In the heart, we undo the illusion of separation within us and cultivate relationship with ourselves, at one with our whole nature, inherent union, yoga.
Heartbeat, breath, thought, body, mind, life itself, are all cyclical in nature; nothing is stuck. Yet it's easy to become entrenched in habits that forget or deny the constant yet ever-shifting nature of these cycles and our capacity to effect changes therein.
Breath awareness and practice centered on the heart may allow us to find harmony with the cycles and channels that connect everything within us, and to embody our power to realize, invite, and co-create the changes we want to see, inside and out.
The more we gaze into the heart, the more we gaze out from the heart.
Where does the heart want us to place our attention? Inquire often. Listen, and consciously participate in what you find. Release what isn't serving you, and preserve your vital energy, or prana, for what does serve you, and the world around you.
Begin at rest. Draw your exhalation up from the lower body, lengthening it gently. Let your following inhalation move from the head to the heart and downward, above to below. Exhalation then rises back up from below -- you will likely feel that upward movement originate deep in the lower body.
As you develop this above-to-below breath on the physical level, and your focus will naturally expand and deepen to the energetic level, that of prana, essentially the mind.
Imagine each inhalation carrying your head-space, mental energy, down to your heart. As your exhalation rises back up, let it draw the instinctive, physical energy in your hips and belly to the heart. Inhale, come down again, out of your head.
Observe. How do these movements of breath relate to your heart and vice versa? How do your mental awareness, your prana, your sensory body respond, or shift? Notice places that feel free, calm, clear, energized, along with stuck, weak, restricted, or numb.
After guiding your subtle body to the heart in this above-to-below pattern, next practice breathing from the well of prana you've centered at your heart. As you inhale, let the breath expand out from the heart in all directions -- top to bottom, front to back, side to side. As you exhale, allow that space to contain itself, return to the heart. Repeat at a steady, easy pace, eventually allowing for the pauses in between the movement of the breath to hold the heart.
While it may require consistent effort, to breathe freely and evenly to and from the heart should never be a strain. If you find yourself struggling, modify your posture or the way you're moving to make it easier, more enjoyable.
We give and receive a lot of energy through our hands, extensions of the heart. Mudra, sacred gesture, the placing of hands, offers a chance to hold ourselves from the heart, to the heart, to contain, cleanse, and cultivate our prana.
With the hands at the heart, together or one over the other, practice breathing into the circle of your arms, and beyond. Feel energy flow and return to the heart. Imagine the inner body becoming quiet, and the mind following. Listen.
Then place one of your hands anywhere that might be asking for more awareness, ease, or healing. Guide your breath, your prana, in a way that opens up the channel from that place to the heart. Practice staying focused, listening, going into any pain, making space for it to do its work. Often, thoughts manifesting as restriction or pain will surface, to be released or repurposed. Let them pass without attachment.
If you already practice bandhas, or "valves," notice that when the three central bandhas are engaged as a byproduct of the breath, energy rising from two bandhas in the lower body is capped at the bandha in the throat and focused into the heart, creating mahamudra. Maha means highest or supreme, mudra, again, gesture or attitude.
Play with finding mahamudra softly, by practicing above-to-below breathing, and adding an easy pause at the bottom of an exhalation. Imagine drawing energy up from the depths of the pelvis and lower abdomen, and tuck the chin into the throat to contain that energy at the heart. Hold as long as is comfortable, without strain. Relax to inhale. Repeat up to 3 - 5 breaths and then take a break.
Advanced yet simple, mahamudra is one of the deepest ways we may experience the heart as the center of our body-mind, and how the breath connects the whole of our being to the heart, upper to the lower, lower to upper, mind to body, body to mind. Intellect and instinct, expansion and support, movement and stillness, perfectly balanced.
The way we breathe in relation to the way we think creates our experience. By finding moments of quiet to observe ourselves, we get to know ourselves again and again. With practice, we become more skillful at choosing to align with the heart, our steady context, source of guidance, calm, and balance, during moments of challenge, stress, and fatigue.
All of these practices can and should be approached gently, as is appropriate for you, with the same intention; to cultivate awareness; to respond to whatever arises; to allow the heart to do what it is already doing -- clearing out hurt and limitation, replenishing prana, and shifting boundaries in order to take in and give out only what nurtures.
By serving the heart, we serve the whole. By serving the whole within ourselves, we then serve the whole of the world around us. Om Mani Padme Hum