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From the moment of our first breath, and throughout our life’s journey, our emotional center—the heart—experiences waves of joy, excitement, pain, and loss. Our soul absorbs all of these emotional sensations and that energy flows through every inch of our physical body. The fascinating part is that the mind catalogs the moment, the body holds on to it, and the heart feels it.
If your mind drifts back to a time when you experienced joy, you will naturally feel at ease. The nervous system will drop into a parasympathetic state. On the other hand, if you recall or become triggered by a traumatic situation, your mind and body will take you into fight-or-flight. As a result, your heart will feel the weight and your soul absorbs the heaviness.
As time passes and the weight of the pain stays unresolved, we begin to build protective walls around ourselves—around the strongest yet most vulnerable aspect of ourselves. The more pain we experience, the higher the wall becomes.
Letting the walls come down
My first introduction to yoga and meditation began during one of the most traumatic experiences of my life. It was the early 1990s, and my older brother was dying of complications related to AIDS. As you can imagine, my mind was spinning out of control. I was in a constant state of fight-or-flight throughout his hospitalization.
A few months before his death, I unrolled a mat in a group yoga class. During a deep-breathing practice, I began to cry. I had been dealing with my brother’s diagnosis since the mid-’80s, and I had been holding that pain in for years. I continued to take this weekly class and, one day after Savasana, I felt a little brick of my wall crumble.
After my brother’s death, I continued to practice as a way to hold space for my heart and cradle my soul. This moment in time—and my connection to yoga—inspired me to become a yoga teacher. Since then, I’ve explored the nuances of how this practice can support us throughout life.
Resolving heart-felt pain through yoga
Collectively, we have all experienced loss in many forms since March 2020. Whether we have dealt with death, divorce, career shifts, or other difficult events, our levels of personal trauma have been magnified by the pandemic. But what can we do?
You are probably thinking, it’s impossible to avoid experiences and feelings of sadness, pain, and trauma. You are correct; however, there are ways to soothe the soul and comfort the heart. As I did, you can turn to your yoga practice.
The following sequence was designed to give you space to listen to your heart. Once you have gotten in touch with your heart, you can begin to untangle any pain lingering in the depths of your heart, and then awaken a feeling of lightness and play as we acknowledge what is good in our lives and humanity.
As you move through each pose, I encourage you to take your time, move mindfully, and pause to feel any shifts in your body, mind, and soul. Be present with the fullness of your breath, and compassionate with your heart.
A restorative yoga sequence to tune into your heart
Lotus Mudra seated in Sukhasana (Easy Pose)
Before you start the practice, come into a cross-legged pose seated on a pillow or blanket. Bring your palms together at the center of your chest. Spread your fingers apart like flower petals, and only allow the pinky fingers and thumbs to touch. Close your eyes, take deep breaths in and out of the nose. Maintain the Lotus Mudra for 1–3 minutes.
Shift onto your hands and knees. Spread your fingers wide, wrists under your shoulders, and knees under your hips. Your spine is in a neutral position with abs engaged. When you inhale, arch your back and lift your chest forward into Cow Pose. At the same time, the belly relaxes while the sit bones spread apart. As you exhale, round the back in a catlike shape, drawing the belly toward the spine and the chin to your chest. Allow your inhale and exhale to initiate the movement and continue flowing in and out of the poses. Do this for 1–3 minutes. Be mindful not to swing your head vigorously.
Return to a neutral position on all fours. Open your knees wider than your hips and bring your big toes together to touch. Breathe in and as you exhale, slowly draw your hips toward your feet and rest your buttocks on your heels. Remain here for 3–5 minutes. Relax the upper body and the hips toward the heels. Feel free to add a bolster or blanket under your chest if desired.
Slowly transition and have a seat on the floor. Extend the legs out in front of you. Gently fold forward maintaining an elongated spine. The hands can rest on the legs, or you can take hold of your feet. Place a blanket or pillow on top of the legs for support. Feel free to use additional props. Hold this position for 3–5 minutes.
Slow lift up and sweep your legs behind you and come onto all fours. Bring your right knee forward toward your right wrist or slightly behind it. Your left leg remains extended behind you with the top of your foot on the mat. Place a blanket or pillow under your right hips and fold forward. Breathe deeply as you hold the posture for two to four minutes. You can place another pillow beneath your forearms or chest. As you come out, inhale to lift the chest, walk your hands back until they are under the shoulders, then gently move to the other side. I often suggest giving your legs a shake between each side.
Mindfully move onto your back. Bring the soles of your feet together as your knees bend and open to the side (sole of the feet touch). For this posture, you can place a pillow or bolster under the spine and/or pillow/blocks under your thighs if you feel too much pulling on your knees and groin. Allow gravity to take over as you close your eyes and breathe deeply for 3–5 minutes.
From Reclining Bound Angle pose, simply extend the legs straight. You can open the legs wider than hip distance. The placement of the pillow/bolster can remain the same, or you can move it beneath the tips of the shoulder blades if you desire more openness in the heart space. Remain in this posture for 5–7 minutes. Just be and relax.
More from Faith Hunter
We’re sharing more heart-focused practices from Faith Hunter. Here’s what you might have missed:
- This Comforting Practice Starts With Savasana
- Add a Little Play to Your Day With This Uplifting Yoga Sequence
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About our contributor
Faith Hunter, a yoga and meditation teacher based in Washington, D.C., is the author of Spiritually Fly: Wisdom, Meditations, and Yoga to Elevate Your Soul.