During the festive period, we tend to neglect our own welfare – we are so busy concerning ourselves with entertaining and indulging other people, that any self-care routine that had previously been established grinds to a stiff halt. But here’s the conundrum: with those short days and long nights, and the inevitable hibernation period that comes part and parcel, we should be taking advantage of being cosied up at home and luxuriating ourselves in a little self-care more than ever. It is all too easy to get caught up in the fanaticism and rapture that is the most magical time of year, forgetting all the good habits that keep you grounded and healthy the rest of the year.
Now that the Festive season is slowly coming to an end, and we start to think about resuming some sort of normality, this abeyance from self-care comes to the fore-front of our minds and we become hungry for that meditative sensation that envelopes us during an aromatherapy bath, meditation or gentle flowing yoga practice. But, as with all sabbaticals, we lose our sense of direction and struggle to envisage ourselves doing all of these things – making the transition back into our self-care routines pretty daunting! We find ourselves wondering: “How do I start again?”
Over the next few weeks I will be introducing you to a series of yoga postures– suitable for beginners and advanced yogis alike; transferable across whatever type of yoga you do – all with the intention of re-grounding your heart, focusing your mind and strengthening your body as you reintroduce self-care in to your daily routine.
This week we look at a posture that is beautifully grounding, heart-warming and soul enriching; perfect for aligning your body with your heart and your mind: Anahatasana.
Sanskrit Name: ANAHATASANA
English Translation: Melting Heart Pose
Preparatory Poses: BALASANA (Extended Child’s pose)
SUCRIANDHRASANA (Eye of the Needle pose/Figure Four pose)
How to Practice this asana
- Begin in Table Top position (on your hands and knees, ensuring that the hips are above the knees, forming a straight line from knee up to hip).
- Have your hands shoulder width apart and slowly begin to move the hands forwards, lowering the chest and heart toward the ground. Place the forehead down on your mat if you can go down this far.
- Keep the arms raised up off the floor for the time-being. As you become more flexible, you will be able to completely lower the chest to the floor and have your arms flat on the floor in front of you. If you can lower the forearms, do so, but keep the upper arms raised until you can comfortably lower the whole arm to the floor (don’t force the process- this is actually quite an intense stretch for the upper body).
- Keep the hips completely static, don’t move them if you can help it – the upright position is providing stability in this position – as half of your body is being suspended, in order to then move down to the ground, we need support to come from somewhere. Try to spread the weight evenly through the tops of your feet and knees as they make contact with the Earth and bear the weight as you move the torso down toward the Earth.
- When the forehead touches the Earth, we will naturally try to distribute some of our weight to that new contact point – we’re human, it’s just what we do! To absorb some of that pressure, draw the navel in toward the spine and engage the core muscles. This will provide a natural lift to the body and will provide another source of support (along with those legs and hips) whilst protecting the spine a little bit at the same time. Multi-tasking like a pro.
My Top 5 Benefits
1. Soothes the nerves
Anahatasana provides a fantastic upper body stretch – your shoulder girdle, trapezius muscle, the cervical and thoracic spine…you name it, it is stretched in this wonderful little posture. As a result of this all over upper body stretch, our nerves are nourished, calmed and stimulated ino super-efficient action. “Surely this happens in every yoga pose though?” I hear you ask – true, the majority of the yoga portfolio will benefit the nerves in one way or another, but it is our upper body that largely contains the large networks of nerves known as Plexuses. A Plexus is a web-like reticulation of nerve fibres that interconnect, as they leave the spinal cord, in order to serve various parts of one area of the body. Put simply, it is a way that our body utilises a few nerves for many different physiological activities. In the upper body we have the Cervical Plexus (serving the head, neck and shoulders), Brachial Plexus (serving the chest, shoulders, arms and hands). These are the plexuses that branch from the spinal nerves – we also have plexuses around the heart (Cardiac plexus), the throat/Mouth (Pharyngeal plexus), Celiac plexus (aka Solar Plexus) serving the internal organs at the base of the rib cage (think stomach, liver, etc. These are the nerves that give you “butterflies” in your stomach!).
We have a couple others in this little collection (known as Autonomic nerve plexuses – they work independently and automatically) as well as a 3 major spinal nerve plexuses that serve us from the waist down – they are also activated and nourished in this posture, but that is secondary to the activation of the many, many nerves in the upper body!
