That time of year has arrived. The grocery store shelves are loaded with chocolate, jewelry ads abound, and the whole world seems to be pretending (on the surface at least) that everyone is in love–sweet, simple, romantic, uncomplicated love. For some of us, being bombarded by this explosive array of pinks and reds brings uncertainty or excitement about what to do for a significant other on Valentine’s Day. For others, it brings a certain fresh awareness to the sensation of being single–whether that awareness leads to feelings of loneliness or a deep sense of relief.
Noticing our emotions is a powerful act, and I encourage us all to notice how this heavy focus on loving relationships with others makes us feel, because, inevitably, our reaction reveals certain qualities of our loving (and in some cases, not-so-loving) relationships with ourselves: where love is present, where it isn’t, whether and why we feel happy or hurt, who we let in, who we don’t . . . The list goes on.
Instead of focusing on how we fit into the commercial red and pink fairytale picture of simplistic love this Valentine’s Day, why not focus on how we can open our hearts to all kinds of love? Here are a few places to start:
1. Spend time in nature.
Go for a hike. Enjoy a sunset. Find and enjoy the sound of fresh flowing water. Closely examine the beauty of a single rock or leaf. Build a fire. Hang a wind chime. Start a few plants indoors. Any number of simple activities can reconnect us with nature. The most important part is noticing the beauty of the natural world, allowing yourself to be awestruck, and falling in love with nature all over again. This is one surefire way to experience sweet, simple, almost effortless love.
2. Practice forgiveness.
Whether you’re forgiving yourself or someone else, letting go is an incredible heart-opening exercise. The regrets and fears associated with holding on to past hurts weigh us down on a daily basis and sap our energy, making it more difficult for us to love ourselves and others freely. When you let go, you free yourself to love again and you may even be giving someone else a little more room to change for the better. (If you’re having trouble letting go, try practicing #7 first.)
3. Perform a random act of kindness.
This could be as small as opening a door for someone or paying for a stranger’s cup of coffee or as big as spending an entire day in service to a project that is close to someone else’s heart. When we give to others, we experience joy vicariously through them, and this leads us to experience deeper levels of empathy on a regular basis. Giving also allows us to experience human connection instantly and deeply. This one is a particularly good antidote for feelings of loneliness.
4. Practice heart-opening Yoga postures.
Opening the heart physically also leads to spiritual, mental, and emotional openness. Yoga offers a plethora of poses for opening the heart chakra. Sphinx pose opens your chest, allowing you to feel the heart chakra in a receptive position. Camel pose deeply stretches the muscles of the chest. Cat pose softens and releases frequently tense muscles in the neck and back that make it difficult to open the heart. Fish pose opens up the muscles between the ribs, literally creating more space in your heart center.
5. Spend time with children and furry friends.
It’s no secret that we often behave like the company we keep. Children and animals frequently enjoy living their lives with open hearts simply by virtue of their innocence. Even children and animals who have been hurt seem to exude an incredible resilience that we can learn quite a bit from. Try letting a child lead you around for a few hours. Get on the floor and experience the world from their perspective. Snuggle with your dog or cat, feel their energy, and let go of all your human thoughts for awhile.
6. Schedule a heart-opening reiki or healing touch session.
Energy work is a powerful means of opening the heart chakra and releasing old energy blockages that might be leading to unhealthy habits and thought patterns. As a reiki practitioner, I have seen countless clients come in with heavy hearts complaining of physical symptoms and difficulty moving forward in their lives. In many cases, we carry around energetic baggage that we don’t realize is affecting us. Cleansing and balancing the heart chakra can help tremendously by improving energy flow throughout the entire mind, body, and spirit. You can tell your practitioner that you want to focus on opening your heart or set that intention for the session privately in your mind. Your energy field will tell them where to focus.
7. Feel your feelings.
This may sound a little obvious, but our society has developed countless strategies, practices, and products to help us avoid our feelings. From childhood, we are told not to cry, to hold still when we’re feeling restless, and to find distractions when our feelings are inconvenient. We can avoid the ones we don’t like all day long, but the truth about feelings is that, in order for them to pass, they must be felt. Ignoring your feelings might get you through the stressful meeting you’re in or out of the grocery store without making a scene, but until you fully acknowledge them, they will remain with you. Cry. Shake. Laugh. Yell. Sing. Find a safe space, and give yourself permission to experience and express your feelings authentically.
-Emily Stewart Baker
Emily Stewart Baker is a reiki master, singer/songwriter, ordained minister, and founder of The Breathing Room. Book a session with Emily at The Breathing Room here.