Sejal Gupta tuned into her heart chakra to find healing and forgiveness after a brutal bike accident.
My yoga journey began a few years ago, and one of the first things I learned was the concept of energy body and the seven chakras. My first understanding of the chakra system was purely theoretical. I knew each chakra signified a mind-body balance and that any imbalance in the chakras causes an imbalance in life. For example, a balanced mūlādhāra chakra gives a feeling of being grounded, safety and security. Svādhiṣṭhāna chakra represents fluidity, creativity, positivity and fertility. When the maṇipūra chakra is balanced, we feel empowered with self-esteem and confidence, and the anāhata chakra is associated with love, compassion, connection and kindheartedness. The viśuddha chakra is associated with expression and helps us to cope with our emotions, while the ājñā chakra enables us to trust our inner wisdom to face life’s challenges and choices. Lastly, when the sahasrāra chakra is balanced, it gives us a sense of freedom.
Experience is the best teacher, and I understood the chakra system beyond just theory when I recently experienced extreme physical, mental and emotional pain. I learned to channel my anāhata chakra to find healing and forgiveness. I literally broke a leg to get in touch with my heart. This is my story:
I’m a Mumbai-based yogini and I’ve been blessed with parents who always encouraged me to imagine and visualise what my perfect world would be. They inspired me to live the life that I wanted from a young age and my dad always told me one thing, “Do what you love and excel in that subject.” So at age 14, I dropped out of school and decided to explore life and live it the way I wanted. It’s been a wonderful journey. I spent time travelling across India on road trips that took me to rural landscapes where I learned about rural development, water conservation, natural farming, natural living and wellness. I met inspiring people from all walks of life, who like me, chose to live an alternative life. I eventually completed my formal education via distance learning and completed my post-graduation in management. But, my journey has always led me to yoga and I make trips to Mysore every year to study ashtanga yoga under the guidance of my guru, Paramguru Sharath Jois.
In early 2019, I was in Mysore on a two-month study trip at Sharathji’s shala. After the first month, I started to really connect with my practice at a very deep level. But, life had other plans. In March 2019, and I was visiting a temple as it was the festival of Maha Shivaratri. It was around sunset and I was on a scooter with a friend from the shala who was coming to the temple with me. We were hit by a drunk driver in a speeding car. It was a hit and run. The car had banged into my left leg and I was immediately unconscious. I was bleeding all over and bruised with multiple fractures. Fortunately, I was wearing a helmet but it was completely crushed. A friend who was following us to the temple saw the scene of the accident and called an ambulance to rush us to the hospital.
Eyewitnesses said that it was a miracle that I survived. At the hospital, a CT scan was conducted on me to ensure that I didn’t suffer any head injury, and then I was taken to another hospital for surgery. I remember regaining consciousness and seeing my friends around me. It all felt like a bad dream. My head and ear had multiple stitches and I hoped it really was a bad dream, but I woke up. It was real.
An X-ray of my left leg showed that it was broken so there was another surgery waiting for me. I felt my life shatter along with my bones. Thankfully, my family had been informed and came immediately. My family arrived on the morning of the day when I had to undergo surgery for my leg. I was relieved and grateful to see them. They gave me the strength to cope with my pain — everything inside me hurt. The thought of another surgery and more pain made me shiver with fear. My family and friends were my only hope and strength for that. They never left my side.
A titanium rod was inserted into my broken leg with four metal screws and the surgery lasted around three hours. My family and friends were with me throughout this journey. They visited every day. They got me pancakes, flowers and books to cheer me up. I received an abundance of love each day, and I needed that to believe in myself and my capacity to heal.
My healing process showed me the strength of practising ashtanga yoga. It helped me heal faster. I’m happy to share that my recovery has been much faster than my doctors imagined. The rod and screws are still in my leg and the doctors say it’ll take a month or two before they are removed. But the happiest news is that I’m back on my mat, and thanks to my condition, with so much more awareness of the body and mind.
Anāhata in Sanskrit means “unhurt, unstruck and unbeaten.” This is where the three lower and three upper chakras meet. Being at the centre, it’s the point where physical energy meets spiritual energy. It’s a representation of love, joy, balance, compassion and inner peace which makes the anāhata the natural centre of your relationships, self-love and kindness. A balanced anāhata chakra increases the capacity to give and receive love, and on an anatomical level, it affects the heart, lungs, chest, arms, and hands.
