Meditation for balancing heart chakra

The heart chakra, or anahata, represents the center of love, compassion, empathy and forgiveness. A healthy alignment of heart chakra will make us feel surrounded by love, compassion and joy. We are open to all experiences in life. We can see all the goodness and love around us. We can truly accept and connect to ourselves and others.

On the other hand, a blocked heart chakra will bring dysfunctional relationships in which the person may find it hard to develop and keep healthy relationships with oneself and others. Other signs of the heart chakra being blocked include excessive social isolation, frequent feelings of loneliness and jealousy, being overly defensive and difficulty in trusting others.

Keeping a balanced chakra is important for our physical and mental well-being. To balance the heart chakra, we can practise chest-opening yoga poses such as camel pose (Ushtrasana) and upward bow pose (Urdhva Dhanurasana). On a daily basis, we can also practise gratitude and meditation to change our mental habits. In this blog, I would like to share with you the loving kindness meditation exercise that I have learnt from the book “Search Inside Yourself” written by Chade-Meng Tan.

 

Just like me and loving kindness meditation

(adapted from “Search Inside Yourself”)

  1. Sit in a comfortable position. Start with 2 minutes to rest the mind on the breath.
  2. Bring to mind somebody you care about. Visualize him or her.
  3. Begin “Just like me” meditation on this person as the object:

This person has a body and a mind, just like me.
This person has feelings, emotions and thoughts, just like me.
This person has experienced sadness, disappointment, anger or confusion before, just like me.
This person has suffered physical and emotional pain before, just like me.
This person wishes to be free from pain and suffering, just like me.
This person wishes to be healthy and loved, and to have fulfilling relationships, just like me.
This person wishes to be happy, just like me.

Now, practise loving kindness by allowing some wishes to arise:

I wish for this person to have the strength, the resources, and the emotional and social support to navigate the difficulties in life.
I wish for this person to be free from pain and suffering.
I wish for this person to be happy.
Because this person is a fellow human being, just like me.
Now, I wish for everybody I know to be happy.
(Long pause)

End with 1 minute of resting the mind.

This practice is useful to heal relationships in any situation. I like to use this practice to manage my relationships in life. For this to work, I have also consciously made some changes in my mental habits.

  • Choose kindness

Remind myself I have the choice to become a kind person. When you give people kindness, it is more likely for you to receive kindness from others. I choose to be kind because I want to make the world a better place to live. There is no need to judge or harm others. Everyone has their own struggles and difficulties in life. We come to the world to help each other grow to become a better and kinder person.

  • Surrender your ego

When interacting with people, I always remind myself to put away the ‘self’. Forget our ego, our interests and even our own problems. Instead, choose to focus the attention on the person in front of us, listen to understand them, talk to offer our empathy and kindness to them.

  • Practise gratitude

Remind myself to be grateful for every person I have met and every experience that has occurred in my life. Without the rain, I wouldn’t have learnt to appreciate the sun. Learn to see the goodness in every person and experience. The unpleasant people or experience are there to teach us life lessons, to serve as a mirror for ourselves and more importantly, to help evolve ourselves to become a better person.  

  • Success from other people only shows us what is possible

Jealousy is one of the sins that prevent us from attaining happiness in life. Do not get jealous over other people’s success because each of us has the opportunity to rise and shine in our fields by hard work and determination. Other people’s success only shows us what is possible within us. This is something to inspire us and to motivate us.

Lastly, it takes time to transform our mental habits. As long as we are willing to take the first step to change, be aware of each of our thoughts, actions and words, we will slowly evolve to become a better person.

 

With love,

Wei Li

My yoga journey

A life-changing practice

What was your first impression of yoga? When I first started yoga, I took it as a leisure activity that moved my body with some stretching and balancing poses. Nothing too physically demanding or aggressive. This was just nice for me, being a couch potato, who never liked doing any kind of sports. Nonetheless, I am kept being reminded of how a sedentary lifestyle can increase the risks of getting chronic diseases. Therefore, I am so thankful to have found yoga as my go-to exercise in my early twenties.

I like the soothing effects of the simple stretching and twisting poses on my body, the training of focus that brings me the mental and emotional steadiness when practising balancing poses, and how I become more relaxed during each yoga practice. As I progress with my practice, my body becomes more and more flexible. Moving on with more difficult poses, I sometimes ask myself if I am doing the poses correctly to get the benefits out of my practice?

