"Thou hast made me endless, such is thy pleasure... at the immortal touch of thy hands my little heart loses its limits in joy and gives birth to utterance ineffable..." -from Gitanjali, by Rabindranath Tagore.
From a yogic perspective the heart is the seat of consciousness, the abode of bliss and the real home of every human being. Not the physical heart per se, but the heart centre - often referred to as the 'higher mind'.
The heart space is seen as the abode of wisdom, where intelligence is refined by experience, compassion and humility. The heart feels, not in a coarse sensory way, but subtly, intuitively. With the marriage of heart and mind, a truer understanding of life is possible.
The path of yoga has many tricks to coax us away from our preoccupation with the infinite distractions playing in the lower (cognitive/sensory) mind, redirecting us to the heart centre that lies between good and bad, right and wrong, better and worse, happy and sad, more and less and all of the other polarities that this 'monkey mind' likes to swing among.
Coming home is synonymous with reconnecting with the stillness that yoga says is already at the heart of our own being. Gradually, the mind stops being seduced by the senses and external influences and rests, suspended between these opposites without expectation or regret, content to accept life 'as it is'.
All this sounds fluffy and impractical in a world that seems to be devolving more rapidly every time we turn on the news - how can we love and accept a life like this?
A balanced yoga practice aims to take us into the heart of our own experience so that, like a self-saucing pudding, we no longer need to get our fix of happiness from the outside. Instead, we begin an excavation process that turns the mind back on itself to consider its own 'empty' nature, until it recognises itself in relation to the consciousness that created it, and our own source of bliss bubbles up from within.
Being genuinely seated in the heart is not to be confused with running around hugging everyone, developing a soft, passive tone of voice and feeling self righteous about how 'spiritual' we are, or coating pain and suffering with a thick veneer of 'positive thinking'.
Positive thinking alone can deny or suppress feeling and harden the heart, while becoming overcome with emotion denies the mind's ability to reason things back into perspective. With the head and heart working in equal balance, a yoga practice can maintain a healthy sense of humour without losing its focus - somewhere between effort and surrender.
Patanjali's prescription of eight limbs (ashtanga) offers a gradual peeling away of mental clutter until the mind is left pristine and razor sharp, capable of penetrating life like a laser beam - a suitable implement for plumbing the depths of the human condition.
The first two limbs on Patanjali's eightfold path deal with personal and social conduct. They each contain five complementary disciplines to alter habits and cultivate mindful behaviour that supports deeper practice. These are often overlooked in yoga practice in favour of the more 'glamorous' or 'trendy' practices of asana and meditation. We don't see Sting or Madonna on their knees performing prostrations to cultivate humility much (not to suggest that they don't), but we do see them sitting in lotus pose looking very serene, in what appears to be an effortless state of meditation.
The first two limbs of yoga lay the foundation for the journey - small, seemingly insignificant gestures of a mundane nature cultivate habits that allow for appropriate spontaneous action later on. Cultivating the first two limbs (yama and niyama) will hone your instincts, so that when you are in deep states of meditation, where thought yields immediate results, you don't get seduced by the expanding power of your own mind and abuse it.
The third limb (asana) aims to balance heart and mind by giving equal emphasis to strength and flexibility, right and left, top and bottom, inner and outer - again encouraging us into the centre of our own experience, between opposites. The use of energetic blocks (bandhas) and breath manipulation focuses energy inwards to awaken us to the subtle dimensions of ourselves - a bit like a science experiment to create nuclear fission. The powerful, brilliant energy (maha prana or kundalini) of the inner world is ignited if the conditions (alignment, breath ratio, pressure created by the bandhas) are right, and you understand for the first time just how important it really is to tread carefully on the path.
The fourth limb (pranayama) further manipulates the breath to direct the flow of this 'awakened' life force, which is essentially the subtle 'fuel' for the journey. The left and right nostrils become the reins to steer through the subtle body and the gears to control the speed at which the mind is moved and transformed by the prana.
The fifth limb (pratyahara) changes the coordinate settings in the mind so that it withdraws from its external focus - the senses are sharper but have less sway on the mind as it is turned back on itself (the sixth sense).
The sixth limb (dharana) further sharpens the faculty of mind so that it can focus on a single idea or form without distraction, like a guided missile intent on one target.
The seventh limb (dhyana) is the term yoga uses for meditation. It refers to a continuous stream of consciousness without interruption and occurs as a spontaneous and effortless progression from dharana. Like a rocket that has cast off its heavy fuel supply and is pulled in by the gravitational field of the moon, the mind, fully surrendered, approaches its own enlightenment.
The eighth and final limb (samadhi) brings us to the heart of the practice and to that 'home' that we have been carrying around at the centre of our being all along. Patanjali describes that here, 'the perceiver [that's you] abides in his [her] own essence'.
"Go to you heart and roam in it, God dwells within you, as you.." - Swami Muktananda.
- Top Stories