Hearts and flowers
Gentle practices from yoga and meditation to boost the love energy. By Safia Siddiqui Bowley
Hearts and flowers, abundant in popular images of Valentine’s Day romance, are linked also with broader themes of every type of love, as well as compassion and creativity…all associated with heart centre energy. We talk of heart-felt emotions, our heart being full and loving with all our heart, while flowers have traditionally been given as tokens of love but can also be symbols of blossoming spiritual growth.
When we bring our palms together in prayer position or Anjali mudra as part of our yoga practice this is associated with a focus on the heart centre, Anahata chakra. There are lesser known, smaller energy centres in the hands associated with the heart centre, making a connection between hands and heart. Think of holding hands, hugging, offering gifts or lending a helping hand to another…all involve compassion and love, which we strive to cultivate for ourselves too, honouring our own hearts. In prioritising love and kindness for ourselves, we will have all the more to offer to others.
We use our hands to express ourselves in making, writing, playing music, painting and drawing; creativity comes from the heart, and helps to nurture self-awareness and happiness.
Mudras can add depth to our yoga practice, bringing focus to a particular aspect of a posture and enhancing the flow of energy. Some of these hand positions originate in Indian classical dance where they are of prime importance in storytelling and representing devotional themes.
Anjali or Namaskar Mudra: bringing our hands together in prayer position in front of the chest helps us to focus on being present, while tuning into heart centre energy. This is a very calming mudra, ideal for quietening the mind in preparation for meditation. With thumbs at the breastbone, notice the warmth and softness of the palms, the gentle rise of the chest on each inhale. Bowing the head slightly, perhaps we can feel the soft warmth of breath around the fingers as we exhale.
Padma Mudra: little fingers and thumbs touching and the middle three fingers separated to form the petals of the lotus flower, a potent symbol of purity, and of a spiritual journey. The lotus grows up through muddy waters, emerging as a perfectly formed flower. The mudra reminds us of our roots, and our propensity for spiritual growth. Hold this shape in front of the chest, breathe deeply and allow your heart to feel that it is gently opening, ready to give and receive love and inspiration.
Heart-opening stretches: Heart opening stretches can be hugely beneficial, especially if we often spend hours sitting at a desk or in activities which may lead to tight shoulders and a closed posture. They also feel great!
As well as physically freeing up space, our mind feels clearer and our mood is lifted. Enjoy breathing deeply while lifting and opening. From sitting or standing, inhale, taking the arms up, spreading fingers to include the hands in your action, open the chest, include a little arching of the spine if appropriate, returning on an exhale to bring palms together in Anjali mudra, perhaps with a forward fold, bringing energy to the heart centre.
Repeat as many times as feels good, moving with the rhythm of your breath.
Two wonderful heart opening postures:
Fish Pose and Half Camel. Broaden shoulders, lift the heart and breathe deeply, before releasing carefully and following up with a forward folding counterpose.
Heart flower meditation: Sitting or lying comfortably, close and relax the eyes, take a few long deep breaths and begin to visualise the slow unfurling of a bud and the opening out from tightness into a beautiful bloom. Imagine the colour, shape and texture of the flower as it opens, the delicate perfume and the softness of the petals, shiny like satin, the contrast with the green of stem and leaves…see it growing in slow motion, trusting in its own unfolding. Take time to add in details to this image in your mind’s eye. Breathe in deeply, sending yourself love and compassion, notice the breath rising up from the belly towards the heart. On an exhale, send love and compassion to whoever and wherever it is most needed in the world right now. Breathe into the heart - it will not burst - it will flourish.
Safia Siddiqui Bowley (safiahelenyoga.com) is a Hatha Yoga teacher in East Sussex who also runs Bollywood dance sessions. She teaches regularly at the Yoga Life Studio in Eastbourne (yogaeastbourne.com)