Yoga is not all about the poses. I remember how I enjoyed my first pranayama practice as I managed to unblock my nose with the alternate nostril breathing technique, bringing me a smoother breath and a calmer mind. I remember how I was impressed by the Shanti Mantra when I first heard of it in a yoga class. It was a beautiful chant with the subtle vibration in the air.

Soon, I realized I want to learn more about yoga. I want to learn the correct alignment to prevent any injury and maximize the benefits as I hope to practise yoga for the rest of my life. I also want to learn yoga as a whole, not just the poses, but also the fundamental anatomy knowledge and spiritual aspects. With a leap of faith, I signed up for the 200-hr yoga teacher training course in Tirisula Yoga. Before the training, I was so worried about it as I never learnt headstand and any arm balance poses before. Now, we have come to nearly the end of the training and I know I won’t regret of my decision to join the training. The course has been a holistic personal development that works on my body and mind.

Throughout the training, in order to strengthen my body, I have become more self-disciplined to do body workout. Instead of only doing the exercise during my free time, I will make sure I have spared some time to work on my body daily. I also make time to do meditation and breathing exercise at home in order to reap the benefits from consistent practice. The yoga practice has also increased my self-awareness to maintain a good body posture, manage my facial expression and control my eating habits.

In the past, I always avoided practising  inversion pose as I was not used to going upside down and I did not see any benefits of doing so. On the first day of the training, we were asked to do headstand. I am glad I get to learn this beautiful pose as it teaches me lessons more than just going upside down. I have learnt to let go of my fear. Taken from our studio motto, ‘The body achieves what the mind believes’. Sometimes, we just need to let go of our fear and push ourselves out of the comfort zone to overcome the challenges. If you think your body cannot do it, you will easily give up after a few attempts. If you think you can do it, nothing from your mind can hold you back and you will become so determined to turn your body upside down.

Having said that, there were physical limitations that I had to overcome in order to do this pose. I realized my core was too weak and I never learnt how to engage my core. For this, I have focused on abdominal workout to strengthen my core. By learning how to engage my muscles in headstand, I get to control my muscles in this unusual position of going upside down. Together with the controlled breathing we learnt in our pranayama practice, this somehow gives me a sense of gaining control in life, especially during this difficult period of pandemic.

The yoga teacher training also greatly boosts my self-confidence through teaching. For someone who is not comfortable with public speaking, I am thankful to have this opportunity to get to practise teaching in class. By practising backbend such as camel and wheel pose, the physical action of opening my chest has somehow prompted me to mentally open my heart as well. I am more inclined to accept others and focus on bringing kindness to others.

Last but not least, I have also started to do a lot of self-reflection after learning the yoga philosophy in class. I started to think what kind of person I want to become. After learning the concept of ‘desire’, I started to find my motivation to work toward my goals. I also learnt the importance of keeping momentum in every aspect of our life, whether it is daily workout, meditation, or pursuit of knowledge.

 

With love,
Wei Li

How yoga improves my self-awareness

In yoga, we learn to pay our attention to the body when performing a variety of yoga poses, whether our back is lengthened or rounded, our chest is opened or collapsed, our core is actively engaged or relaxed, our hips are squared or slanted, our pelvis is tilted anterior or posterior, our feet are in a dorsiflexion or plantar flexion position, our fingers are relaxing or actively stretching, and where our eyes are resting. Practising yoga not only increases my body awareness for improved body posture, it also increases my awareness in managing my facial expression and eating habits. In this post, I would like to share with you how practising yoga has promoted my awareness in these three aspects which are so important in our daily life.

Maintaining a good body posture

One of my favourite yoga poses is wheel pose or alternatively known as upward bow pose. This deep backbend and chest opening pose allows the spine to be stretched backward, counteracting the usual hunched body posture. Most other sitting or standing yoga poses also require us to open the chest and lengthen the spine. After practising yoga for some time, I have become more aware of my body posture when I am walking or sitting in front of the desk. To keep a good body posture, it takes awareness to contract my back muscles for straightening the back and roll my shoulders back for opening the chest. Having a good posture not only makes me look taller, but also improves my confidence. Mentally, with the chest opened, I feel my heart is opened as well. I have learnt to open up myself more to accept others and focus on bringing kindness to them.

