Welcome, September… The month that invites new beginnings, crisp mornings, and all of the excitement that the fall season will soon bring. September has several important observances, many of which directly relate to well-being. National Suicide Prevention Awareness Week occurs between September 6th and September 12th this year, with National Suicide Prevention Awareness Day falling on September 10th. Each September, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration sponsors National Recovery Month to bring awareness to substance dependence and mental health disorders while honoring those seeking recovery in their endeavors with each. National Yoga Month is also celebrated each September. Instructors near and far provide a week of free yoga classes both online and in person to enlighten students on the wondrous wellness benefits of the practice. Lastly, World Heart Day is observed around the globe on September 29th to educate individuals on circulatory health and preventative measures, as cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of mortality worldwide. While the focus of World Heart Day is on creating positive change for physical heart health, emotional heart wellness is of equal significance. The very organ that provides vitality is also the source of human compassion and the energy center for love. The heart is so vastly connected to all of the aforementioned observances that September reveres. Compassion and openness are some of our most powerful tools to connect and to heal. Without either, the recognition of suicide prevention, substance and mental health recovery, heart health, and yoga would likely cease to exist. To fully participate in the celebration of recovery, of life, and of physical and emotional well-being, we can learn to expand upon our compassion within. Once we begin to appreciate the warmth that comes with the light, we can better spread each to others. It all begins and ends in our hearts’ center.
Eastern traditional roots of yogic philosophy emphasize emotional connectedness and compassion towards the self and others through physical postures, meditative practices, and breathwork. Ancient yogis understood the deep relationship between these practices and a particular energy channel responsible for feelings of openness and unconditional love. Anahata, or the heart chakra, is a representation of an energy center within that connects the lower chakras to the upper ones. Anahata is the integrative center for all energies in the body and when stimulated, increases our capacity to love, to understand others, to be in a place of peace, and to remain open. Anahata pushes us to both offer and receive love. We engage deeply and authentically in our relationships and shed the limitations of the ego and of identity when we activate the chakra of our heart center.
When we find ourselves feeling closed off, overly defensive, or overly heroic; when we find great difficulty in cultivating forgiveness and instead, ease in harboring jealousy, and when we sense an unrelenting need to fulfill the expectations of others, Anahata may be out of balance. Circulatory issues, heart conditions, and respiratory ailments may be experienced on the physical level due to heart chakra imbalance. Chakras are the energetic connections to the layers of consciousness. When disturbance arises in a part of our consciousness, the tension is felt in its associated chakra. This disturbance manifests as physical, cognitive, and emotional symptoms related to the specific chakra region. Yogic philosophy stresses that our experienced symptoms are communicated through the body to bring awareness to the tension in our consciousness.
Asanas (postures), Pranayama (breathwork), and Dhyana (meditation) can directly manipulate the energies in the body. These practices stimulate circulation, thereby releasing blockages in chakras and tension in consciousness. Emotional energy, good and bad, is stored all throughout the body. What are we holding on to in our consciousness and in our heart center? What can we release? What can we build from?
Any movement that manipulates the shoulders and the thoracic spine activates the heart chakra. Some wonderful chest openers for all levels of practice include Bhujangasana (cobra pose), Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (bridge pose), and Ustrasana (camel pose).
Begin by laying on the belly. With the hands below the shoulders, press the palms into the earth and inhale as you rise towards the sky, peeling the chest away from the mat. The gaze follows upward. The elbows remain bent and tucked closely by the ribcage. Feel the heart melt as it opens, creating space between the shoulders and ears. The legs activate as the toes point and the thighs ground deeper into the floor. Hold for five inhales and five exhales. Gently lower the body on the following exhale and rest the belly on the floor.
Setu Bandha Sarvangasana:
Begin by laying on the back. Bend the knees and bring the feet close to the glutes. The arms rest on either side of the body and palms face the earth. Press the feet into the earth and inhale as you rise the hips towards the sky. Distribute the weight of the body evenly between the feet and the shoulder blades, so as to not place pressure on the cervical spine and base of the head. If accessible, interlace the fingers below the spine and gently bring the shoulder blades together. Hold for five inhales and five exhales. Slowly lower the spine from the base of the neck to the tip of the sacrum, exhaling through each vertebrae.
Begin by kneeling. Stack the shoulders over the hips and the hips over the knees. Bring the palms to the tops of the glutes, just below the belt line. The fingers point towards the floor. Inhale as you press the hips forward and lean the heart back. If accessible, allow the gaze to follow the back wall as the head drops. Squeeze the shoulder blades together and away from the ears. If accessible, the hands may drop and rest on the heels. Stay where it is comfortable and hold for five inhales and exhales. To come out, inhale as you slowly bring the hands back to the lower spine and activate the core to restack the knees, hips, and shoulders.
Please do not practice these postures as a beginner with either a neck injury or a high risk for stroke. If these conditions apply, find a comfortable seat and lengthen the spine. Inhale as you rise the arms to the sky. Exhale as you bend the arms at 90 degrees. Spread the fingers wide. On the next inhale, gently kiss the shoulder blades together and lift the chin towards the sky for Cactus Arms. Hold for five inhales and five exhales. On the next inhale, extend the arms above the head. As you exhale, allow the arms to fall by either side.
Ujjayi (Ooh-Jai-yee) breathing is a beautiful yogic breath technique that activates and restores balance in the Anahata chakra. Begin by finding a comfortable seat with the spine tall. Eyes may remain opened or closed. Close the lips and place the tip of the tongue to the roof of the mouth to connect the lower energies with the higher aspirations. Inhale through the nose and fill the diaphragm with air. On the exhale, bring awareness to the throat and constrict its muscles. Create an ocean sound as the breath leaves the body through the nose. Ujjayi may be practiced for five minutes at a time to feel the afterglow of its heart warming and opening effects.
Loving-kindness meditations create a space for easy-love within to guide practitioners towards self-compassion, compassion for all living things, and universal compassion. Please feel free to listen to this guided loving-kindness meditation here.
May we open our hearts to ourselves and to others. May we celebrate those in recovery from substance dependence and mental health conditions and cheer for their continued success. We send loving-kindness to those experiencing feelings of isolation and depression, and who are contemplating ending their journeys on this earth plane. May you be happy. May you be peaceful. May you be protected. May you be loved. If you or a loved one is experiencing suicidal ideation, please contact or share the National Suicide Lifeline number: 1-800-273-8255 or website with 24/7 chat support: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/.
From my heart to yours and with much love and wellness,
Briana Shea, BA, BS