To state the obvious, everyone has baggage. Whether it’s childhood trauma, the remnants (or fresh ache) of a broken heart, deep disappointment with yourself or those around you, or generalized feelings of not being

[fill in the blank: good, smart, pretty, etc.] enough, pain is simply part of the human experience. Pain can keep us stuck and weighed down. It certainly has at times for me. But pain can also be a gateway to something sublime and precious: healing and then growth. That is, unless you try and deal with it by shoving it deep inside, supposedly never to be seen or heard from again.

I was married once before, in my late 20s. My ex and I met in law school, were friends for a long time, started dating, fell in love, had a solid couple of years of a good relationship, stayed together because neither of us could imagine anything else (I should just speak for myself here; I married him because I could not imagine anyone else would really love me the way he said he did), and eventually tied the knot. Predictably, what began on shaky ground soon turned even less sturdy. I became very unhappy very quickly. But I could not face that pain. So I tried to tune it out with numerous distractions, some quite self-destructive. This went on for a couple of years. Then somehow, largely because I was pretty darn close to rock bottom emotionally, I let (made) myself feel the pain of knowing I was not living authentically. Once I felt that, I could begin to imagine a different life for myself. Within a few months we were separated, then divorced, then living in different cities. Within a few years we were both remarried with kids and living authentically happy lives. I share this simply for the point that everyone experiences pain. But tuning into my pain – as opposed to trying to block it, ignore it, or otherwise avoid facing it head on – was the only way I found may way out of the pain.

Feeling your pain and moving past it need not be so dramatic as getting divorced. It might be as simple as sitting quietly in meditation, or in child’s pose, or on a park bench, and just feeling what is inside of you. Really feeling it. Then, the healing can begin.

Yoga can help. The fourth, or heart, chakra is the fourth energy center along the spine, flanked by three above and three below. Called the Anahata chakra, it resides in the center of the chest and is considered the spot where our physical and spiritual selves meet. The Sanskrit word Anahata literally means “unstruck” or “unhurt.” As the name implies, beneath the well of pain that every one of us has experienced, there is a pure pool of compassion, forgiveness, healing and love. It’s this place we want to tap into to move beyond heartache.

How: a practice to open the Anahata (heart) chakra

  • Come to child’s pose and breathe deeply into the back body. Feel the space behind the heart rise and fall with the breath. Bring the mental awareness to the heart space and see if you can breathe some expansiveness into the chest.
  • Cobra pose (bhujangasana). From lying on your belly with your forehead on the mat, place the hands on either side of the rib cage. Begin to peel the torso up, pressing the palms into the floor and moving your arms toward straight (though a micro-bend in the arms is a healthy way to protect the elbow joints). Your thighs will stay rooted into the ground. Reach the crown of your head high and maybe even gaze up, unless this creates tension in your neck. Pull the shoulders down and back, and open up through the chest. Continue to push your thighs into the ground to protect your low back. Push the tops of your feet into the ground as well. Take 3-5 breaths and repeat the pose 3-5 times.
  • Crane pose (anjaneyasana). From downward facing dog, step your right foot in between your hands and drop your left knee to the ground. Slowly raise your arms up to the sky as you gently move your hips forward and down. If it feels comfortable on the neck, begin to gaze up as you open up your heart space. After 3-5 breaths, plant your hands back down on the mat, step back to downward facing dog, and repeat on the other side.
  • Camel pose (ustrasana). Kneel on the floor or mat with your legs hips width apart. Press the tops of your feet into the mat. Place your hands on your low back or sacral area. Lift up through your heart and move the hips forward. If you have the flexibility to reach back for the heels of your feet (which can be curled under or flat on the mat), go ahead, continuing to push the hips forward. If it feels all right on the neck, drop the head backwards. After you release out of the pose, come into a downward facing dog with your knees extremely bent, to release the low back. Stay for 3-5 breaths in the pose and repeat the pose 2-3 times.

Feel the love!