Managing the facial expression

How often do we pay attention to our facial expression when interacting with others? There was one time in a yoga practice, when being asked to relax the space between our eyebrows during the relaxation stage, I realized I had been frowning unknowingly for no reason. I also tend to blink my eyes excessively during public speaking probably because I am too nervous. Realizing facial expression which is a part of the body language can determine how people interpret us, I started to put more attention on managing my facial expression. Starting from relaxing the space between my eyebrows, I go on to relax my face, smile more and focus my eyes in one direction. I believe the facial expression also reflects our mental state. By managing our facial expression, not only this can make people become more comfortable to interact with us, but also regulate our emotions.

Practising mindful eating habits

Healthy diet and exercise go hand-in-hand to nurture and shape our body. Additionally, the yogic diet encourages sattvic foods which are foods that are eaten fresh and natural or lightly cooked for a clear and calm mind. I was so used to eating excessively hot and heavily spiced foods which can overstimulate the body and mind. I frequently experienced stomach discomfort and breakout on my face on top of the restless state of my mind. After learning about the yogic diet, I always remind myself not to eat so much spicy food and avoid stimulants of all kinds. For example, I will opt for an egg prata instead of my usual egg and onion combination for this delicious local dish. Most importantly, I consciously remind myself not to overeat. Due to the constant stress in my study and work, I had been overeating for a long time as I wrongly took eating as a form of self-love by feeding myself all the foods that I was tempted to eat and as a reward for my hard work. During the yoga training, I could literally feel the heaviness in my body when trying to lift myself up in certain poses. I have since made some changes to my eating habits to avoid overeating.

  • Slow down the pace when eating: This is because our brain needs at least 20 minutes to catch up with the status of our stomach. In the past, I always finished my meal in 10 minutes and looked for more small bites to fill my stomach. After I have consciously slowed down my pace when eating, I can easily get full after just one meal without additional foods.
  • Be aware of the way you check in with yourself after eating: After each meal, instead of asking ‘Do you still have room for desserts or small bites?’, I find it better to ask ‘Are you feeling full now?’. Surprisingly, the answer is always yes to me.
  • Think carefully before ordering food: It is always tempting to buy a set meal that comes with a main course and a dessert or some side dishes to get the best deal from the menu. After knowing that I may overeat from this action, now I will choose to buy only the main course first. I will buy the dessert later when I truly feel hungry after having finished my main course.
  • Know the body conditions associated with your appetite: I get most hungry when the temperature is cold, especially when I am doing paperwork in an air-conditioned room. I also tend to eat more if I don’t get enough sleep the night before. It seems like my body is trying to fill the energy gap from my lack of sleep by eating more foods to keep me awake. Therefore, to prevent myself from overeating, I will ensure myself getting enough sleep by going to bed early and avoid working long hours in an air-conditioned room. I also realized I don’t feel hungry easily when I am doing certain exercises such as yoga and Pilates. This is probably because my senses and attention are focused on coordinating the body movements but not the hungry signal from my body. Therefore, exercise is a good way to burn my calories and suppress my appetite to prevent overeating at the same time.

Having said that, it is also important to satisfy our cravings from time to time. The key is to not develop a habit of overeating as this can lead to undesired consequences on our health such as obesity and diabetes. Our demand for food also changes with our age and body condition. Therefore, it is good to consciously check in with ourselves every time how much food is truly needed by our body.

 

With love,
Wei Li

Ah, the almighty backbend

Upward Bow Pose – Urdhva Dhanurasana

I still remember the first time I was introduced to upward bow pose during my Ashtanga Yoga class last year. Lying on my back, I tried to figure out the pose by observing other students. All of a sudden, the young lady next to me swiftly pressed herself all the way up and stayed firmly in the pose. The way she powerfully rose up and held the pose like a majestic mountain left me with astonishment until today. What a beautiful pose with the perfect curve of a bow shape! If you ask me what is one pose that embodies strength and flexibility, this is the pose.

Benefits of upward bow pose

As a deep backbend and chest opening practice, upward bow pose, or commonly known as wheel pose, is helpful to improve our overall health in modern life. With long hours spent sitting at the desk for work or study, we tend to lean the body forward, drop the shoulders and hunch the back. This can lead to undesired consequences such as bad posture, muscle tension, back pain and restricted breathing. While the good practice is to keep your self-awareness in maintaining a good body posture, practising backbend to stretch the spine in opposite direction proves to be a good way to counteract the hunched or slouched body posture. Not only upward bow pose can improve spinal mobility, it also strengthens the arms, shoulders, abdomen and legs. You can also benefit from the energy boost by practising this pose. Spiritually, by opening the chest, upward bow pose can help to activate heart chakra which serves as our center of love, compassion, empathy and forgiveness.