So, now you have had a micro-physiology lesson, you will hopefully be a little more convinced that this upper body stretch is soothing your nerves by increasing blood flow and oxygenation in and around the networks of nerves occupying the upper body. Anahatasana also increases blood flow/oxygenation around the muscles – where we find the nerve endings – as well as stretching and increasing blood flow around the upper and mid-sections of the spine; which is where the majority of the nerves, connected to the mechanisms of our body, originate.
2. Concentrates the mind
Anahatasana is a wholly “submissive” (or “passive”) pose – the body is in submission and is encouraged to relax. Traditionally Anahatasana is considered a Yin Yoga posture but I have found it extremely effective in stilling the mind and allowing deeper concentration before beginning a Vinyasa or Hatha Yoga based practice. This will partly be because of the soothing of the nerves that run around the upper body – and ultimately the head – but also because the body has, quite literally, nothing to do but be still. Admittedly, Anahatasana is quite a compromising position – it will take a while to progress in to the full chest on the flat on the floor position – so it pretty much leaves us with nowhere to go and nothing to do but…hang-out. And think. And just be there in that moment. Only when we stop, still the mind and erase the chitter-chatter, do we open up the channel for concentration. So, it would seem that this little old-favourite yin pose can prove super useful when tackling an arm balance or super strong vinyasa flow. Give it a go, see what you can achieve once you just leave your body and mind to hang out in this pose for a few minutes.
3. Breathe in the air
Coming back to that supreme upper body stretch, anahatasana is instrumental in opening the chest, stimulating the blood flow and prana being delivered to the throat chakra (Vishudda), aiding our respiratory system. Our ability to breathe is what keeps us alive and we often don’t think about our trusty old respiratory system – sitting at your office desk, driving home in your car…it is not at the forefront of your mind as it is an automatic (autonomous) system that we don’t have too much control over. However, if we don’t look after the organs and tissues that comprise this system, the results are less than desirable. So, anything that we can do to stimulate blood flow and energy to this area can only be a good thing, right? Anahatasana works to stretch and expand the thoracic area (chest) and this expansion opens up the airways and stimulates blood flow/oxygenation in this area (hopefully you’re seeing a theme here – this is how we soothe our bodies; by encouraging good circulation).
4. It may help improve posture.
We’ve already learnt that Anahatasana gives an exaggerated stretch in the upper back/torso and expands the respiratory system and thoracic cage. This posture doesn’t just stop there though! It also elongates and stretches the spine without compression. You are giving your spine a lovely lengthen in this posture and, coupled with the stretch in the upper body and the space this will create around the shoulders, this will hugely benefit your posture. After holding Anahatasana for a few minutes, the spine and shoulders start to feel a bit “easier” and you will emerge far more relaxed and upright!
5. Opens your heart.
Last but not least…anahatasana – aka Melting Heart Pose – opens the heart chakra. In Sanskrit Anahata means ‘heart’, and asana means ‘pose’. In this pose we reconnect to the Earth by directing the heart to the Earth, encouraging a surge in prana to the heart thus promoting an enormous sense of wellbeing, calm, rejuvenation and freedom. This pose can open the chakra to encourage kindness, love, joy and gratitude. It is incredibly grounding and the mental and emotional benefits perhaps surpass the physical benefits- this one little pose delivers physical benefits in abundance; but also delivers emotional and mental benefits in equal amounts.
Anahatasana teaches us to concentrate, look inwards on our minds, relaxes the mind and body and promotes a calm, subdued demeanour. All of this is great for us in ourselves – but Anahatasana also promotes balance in the Anahata chakra, which opens us up to selfless love; benefiting all that come in to our lives.
A little pose that gives you time for some self-love, which equips you with the tools to give selfless love to the World around you. What could be better than that?
About the Author
Katie-Marie Fuller Ma Pg Dip, Registered Yoga Teacher
Katie-Marie Fuller is a registered yoga teacher specialising in Hatha and Vinyasa yoga. Her approach to yoga is fuelled with intelligence and creativity, underpinned by ancient philosophy and spirituality. A master of the arts, Katie’s career history and education shine through in her creative, philosophically orientated classes. Currently studying for her diploma in anatomy and physiology, Katie is changing her career path with a view to practice yoga therapy full time. Residing in Staffordshire, you will hear Katie’s soft, eloquent tones reciting philosophical quotes in yoga studios around the county. Katie prides herself on her extensive education in art and Philosophy but emphasises Aristotle’s aphorism: “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all”. Katie’s classes incorporate elements of Kundalini, Hatha and Yin yoga, often bound together in a vinyasa type flow.
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