Developing the Practice of Love
“Love is an ability that improves with practice. Every drop of love is sacred. Every impulse of love moves us in the direction of unity.” ~David Simon
The world needs more love and most of us could probably use a little more love in our lives. We do not need to look far because we already have all the love we need deep inside of us. We each have an infinite capacity for love because underneath all of the layers of conditioning, love is our essential nature. The tricky part is accessing this inner love and allowing it to flow effortlessly into our lives and the lives of others.
Meditation and yoga can help us move through constriction and release old limitations, allowing us to radiate the light of love to all those around us. Here are two practices you can use to develop an open heart and let your love flow.
Begin by finding a place where you can sit quietly without outside disturbances. In a comfortable seated position, close your eyes and take several full, deep breaths. As you begin to feel more settled, bring your attention to the area of your physical heart. In yogic teachings, this is the location of the heart chakra, also known as the Anahata. A chakra is an energy center that serves as a junction point between the body and consciousness.
As you deepen into meditation, use your mind’s eyes to see your heart slowly expanding. With each breath you take, allow your heart to expand a little more. Allow your heart to continue to expand and begin to encompass the people you know and love. Continue to expand it even more until it can embrace the whole world. Take a few minutes – or longer – to rest in this nourishing energy, and then slowly open your eyes. Sit quietly for a few more moments to integrate this healing experience.
Take the time to listen to the wisdom of your heart during meditation and throughout the day. Allow this wisdom to guide you into a higher expression of love.
Cultivating your ability to love and to be loved is a lifelong process. By slowly opening your heart, you allow love to flow through you. And as you bring more love into your life, you will become comfortable with loving yourself, loving others, and being loved. You will begin to recognize that love is your natural state.
The ancient wisdom tradition of yoga offers practices that prepare the mind and heart to release what is not useful and to open to that which is. Since body, breath, and mind are intimately connected, practices that enliven one dimension influence the others. Therefore, we want to begin with a set of heart-opening movements, known as asanas.
Asana is a Sanskrit word that means “seat.” What is typically known as yoga today in the Western world is a system of postures that enhance the body’s flexibility, balance, and strength. The primary purpose of these poses is to create such ease in the body that the mind is able to expand. If you are carrying tension in your neck, pain in your shoulders, or stiffness in your lower back, it will be difficult for your mind to go beyond thoughts of discomfort when you close your eyes and look within. Therefore, taking time to open your body in preparation for opening your heart is worthwhile.
Practice these seven heart-opening poses at a level of intensity that reflects your self-nurturing intention. Forcing or straining while performing your stretches usually inhibits rather than fosters release. Enter into each pose with your full awareness, moving to the point of resistance, not pain. With your eyes closed, allow yourself to feel the tension in your muscles with each posture, but do not go beyond this point into discomfort. Breathing consciously, soften your body with each outflow of your breath, surrendering into the resistance rather than forcing your way through it.
Perform these seven poses in sequence, with the intention for your body to open in preparation for deep emotional release. Move through each posture with appreciation and respect for your body. Honoring the wisdom of your body by listening to its signals of comfort and discomfort enrolls its support in accessing, mobilizing, and releasing toxic emotions. If you have a known injury or physical limitation, perform these postures with great sensitivity. If you have any doubt about whether you can do a pose comfortably, you can skip it.
1. Sky to Earth Pose
It is best to perform this pose in a standing position, but you may choose to do it from a seated position if necessary. Begin by bringing your palms and fingers together in “prayer” position, feeling your thumbs gently touching the area of your heart. Close your eyes and take several slow, deep breaths.
Very gradually, begin moving both hands upwards. When they reach about forehead level, interlace your fingers while continuing to raise your hands over your head. When your arms are fully extended, rotate your wrists outward while your fingers remain entwined.
Continue extending with your arms, shoulders, and spine, arching up and backwards, feeling the stretch in your chest and abdomen. Look up at your interlaced fingers. If you feel you can maintain your balance, rise up onto your toes to complete the full extension.
