(First published 7/3/09)
Following on from the last chapter of Inside Yoga, about the mind, I want to speak about the heart, not the physical blood engine that sustains us, but the emotional heart.
“Chitta also means the heart and dwells in the heart. This is not the physical heart but the central core of deep feeling and profound knowing, the spiritual heart.” Dr David Frawley, ayurvedic practitioner
In my classes I often mention the awareness, the body, the mind, and the breath: and, understandably, you might question where the heart comes into all of this?
It is an important part of the yoga process or transformation. As we seek to unlock our bodies through yoga from its stiffness, its discomfort, its lack of strength, and its suffering, there is also the opening of the heart that results from a yoga practice.
On the physical level, one’s heart will work better through practice. It becomes stronger and more efficient, and those who suffer from high/low blood pressure are able to bring it back to a safer level and control it with yoga.
But it is on the emotional-spiritual level that yoga goes deepest with regards to the heart.
We might first approach yoga not thinking about the heart – we might not feel particularly connected to it – perhaps because we are not connected in general to our bodies and emotions.
Yoga helps make that connection. It helps us return to ourselves. It helps us to meet our hearts once again.
Yoga also goes further, through a deep yoga practice (and here I mean all aspects of yoga – asanas, pranayama, meditation, and so forth) one is able to not only meet the heart, but open it.
When I mean “open” I refer to this opening that allows us to feel ourselves, to feel those around us, to feel the world around us. To be more sensitive yet more balanced, because we are in touch with our hearts.
Yoga does mean we become sensitive, perhaps it means we can cry and shed a tear or two for the first time around a subject or experience in our life that has been held locked within our body from a long time. These are the tears of release, that release us from the pains and suffering that can be locked within.
On a physical level, these blockages can reveal themselves in terms of physical tightness, perhaps in the hips or the shoulders.
It is said that we store our experiences in our bodies. Physical tension is the most common indication of the emotions manifesting in the body.
I have seen people practice hip openers and burst into tears, coming out the other side feeling lighter and better for the tears – a burden having been shed.
Having an open heart is also something that makes us stronger, not weaker, contrary to what some would lead us to believe. If we are open, our system is clearer and more free, to experience the world.
We then use the yoga practice to guide us through our experiences, to protect our open hearts. Many names from history have been known for their open hearts and strength, such as Mahatma Ghandi and His Holiness the Dalai Lama, to name just two.
In my experience, it took years of yoga practice, including a lot of meditation, to discover this aspect of yoga. And as my heart opened, the quality of my life and experiences improved. This did not mean I became overwhelmed with a heart ready to burst or feel assaulted by the world around me. Yoga practice gave me the tools to ride these emotional waves – both inner and outer – and continues to guide me.
This transformation, this opening of the heart, can be on many levels, it does not have to be some huge life changing experience; it can be an everyday experience, that leaves you feeling a little more open.
Through yoga practice we encourage a connection with the heart, with the mind, with the breath, so that we are – in holistic terms – awake and connected within, and with the world around us.
The heart is where our intuitive intelligence lies. It is where we can really know an experience, for example, a yoga asana can be understood intellectually when the words make sense. But it is when the practice is fully appreciated and the experiential lesson understood in the heart that the practitioner has made a breakthrough.
As many people have often said, the heart knows.
“By culturing the body, the mind and the consciousness, the practitioner conquers the defects of the intellect, brings balance to the emotional seat of the heart, and becomes intuitively strong. Yoga leads to that happiness where one is free from the defects of intelligence, emotions and instincts.” BKS Iyengar, yoga master