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While the world can always use more love (sweet love), as Jackie DeShannon famously sang, I would argue that we need now is compassion, both for others and for ourselves. On the heels of a year unlike any other—with a once-in-a-century pandemic and racial reckoning—it’s imperative for us to recognize that many have suffered, struggled, and experienced losses both large and small during this time.
But compassion goes beyond sending “positive thoughts” or “good vibes”—cultivating it is an inside job. Having compassion for others starts with having compassion for ourselves. If we can’t see ourselves through the eyes of love and understanding, it’s difficult to see others and the world in that way, as well.
In order to give and receive love, our heart (ajna) chakra must be open and clear. When our heart chakra is balanced, we will feel as though we are surrounded by love and joy, and are deeply connected to the world around us. Many of us close off our hearts to protect ourselves against hurt and pain, blocking our ajna chakra. Practices like yoga and meditation can help us open our hearts, and encourage them to be receptive to compassion.
My yoga and meditation practices have been integral in opening my heart to give and receive love and compassion. These tools are a powerful way to help us lean into these feelings—however uncomfortable they may be.
A yoga sequence to cultivate compassion
The following sequence begins with a loving compassion meditation and is followed by a powerful flow through heart openers and dynamic postures. Allow this intentional practice to help open your heart and create space in the body and mind for deep compassion for yourself and those around you.
A meditation for compassion
Begin in a comfortable seated position. Take a few deep breaths to settle into your body and into the present moment. Place one hand on your heart and the other on your belly. Begin to scan your body for tension and notice any particularly strong emotions you are experiencing. Repeat to yourself, “It is OK for me to feel this way,” and meet yourself in this moment with loving compassion and acceptance. Continue for around 5 minutes or until you feel a sense of peace and expansion.
Seated spine articulation
From your seat, place your palms on your knees. Begin to articulate the spine, on an inhale, tilting the pelvis back and creating a c curve with the spine, opening up through the heart. On an exhale, press into the palms and arch your spine, tilting the pelvis forward and letting the head and neck heavy. Continue moving in this pattern for 10 rounds.
Come into Tabletop, stacking your wrists underneath the shoulders and knees underneath the hips. On an exhale, walk your palms forward and allow your chest to melt toward the mat. Press your palms into the mat and keep your arms engaged. Gently rest your forehead or chin on the mat for a deeper stretch. Hold for five breaths, sinking deeper into the pose with each exhale.
On an inhale, from Puppy Pose, slide forward onto the belly. Place your elbows underneath the shoulders and keep your forearms and palms firmly rooted into the mat. Energetically drag your palms back toward the body encouraging your chest to open between the shoulder blades. Breathe space into the back of your body as you hold the pose for 5–7 counts.
From sphinx, on an exhale lower all the way to your belly. Press back through Balasana (Child’s Pose) to transition into Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog). Stay in Down Dog for five breaths, taking time to pedal out the feet and warm up the body. On an exhale, step your right foot between your hands. Inhale to come up through a High Lunge, extending the arms by the ears and keep the left leg straight and engaged. Take a deep breath in and on an exhale open up into Warrior II.
Extend the arms at shoulder height and keep your right knee bent at a 90-degree angle while the blade edge of your left foot presses into the mat. Gaze over your right fingertips and breathe for five counts. Transition through a vinyasa and repeat on the other side.
Utkata Konasana (Goddess Pose)
From Warrior II, turn both feet to face the long edge of the mat. Turn your heels in and your toes to face out. Sink your seat low until you are in a squatting position, with hands at heart center. When you feel balanced, cactus your arms, elbows at shoulder height with hands facing toward the ceiling. Hold or pulse for 10 breaths.
Transition to kneeling on the mat. Level the hips above the knees and place your palms, fingers facing down, on your lower back. Take a deep breath in, and on an exhale slowly begin to open up through the heart by leaning back as far as you can without straining, keeping your hips level over the knees. You can keep your hands where they are or grab your heels. Another option is to drop your head back and gaze behind you.
Hold for five breaths. When you’re finished, very slowly walk the hands up the back and lift the head up last. Sit down on the heels and allow the spine to soften as you take a few breaths to integrate the posture.
Gently come down onto the back. Bring your feet on the floor, mat-width-distance apart and knock your knees together, breathing here for a moment as you allow the spine to neutralize. After a few breaths, drop both knees gently over to the right. Gaze over the left shoulder and stay for three to five breaths. Slowly bring the legs through center and repeat on the opposite side.
When you have completed your twist on both sides, lie down flat on the mat. Extend your arms and legs out long beside you. Allow yourself to completely let go of any control on your thoughts and feel your body sink heavy into the mat. Hold for seven to 10 minutes, slowly coming up to seated when you are finished.