Anatomical movement and muscles involved

  • Hip extension and adduction
    – Stretch all the muscles in the front side of the body by eccentric contraction (i.e. lengthening) of rectus abdominis, iliopsoas and quadriceps
    – Strengthen all the muscles in the back side of the body by concentric contraction (i.e. shortening) of erector spinae, quadratus lumborum and hamstrings
    – Concentric contraction of magnus, one of the inner thigh muscles
  • Shoulder external rotation
    – Concentric contraction of infraspinatus and teres minor (Note: Tightness of subscapularis can limit this movement)
    – Eccentric contraction of latissimus dorsi and pectoralis major
  • Posterior pelvic tilt

How to get into the pose?

  1. Begin by lying on your back. Bend your knees perpendicular to the floor. Make sure feet are parallel and hip width apart. Bend your elbows and place your palms on the floor next to the ears with elbows pointing up.
  2. Press your feet into the floor and lift your hips up. Keep your thighs and feet parallel. Then, firmly press the hands into the floor and lift your shoulders up, leaving the crown of your head on the floor. Keep your arms parallel.
  3. Press your feet and hands into the floor. Lift your head up off the floor and straighten the arms. Gaze at your nose tip or in between the eyebrows. Stay in the pose for 5 breaths.
  4. To exit the pose, bend you elbows and tuck your chin into your chest. Slowly lower down your body. Follow up with a counterpose such as hugging knees to chest or seated forward bend (Paschimottanasana).

Tips 

  • Splaying knees and feet to the side will compress the lower back. To keep your knees and feet parallel and hip width apart, try squeezing a block between your thighs or pressing your feet against a block placed between them.
  • Engage your core muscles by lengthening rectus abdominis to create airbag for the protection of lumbar spine. This avoids hyperextension of the lumbar spine in backbend.
  • Aim to open your upper back more. Draw your chest towards the wall behind you. This allows the arms to carry more body weight to allow a leg to lift in one legged wheel pose.
  • Practise wheel walks to build the strength and learn to transfer the weight into one leg then the other.

Up for a challenge?

Here are a few options to advance and deepen the pose:

  • One legged wheel pose
  • Forearm wheel pose
  • Transitioning from wild thing to wheel pose
  • Transitioning from standing to wheel pose and the other way round by walking your hands down or up a wall behind you

Safety precautions

Practise upward bow pose at the end of yoga practice when you have sufficiently warmed up your body and opened your muscles.

Do not practise this pose if you have

  1. Injury with knees, wrists, shoulders, neck, or back
  2. Heart problems
  3. High or low blood pressure

My journey with upward bow pose

Although the pose may look intimidating for a complete beginner, I started to enjoy practising backbend after a few rounds of practice. Not only upward bow pose reminds me of the strength I have within myself, I can feel the beneficial effects of back bending and chest opening shortly after practising this pose. I am able to naturally come to a good body posture with open chest each time after practising this pose. This is much appreciated by someone like me who is so used to being in hunched or slouched body posture. The good effects stay beyond the physical body. Mentally, I feel happier and with the chest opened, I feel my heart is opened as well. I feel like letting everything come and go freely. Like the big sky, every cloud is free to come and go. The sky is big enough to accommodate anything that comes, but in the meantime, the sky is willing to let each of them go when they are ready.

As for my experience of practising this pose, I had trouble with keeping my knees and feet parallel before. As much as I reminded myself not to splay the knees and feet, I tended to point them out when I was lifting myself up off the floor. I only realized my problem after having looked at the photos and videos of myself doing this pose. I would suggest students to identify any possible misalignments in your pose by taking a picture or video of yourself in this pose from different angles. From the diagonal top-down view, you can clearly see if your feet and hands are parallel and in line with each other. From the side view, you can see if your shins are perpendicular to the floor and whether you need to straighten your arms more and push your chest forward more. From the diagonal bottom view, this is how you will be amazed at the almighty backbend standing tall like a mountain.

Remember, flexibility comes with consistent practice. 

 

With love,
Wei Li