Shanti Yoga community,
My physical body has mirrored the weather this week; dreary and heavy with a cold or spring-time flu. I canceled all my weekday classes and brushed the dust off of some of my yoga books. With an empty calendar and an inability to be physically busy, I took the opportunity of stillness and abundance of time to and to read and study. Below you will find this week’s schedule and a writing that explores the reasons for bringing our focus to the heart both on and off the mat.
“The mind is a wonderful servant but a terrible master”
“Drop into the heart space. Feel the physical heart, the heartbeat. Notice on an inhale how the heart is embraced. Notice as you exhale that there is a spacious quality around the heart. Now, can you drop in even deeper? Right to the center of the center. Below the heartbeat, you will feel a vibration.”
Anyone who has attended my yoga classes has probably heard this very cue, or perhaps something similar and as simple as “drop below the chatter of the mind.” When my own practice is heart focused I notice that my emotional state becomes less erratic, my mental state becomes more clear, and my physical state settles–often in terms of a physical release of tension, blood pressure lowers, or I can simply physically and mentally surrender to (rather than fight with) whatever state of transition my body happens to be in at the moment. For instance, finding acceptance of the fact that this week, I have the flu.
Though often thought to be ethereal, focusing on the heart during yoga practice is based on scientific fact. The heart is the electromagnetic center of the body, emanating thousands of times more electricity and magnetism than the brain. Imagine that the brain’s internal signal has the power of one oscillating human voice, compared to the heart’s internal signal that has a power of a chorus of 5,000 oscillating human voices.
Between 60-65 percent of the heart’s cells are neural, identical to those present in the brain. Energy—information that vibrates—flows constantly between the heart and brain, assisting with emotional processing, sensory experience, memory and derivation of meaning from events and reasoning. The heart has long been known as the center of the body, as well as the home of the soul. Under the correct conditions, such as when a person consciously “centers” in the heart, the heart begins to run the brain. (Most typically, the brain runs the body.) Entrainment or the management of the body through the heart rather than the brain leads to higher functioning mental and emotional states, as well as a healthier body. (The subtle body an encyclopedia of your energetic anatomy, Cyndi Dale).
Most of us have been taught to focus through the lens of the mind. If we process life through a mind fraught with worry and judgment, we neglect to acknowledge in the body, and the heart, basic instinctual experiences of comfort and love.
For instance, do we notice how it “feels” in the heart when we are embraced by a loved one? It often feels warm or light. Sometimes there is an experience of expansion in the heart. To “feel” the effects of that embrace, it’s necessary that we “drop below the mind.” If we remain in the mind during an embrace instead of feeling, we might be thinking things like “I don’t really think she wanted to hug me, who would want to hug me anyway?” Or “I really don’t have time for this. I should be working right now.”…and so on, and we miss the opportunity to nourish our lives with this most basic human need of connection.
Those sorts of comforts [like a heartwarming embrace] are basic human needs and failure to attend to, and notice them result in a stunted existence. No matter how lofty our thoughts and worldly our accomplishments we [won’t know peace] if we do not acknowledge the reality of the body in all its visceral dimensions. (The body keeps the score, Dr. Bessel van der Kolk.)
All energy contains information and all cells are energetic. Highly synchronized cells, such as those compactly organized in the heart are able to increase the amplitude of an incoming signal. (The subtle body, Cyndi Dale). In other words, the heart will “hear” what it is programmed to hear, if love resides within the heart the heart will attune to love, if that one loud and oscillating voice of the mind has crowded out the steady oscillating chorus of the heart, fear or greed will often be our focus and we will access negativity.
Those cliché phrases of “I feel the good vibe, man?” or “You’re a drag, man.” quite literally translate to a vibrational experience. The first describes a heart field harmonizing and amplifying with a positive energy field, and the latter, a heart field running into an opposing negative energy field. The weight of negativity literally drags on that field.
Yoga is about finding balance. We need the mind, as a servant to support us in many practical matters. If we are experiencing suffering, the mind is in control and crowding out the heart’s wisdom with stories and judgments.
We all hold within us both darkness and light. When we “drop into the heart” on the mat we are often guided to examine what we hold there through the lens of a neutral observer, or with unconditional love. When, without judgment or attachment, we become aware of what we hold in our hearts and in our minds, we can “mindfully” choose our intention or our focus and begin to attune to similar vibrations in the outer world. We can begin to “drop-in” to that quiet but powerful chorus of love at the heart’s center both on and off the mat and hold the mind in its proper place as servant.