When I found out Sharathji was teaching between October 2019 and January 2020, I hesitated to come because I was still limping and wasn’t sure if I would be able to practise with the rod in my leg. At the same time, I knew in my heart that practising at the shala would help my recovery tremendously. I came to Mysore. Once at the shala, the first few days of practise were tough — I felt like I was crawling up a mountain as I was still in pain and it was a mental and physical challenge to show up on the mat. But with time and Sharathji’s guidance, I managed to practise with ease and felt much more confident. After a month-and-a-half at the shala, my body has mostly recovered. It’s been a hard year and I’ve dealt with a lot but ashtanga was always with me and it helped me through every ordeal that life threw at me. I’m happy to share that I was recently authorised to teach the ashtanga primary series. I’m grateful for Sharathji’s support and feel blessed to be an ashtanga-lineage holder.
If you want to strengthen your heart chakra, you can visualise sending out endless love, hope, compassion and forgiveness to the people in your life and the world. While healing, I practised and focused on asanas that open and affect the anāhata chakra. Those poses helped me centre my heart and love myself. I’d practise urdhva mukha śvānāsana, bhujaṅgāsana, śalabhāsana, dhanurasana and urdhva dhanurasana. These asanas allowed me to become aware of the energy that was flowing through the heart chakra and I could connect with myself. I also practiced deep breathing through the postures. I felt I was surrounded by love and joy and felt connected to the world around me. This is how I personally benefited from aligning the heart chakra. I started to live with a sense of connectedness to all the things around me and this helped me heal much faster.
I’ve shared instructions on how to get into each of these asanas but make sure you do a few rounds of surya namaskars to warm the body before you try these.
FIVE POSES TO ACTIVATE THE HEART CHAKRA
Urdhva Mukha Śvānāsana
Lie on your stomach. Keep your feet hip-width apart. Place your palms next to you chest, fingertips in line with your chest, elbows bent. As you inhale, press your palms into the mat, straighten your elbows and lift your torso forward and upward till your knees and thighs are a few inches off the mat. Lift from the sternum drawing your shoulders away from the ears and avoid tightening the buttocks. Throw your head back and look at the ceiling. Do not compress the back of the neck and keep it relaxed. Stay for five to eight breaths. As you exhale, bring your thighs, hips and torso back to the floor.
Lie on your stomach. Keep your feet hip-width apart. Place your palms next to you chest, fingertips in line with your chest, elbows bent and tucked in close to the body. Press the top of the feet on the floor and press down to anchor your pelvis on the floor. As you inhale, lift the chest off the floor using your back muscles, keeping the elbows bent. The gaze kept forward. Remember to draw your shoulders away from your ears and pull your heart forward and up. Keep the thighs and hips on the floor. Stay for five to eight breaths. As you exhale, slowly lower your chest back to the floor.
Lie on your stomach with your arms by your side, palms facing up. Keep your legs straight and feet together. As you inhale, lift your head, arms, upper torso and legs off the floor. Elongate the neck with your gaze fixed forward. Rotate your thighs inwards to make sure you’re resting on your pelvis, stomach, and lower ribs. Imagine there is weight pushing down on your upper arms as you try and push up against it. Stay for five to eight breaths. As you exhale, lower your head, arms, upper torso and legs back to the floor.
Lie on your stomach with your arms by your side. Bend your knees and bring your heels to your buttocks. Hold onto your ankles with your palms, keeping your toes pointed. Inhale and lift your thighs, head and chest off the floor. Try to move your heels away from the buttocks. Press your shoulder blades firmly into your back to open your up your heart. Keep your gaze fixed forward. Stay for five to eight breaths. As you exhale, lower thighs, head and chest to the floors and rest your arms by your side.
Lie on your back. Bend your knees and keep your feet a little more than hip-width apart. Try to bring to heels as close to buttocks as possible. Bend your elbows and place your palms by the side of your shoulders, with fingers pointing to your body. Press your feet firmly into the floor. Inhale, lift your tailbone and hips off the floor and squeeze your thighs inwards to keep them parallel. Simultaneously, press into the floor with your palms to lift your chest and head off the floor. Try to keep your arms as straight as possible and your feet planted firmly into the ground. Stay for five breaths. As you exhale, lower your hips, chest and head to the floor, and straighten your legs.
Each of these asanas can be repeated three to five times. Just make sure you breathe correctly and never hold your breath. If you find it difficult to breathe in any posture, come out of the posture and work towards it slowly with the right breath. Always be kind to yourself on and off the mat.
Sejal Gupta is a Mumbai-based Level 1 Authorised Ashtanga Teacher. For her teaching schedules, visit @sejalyoga