While slowly exhaling, begin flexing your body as you fold forward, bringing your arms down and relaxing your neck. Gradually collapse through your upper, middle, and lower back, walking your hands down your thighs, moving your outstretched hands towards your feet. It is not important whether or not you can touch your feet.
When you have flexed forward as far as you can, close your eyes and relax into this position, slowly inhaling and exhaling for several breaths. With each outflow of your breath, soften through your neck, back, shoulders, and hips.
As you inhale, gently raise yourself upright, again lifting both arms over your head, stretching as far upwards as you comfortably can. Again, rise up onto your toes if you feel you can maintain your balance. Complete the pose by slowly returning your hands to the level of your heart.
2. Swaying Palm Pose
Begin this second posture in the same manner as the Sky to Earth pose, with both of your hands together at the level of your heart. Again stretch upwards until you are fully extended. Slowly begin to arch your body to the left, stretching through your arms, shoulder, side, and hip. Hold the arch, breathing into the stretch with slow, deep breaths, lengthening with each exhalation.
Slowly return to an upright position, and then gradually arch your body to the right, stretching through your left shoulder, side, and hip. Inhale and exhale, gently lengthening your stretch with each outflow of your breath. Slowly return to an upright position and then slowly lower your arms.
3. Pelvis-Opening Pose
This next pose enlivens awareness in the body’s second energy center or chakra. This site is classically associated with primitive emotions, sexuality, and creativity. Because of the powerful messages many young girls often receive about “keeping their legs together,” this pose can sometimes awaken strong feelings and images. Perform it in a safe setting where you can explore the emotions and pieces of information that emerge.
Lying on your back, place both hands over your heart. Bring your knees up so the soles of your feet are on the floor. Now slowly lower your knees toward the floor, opening at your hips. Open to the point where you feel tension, then gently pull your ankles towards your groin. Breathe deeply into your pelvic region while maintaining your awareness in your hips. Without straining, relax and release with each exhalation.
Repeat this process several times, gently releasing further with each opening. Then, slowly extend your knees and rest on your back.
4. Pelvic Lift Pose
Lying on your back, bend your knees and plant your feet on the floor. Reach with outstretched arms towards your feet, holding your ankles with your hands. If you cannot reach your ankles, place your palms on the floor with your fingers pointing towards your heels. Keeping the back of your head on the floor, lift your pelvis up in the air, stretching through your chest and abdomen. Take several slow, deep breaths in and out through your nose.
Slowly lower your bottom to the floor and then repeat the movement, lifting up your hips while stretching through your midsection. After several more slow deep breaths, lower yourself to the floor and extend your legs.
5. Cobra Pose
Lying on your stomach, place your hands on the floor under your shoulders. Predominantly using your back muscles, lift your chest off the floor. Use your hands to provide support while you inhale. Stretch and extend through your neck, even raising your eyes upwards as if trying to see the top of your head. Take several slow, deep breaths, then gradually lower your chest to the floor. Repeat this pose several times.
6. Open Twist Pose
Lying on your back, stretch out both arms to your sides at right angles to your body. Bend your left knee and bring your left foot over your right leg, placing it on the floor next to your right knee. While your lower spine and pelvis are twisting to the right, turn your head and neck to the left, feeling the stretch through your spine. Take several slow breaths, releasing further into the pose with each exhalation.
Return to midline, with both legs on the floor. Then, bending your right knee, place your right foot across your left leg next to your left knee. While rotating your lower body to the left, turn your head to the right, again feeling the stretch throughout the spine while taking slow, deep breaths. Return to resting position with both legs extended on the floor.
7. Child’s Pose
This final pose promotes safety and centering in preparation for inner exploration. Beginning on your belly, bring your knees up with your legs and ankles together. Leaning forward, slowly flex at the waist until your chest is resting on your thighs and your forehead is on the floor.
Stretch your arms over your head in front of you and take several slow, deep breaths. Then bring your arms back towards your ankles until they are resting alongside your legs. Feel the movement of your chest on your knees as you slowly inhale and exhale with awareness. Remain in this position for several minutes, noticing your thoughts and sensations.
Note: This sequence of heart-opening yoga poses is extracted from the bestselling book
Free to Love, Free to Heal, by Dr. David Simon.