Valentines Day is upon us.
If you have a love by your side, take the day and all days after to express your gratitude with all the love languages you can muster; show them, affirm them, tell them, listen and perhaps even buy them a little something-something now and then. Love is grand, difficult and fragile.
If you don't have a Valentine or significant other - you might be in luck for the moment. Take this opportunity to be your own Valentine. Loving yourself first is likely the most important achievement prior to loving someone new. After all, we must put on our own air-mask before putting on someone else's.
Be good to yourself - and your heart! There are herbs, yoga poses and even heart nurturing affirmations that can help strengthen both the physical, energetic and emotional heart.
We all know we should eat "heart healthy". By traditional nutritional standards this includes not smoking, getting heart pumping exercise and abstaining from saturated fats. I'm in agreement on the smoking and the exercise - but as far as the saturated fats I whole-heartedly (pun intended) disagree.
Saturated fats are not the enemy. Saturated fats help soothe the nervous system, lubricate digestion, support cognition and so much more. We need butter, coconut oil, fats for the omnivores and so on. A study here involving almost 350,000 people (and others like them) put this to bed and thankfully it coincides with what we instinctually know. Butter tastes good, fats taste good; our body craves them for a reason and its because we require them (varied levels depending on the person) for health. It's when arterial health is degraded that we get clogged arteries. Substances like chlorine in the water and chronic lack of antioxidants in the diet can contribute to this. Antioxidants are a must in this world, however you choose to get them!
Ok, back to the "hartstuff".
Heart healthy herbs are wonderfully supportive. There are many to choose from. Here are a few of my favorites.
Motherwort is a favorite of mine because it grows wild here in Michigan and probably all over the country. It's an old-school native american remedy (so cool), and it was found to be protective to the heart with whatever the condition would be. Heart beating too fast (tachycardia) or heart beating too slow (bradycardia). It strengthens the heart and is especially good for heart conditions in which stress is a factor or for women going through the change of life. I like to pick this beauty in the mid-summer, dry it, grind it, encapsulate it, or make tea with it. You can even soak it in alcohol for 6 weeks to make a tincture. Learn how to make tinctures and other herbal concoctions at this link. Search "easy tincture making at home".
Hawthorn Berry is another great herb for heart health. Most herbalist would put this to the top of the list, I selected Motherwort instead because of it's availability in the wild to most folks. Hawthorn Berry might not be quite so easy to find for wild harvesting. Pick this herb up in a health food store in capsules or liquid tincture. You could also purchase the berries and make your own liquid tincture using the instructions laid out at the link above. Hawthorn is fascinating to me because it's the color of the berries that do the work for us. The berries protect the arteries, support their gentle dilation for better blood flow to every nook-and cranny - and it even helps you to utilize your stores of Vitamin C enhancing arterial health. Wonderful herb!
Lastly I like Linden Flower from the Linden tree for heart health. It's a natural and oh-so-gentle sedative, diaphoretic (opens blood vessels), lowers BP gently and is great for nervous tension. Most people won't notice it's sedative quality because it's so subtle. This herb is particularly wonderful with regard to anxiety and stress as it relates to the heart. The tinctures don't taste bad at all either, kind of tastes like lemon or lime. In fact, another name for this tree is lime blossom.
Heart Opening Postures
So many of the yoga postures that I've learned so far in my Yoga Teacher Training are heart opening. Opening the heart does wonders for your back, your posture, your neck and more. Energetically speaking when you learn to maintain these open heart postures through out your day (this takes time), you might find you feel more compassion for others, more love for someone who needs it and better tolerance for annoyances. The heart has an emotion - its no coincidence that our heart "breaks" at tragedy or that we feel our heart physically hurting at the loss of a loved one. The heart feels - and it communicates to us with this feeling. Follow your heart (pun intended) - and you can't go wrong!
One of the easiest ways to warm up in the morning and open the heart up is with a few sun-salutations. Sun-salutations or "Surya Namaskara" in sanskrit is very simple and invigorating.
