Practices to Heal your Heart + Deepen your Love
Seven years ago I lost my brother to suicide, and every February I start to feel the squeeze of grief in my heart. Often, I feel it in my body before I realize the date- even when the mind forgets, the body remembers. But we ALL experience death and loss in our lives, whether it is the physical death of a loved one or the loss of a relationship or even a job/home. There are many sides of grief- the vulnerability, the anger and the painful fear of loss. These strong emotions live in the heart chakra and can often be suppressed because they feel overwhelming. But it is important to honor our emotions and give ample time and attention for the grieving process. We become courageous by experiencing the pain of death and grief and choosing to love again. Rumi says, "Our task is not to seek for love but merely to search out and find all the barriers within ourselves that we have built against it."
These heart chakra healing practices have helped me to grieve and to open my heart to more love. I hope they can help you too.
This meditation is rooted in the Buddhist tradition and is a practice of sending compassion and loving-kindness to ourselves and others. It can be done in 5-15 minutes or longer if you wish!
Take a few moments to get comfortable seated or lying down. Focus on your breath as you relax your body- your face, arms, legs, hips and torso. When you are ready, start to imagine a dear friend, loved one or benefactor. Bring the image of this person into your mind and gaze into their eyes. Mentally repeat these phrases to them:
May you be filled with loving-kindness.
May you be peaceful and at ease.
May you be happy and joyful.
May you know love.
Now bring the image of a neutral person to mind, someone you don’t have strong feelings for or against, maybe someone you see everyday on your commute or at a coffee shop. Picture them in your mind and send them the phrases above.
Continuing to expand to others, begin to picture a person that you have a difficult relationship with, someone with whom you feel tension. Imagine them in front of you and gaze into their eyes as you offer them the phrases. Notice if you start to feel tense or if this feels inauthentic, try to be patient with yourself. Allow the difficult emotions to come and receive them with friendliness.
Next, expanding your energy outwards to ALL BEINGS and send them the phrases. Knowing that you are included in this group send the phrases to yourself as well. It might feel good or even uncomfortable to send loving kindness to yourself, but try to picture yourself as you are today or even as a child or during a time when you felt vulnerable. Practice RECEIVING this love from yourself, it is deeply healing.
You can practice for as little or as long as you like- do what feels right each day. If it feels difficult at first, you can just start with yourself or one person, cater the practice to how you feel and the time you have. Remember, a little each day adds up to a lot! There is no right or wrong way to do this practice, so feel free to explore with different people and phrases. I also like these guided meditations by Jillian Pransky and Tara Brach.
During the time of my brother’s death, I was in an advanced yoga teacher training. I was introduced to restorative yoga and was immediately drawn to the practice because of how safe it made me feel and also because of the many physical benefits. I commited to utilize this practice daily to feel grounded and nourished. Grief does not just affect us in an emotional way, but we also feel the pain physically, which can result cause tension. Restorative yoga invokes the parasympathetic nervous system, (also known as the “rest and digest” system). When in this system, the body produces hormones like serotonin and melatonin, allowing us to rest, relax physical tension and also create space for our feelings, sensations and thoughts. We practice mindfulness while being supported by props and creating a safe environment to just be without anything to “do or fix or change”. This practice has been deeply healing for me. There are many resources you can find for guided restorative practices, as well as classes at a local studio. When first starting out, I chose to practice one pose everyday for about 5-20 minutes, at home. You can practice this very gentle chest opener described below:
Props: One yoga blanket and bolster (If you don’t have yoga props you can substitute the yoga blanket with a firm blanket or beach towel and the bolster with a bed pillow)
- To support your back, fold your blanket in half vertically, so the fringes lineup, then roll it up about halfway. Place the blanket on the mat so the fringes line up with the edge of the mat
To support under your thighs, place the bolster horizontally across the mat, so it is in line with the bottom edge of your mat.
Sit facing the bolster with your seat on the mat, then lay back over the blanket roll so that the roll is just underneath the armpits, and supports across the shoulder blades. Your shoulders, arms and head should make contact with the mat. If your head or shoulders feel lifted, unroll the blanket for less height. Take your arms out to a T shape above the roll.
Drape your legs over the bolster so it supports your thighs and behind the knee with the heels on the mat.
If you are feeling anxious, cover yourself with a blanket and place your hands on your body for more grounding
Take a few moments to get comfortable and make adjustments. Then focus on your breath and mentally scan your body and imagine releasing any tension as you exhale. If the mind starts to drift, gently bring your attention back to your breath. Visualize releasing your body weight into the ground, let yourself be supported by the earth. Stay for 5-20 minutes, as much time as you need. Remember, even a small amount of time can be very healing. The more we practice resting, the deeper we will relax and the easier relaxation will come, be patient and know there is no “right or wrong” way to feel during this practice.
These simple practices helped me through a difficult time in my life and I continue to use them to this day. Whether you are actively grieving or just want to open your heart more to yourself and others, I hope they will help you too.