Healing Hearts with Yoga

Lie down or sit in a comfortable position making sure that all parts of your body are supported.

Close your eyes and scan your body with your mind. Do you feel a tightness or tension anywhere? Is one shoulder tighter than the other? Is your neck tense? Do you feel pain anywhere?

Adjust your body to be even more comfortable.

Bring your attention to your right leg. Stretch it out from your hip, hugging the muscles toward the bones. Raise your leg a little off the floor, and relax it back down again. Roll it from side to side and relax. Then do the other leg.

Bring your attention to your right arm, stretch it out to the side, hugging the muscles to the bones and stretching your hand as wide as possible, make a fist, and release it to your side. Then follow the same process with your left arm.

Squeeze your buttocks, feel your body lift, and then relax down.

Press your belly out as you inhale deeply, and release with a relaxing exhalation. Allow your belly to be soft.

Inhale deeply and allow your ribcage to expand as wide as possible, expanding your lungs. Exhale and let go. Relax.

Draw your shoulders up around your ears. Squeeze them tightly. Roll them back and down, releasing any tension in your neck and shoulders. Roll your head gently from side to side, letting it come to rest at center.

Squeeze your face, pucker your lips, close your jaw, squeeze your eyelids tightly shut and draw your whole face toward your nose. Then release and relax.

Focus your breath. Taking long deep breaths, and as you exhale send the breath through your mind to each of the parts of your body that you just relaxed. Send your breath as a healing balm, searching out the more subtle tensions and releasing them with your exhalation.

Inhale deeply and fill your entire body with relaxation. Bring your attention to your heart and inhale, filling it with peace, centeredness and calm. Realize that this feeling of stillness is your essential self, the place of peace within you from which you may live.

Visualization and imagery. Our minds are incredibly powerful, and our bodies hear and respond to everything we think. Worry and anxiety are the result of imagery. Most of the time we worry about things that never happen, causing physical stress, increased blood pressure and heart rate, lowered immunity, and mental anguish. If our bodies respond to worry, they’ll also respond to positive images and the physical result is healing. Concentrate your attention on an area of your body that needs healing or relaxation. Imagine or visualize it the way it will look to you, seeing it healthy. For example, visualize your heart. Pink, healthy tissue, blood flowing freely through clear, strong arteries, rich red blood flowing out of your heart, through your arteries to feed every cell in your body. Create as graphic an image as you can. Remember, your image is to create healing and your body will believe what you tell it.

Breathing. We can live without food, water, and shelter, for a time, but how long can we live without breathing? Our first inhalation meant life, and our last exhalation will mean death. The way we breathe affects our thoughts, our minds and our emotions. Chronic stress and tension cause shallow breathing, starving our bodies for oxygen and constantly pushing our nervous systems to the edge of a panic response. Control of our breath gives us control of our responses. We’ve all heard “If you’re angry, take a deep breath.” That breath gives pause. It slows us down to give us time to think a different thought, to choose again. Putting space between our thoughts creates relaxation and can be controlled by putting space between our breaths. Begin by noticing your breathing pattern. Are your breaths shallow or deep? Are you breathing only with the tops of your lungs or are you bringing your breath all the way down to your belly? Deep full breathing oxygenates the body, relaxing it, cleansing it and slowing down our emotional reactions.

You can practice controlling your breath with “alternate nostril breathing.” Close your right nostril and deeply through your left nostril. Then close off your left nostril and exhale completely through your right nostril. Take full deep breaths and exhale completely. Alternate as often as you feel comfortable, building up to about 3 minutes. Close your eyes and notice how you feel.

Meditation. When life becomes hectic and stressful its important to have a stress management tool to help us to stay calm. Meditation is a path to creating and maintaining that place of peace and stillness within. When we’re calm and our minds are clear, we’re able to respond to life’s inevitable challenges from a realistic and positive perspective; we have the space in our minds to choose to act appropriately. In a medical study at Duke University, it was shown that people who did stress management after their first heart attack were less likely to have a second.

There are probably thousands and thousands of meditation techniques. The point is to calm the mind and find a technique that you enjoy doing. When you begin to try to calm the mind, it will rebel. Thoughts will be constantly pushing their way in. Be patient, start with short sessions, even just a few minutes at a time and build up to 30 minutes gradually.

To meditate, just begin:

Set up a consistent time and place to meditate. Create the atmosphere, light a candle, use your favorite cushion, light incense; whatever “gets you in the mood.”

Sit up in a comfortable position.

Choose a meditation technique that works for you. Try a few, choose one and stick with it. Meditating on a candle, on your breath, on a word. Writing, walking, meditating on a tone, on the point between your eyebrows. There are many books and tapes on meditation techniques.

As your mind tries to distract you keep bringing it back to your point of focus. If necessary, write down the important thoughts that are coming between you and your calm mind.

Physical aerobic exercise is important. It can be gentle and should very definitely be enjoyable so you’ll do it; about a half an hour a day is effective. Exercise at a comfortable rate so that you can carry on a conversation while you’re doing it. You’ll be exercising your entire body as you walk and talk and share with a friend. Integrate your exercise into your day, climb a few flights of stairs instead of taking the elevator, get a dog to walk with or walk to work with a friend. Sunset is a great time to stroll briskly and relax from the day. The more you walk, the faster you’ll enjoy the benefits of better cardiovascular circulation, overall fitness, stronger respiration, and of course, a healthier heart.

Participate in a support group. Emotional, psychological and spiritual support is valuable for all of us, and especially critical for those who are challenged with a major lifestyle change. The value of interpersonal support systems has been demonstrated in 12 Step Programs, and that type of support is just as valuable for those changing their lifestyle for a healthier heart. Sharing with others opens our hearts, supporting each other heals them.