you lift the rib cage away from the hips and come up on to your elbows. Place the elbows on the ground slightly in front of the shoulders. Elongate the neck and gaze towards the nose.” From there, she says to send your sternum up and forward, extending your arms if you wish. Whether you stay on your elbows or extend to your hands, breathe in your final pose for five full breaths before lowering back down.
6. Chest expansion
“Interlace all of your fingers behind your back, press your grip towards the floor to bolster your heart space up,” Schmookler says, noting that this can also be explored in a forward fold. To do so, maintain your grip and fold forward.
7. Fish / Supported Fish
“To perform a supported fish, lie down on your back and place a block, bolster, or book under your shoulders to bolster your chest up,” Schmookler says. “This is a gentle and sweet opening for the heart center.” For full fish, she says to start from a seated position and extend your legs forward in front of you. “Walk your palms behind your glutes, point your fingers towards your glutes, and lower onto your forearms,” she instructs. “Kiss your shoulder blades together and allow your head to look up and back.” If your head feels unstable, you can prop it on a block.
8. Puppy pose
“Start off on your hands and knees in a Tabletop Pose,” MacGregor says, noting that your hands and legs should be shoulder and hip width apart. “Slowly walk the hands forward until your chest reaches towards the ground. Lift the ribs away from the hips. Place either the forehead or the sternum on the ground, depending which is more accessible and comfortable for you. Close your eyes and stay for five breaths.”
MacGregor wants us all to remember: “To strengthen the heart chakra requires a deep intimacy with whatever woundedness you carry. It is not possible to truly energize the heart if we are unwilling to be vulnerable.”
For more ways to keep your heart chakra open, follow along with this flow:
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