Stand at the top of your mat or just any old place in your house. Raise both hands up above your head with an inhale (perhaps you do a tiny little backbend). Make sure your should blades are positioned back on your back by rolling the shoulders gently back. Exhale as you fold forward attempting to touch the floor. We call this simply a "swan dive" in yoga class. You can hang out in your forward fold for a few minutes, deep breathing all the while. Take 3-5 slow rhythmic breaths. Next you inhale all the way up again, hands and arms up above the head (optional back bend) and slowly exhale your hands to heart center. Keeping the shoulders back and your belly pulled in ever so slightly to support your lower back. This is a mini-sun salutation that can help get you started.
Another wonderful pose is sphinx pose. Simply lay on your stomach after your mini sun salutation. With an inhale press your hands forearms and elbows into the ground, gently pressing yourself up. Your upper body will be off the ground. Imagine your shining your heart out for the whole world to see, or to your kids, pets or loved one. Let your heart shine! Hold here for two or three breaths. Slowly and rhythmically breathing, keeping the shoulders gently back and the heart forward. Slowly exhale lowering yourself down. Repeat 3 times.
Lastly I love doing a good solid Warrior 1 or Warrior 2. These are more difficult poses but very strengthening, and excellent heart openers.
For Warrior 1, stand at the top of your mat and take a step back. Bend gently into your right knee making absolutely sure that your knee is over your ankle as shown. This is crucial to protect your knee! With an inhale raise the hands and arms over the head as if your reaching out to something in the sky that you want to grab or catch. Hands can be apart or together. Gaze should be up towards your fingers if this is comfortable or straight forward. Roll the shoulders back on the back and shine the heart forward. Hold for 3 to five slow, rhythmic breaths.
You may want to drop right in to Warrior 2 from there. You'll still have your left foot forward. Widening your stance a little, allow your pelvic area to come down while twisting your torso open to the right. Your right arm will be straight out to the back of you and the left arm, straight out to the front of your body as shown. Make sure that your knee is always right above the ankle. I always imagine that I have a string attached to the top of my head - pulling my torso upward to align posture. Shoulders should be rolled back and heart open. Breath rhythmically and slowly for 3-5 breaths. Switch sides and begin with warrior 1 on the right leg.
This should have you nice and warmed up!
Those are just a few moves to get you started. Doing these 4 postures each morning would be a great way to get your body moving and open the heart to love, compassion and health.
The final way we can support heart health is with Heart Centered Affirmations.
An affirmation is a little phrase that you tell yourself in the shower, in the car or in other private moments to lift your spirits, set and intention for your day or life - or simply give yourself the pep talk you need in a difficult moment.
There are many options. You may feel like you start with one and you modify it and really make it your own. See what resonates and try it. When we speak our truth - or what we want our truth to be, it's like a prayer that we send out to the world. This invokes change naturally. What we focus on becomes our reality.
Hearth Centered Affirmations I love!
- "My heart beats to the rhythm of love" (supports love and security)
- "I bring joy back to the center of my heart; I express love to all I encounter" (good for after a heart-attack)
- "I lovingly allow joy to flow through my mind, body and all my experiences" (great for long standing emotional problems or bitterness)
- "I breathe freely and fully. I am safe and trust the process of life" (great for asthma and heartburn)
- "I stand tall and free, I love and approve of myself. Life gets better with each day" (great for poor posture)
- "I choose to handle all my experience with love, joy and ease" (great for arthritic hands)
Hopefully you can adopt any one of these or modify it to your liking. If your interested in learning more about how our bodies manifest emotional challenges into the physical, pick up You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay. Fantastic book that changed my life and the way I perceive illness forever!
I hope that however you choose to spend your Valentines day you do it with love in your heart. This is a message that has been given to me over and over from both my intuitive sense, my teachers and the lessons that I'm learning in life - Love more! You can't go wrong if you love more.
I lovingly write this post to all of you!
Thanks for reading!