Musing on the heart chakra: in fourth grade I remember my teacher, Mrs. Fano, intoning “My heart told me. . . .” I thought she was quaintly slow. Didn’t she know, I wondered, that the heart is a mass of involuntary muscle that pumps blood around the circulatory system for the benefit of moving oxygen to the cells? Frankly I felt sort of sorry for her. Was she unaware the brain thinks, the heart shrinks? Shrinks and expands, contracts and relaxes, squeezes and releases in steady unintentional flux? Was she not in awe of the perfect machine fashioned of cardiac muscle which runs continuously without any conscious direction from us, every day of our lives? What was this business of her heart “telling” ? I couldn’t wrap understanding around her metaphor.
I suppose I should explain two things: One, English was not the first language of either of my parents. I had never heard her particular metaphor. And two, my Dad kept anatomical models of hearts around the house, because they are arrestingly beautiful and inherently interesting. I have a hard time dismissing what the heart actually, literally does in favor of a symbolic representation <3. But that was not the end of it. Of course not. As I grew up metaphors and symbology regarding the heart increased. I would say most people in the West attribute emotions to heart and thoughts to the brain in an unhealthy dualistic schism.
Friends opine “My head tells me to go to grad school, but my heart tells me to stay in Chicago.” Or, “Going to India would be my Heart’s desire.” Or, “He gave heartfelt thanks for the books I gave him. . . “and so on. It seems in English that whenever you do something from an emotional point of view we give the Heart credit even when the Brain is doing the decision making. I was even the unfortunate audience recently to a guru who advised listening to the heart at the expense of the brain, to which I had a visceral reaction. I began to cry. Listening to my heart is what led me to marriage, home ownership, pet ownership, parenthood, moving to the mainland – and if you read this blog regularly you already know what disasters ensued.
Living an emotion driven life may be colorful, unpredictable, whimsical and all that – including dangerous, alienating, depressing, shallow and narcissistic. The brain may be an undiscovered country, but that don’t make her evil. My brain after all, co-ordinates movement, understands, perceives, gives, loves, cherishes, remembers – They is both me. Within the philosophy of chakras one is not favored over the other. The brain is above the heart, to be sure, but both chakras are encouraged to be open, spinning, pure and healthy.
Long before dissection was a common art, chakras were believed to be energy centers in the body. Maybe they were nerve plexus, maybe they were glands, organs or joints, but we can all agree on the idea of chakras as a metaphor in the vein of “following your heart.” In Fact the kind of issues that surround having a “blocked” heart chakra are curiously similar in yogic metaphor as they are in English. The kind of issues that reflect a blocked first chakra, have the same meaning as “gut instinct” metaphors do in English. These references feel natural. Western science and Eastern tradition converge regarding posture and health. Changing the shape of one’s body effects emotions.
At the risk of seriously offending hard core yogis, let’s do a cursory summation of the first few chakras and what they allege to represent. Chakra one, located at the base of my spine concerns base survival issues. What I don’t need I eliminate. When this chakra is blocked I don’t feed grounded, I’m not eating well, or I don’t feel supported. Fear his associated with an imbalance at chakra one. Strengthen this chakra with standing poses that use the large muscles in the legs. Feeling strong makes people confident. Getting above subsistence living alleviates fear. Few people can enjoy introspection if they are struggling to survive.
Chakra two is located at the sex organs, and surprise surprise, has to do with creativity. Traditional yoga is pragmatic. Last night a student started laughing when I mentioned being able to open the feet in badhakonasana opens the groin muscles. She was thinking about sex. We were all women present, so what the hell, I went in for it. There’s nothing wrong with admitting yoga Tantric or Hatha is designed for sex. Yoga pre-dates Puritanical social mores by a couple thousand years at least. Even a child would figure out that sex is better if she feels fit, if she looks hot, if she’s flexible, lithe, supple and strong.
When the second chakra is blocked I lack creative pursuits, hobbies, relationships. I might be very loving but love ineffectively. Blocked people love the wrong people, love superficially, love image, and so on. I might be too overly ascetic, or I might be too “easy” to use the vernacular. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like yoga has “rules” about who I sleep with. . . it’s that spreading energy too thin, and spreading it indiscriminately leaves me less energy to do what is sacred and beautiful and beneficial for the planet. When I was younger I felt very blocked in this regard. Unable to express myself creatively I fell to supporting other creative types. I made myself the audience.
My two talented older brothers played music. I am tone deaf. I can’t even sing. I’m a writer not an artist. My family, bless their hearts, just didn’t know what to make of the little hapax legomenon. I did no one any favors by hiding myself. But I did. I buried my nose in books, and cultivated a timid personality. I was happy for others. I regulated myself to support staff. Having my son was the watershed event. Giving birth is creative! After him my chakra opened as never before. My writing became deeper, my art full of feeling, I resonated with the universe. I realized creativity is not the sacred small ground of the very few. Everyone is creative on some level. Even me.
Chakra three completes the triangle of chakras that enable me to hold a mula bandha or root lock. This chakra said to be located behind my solar plexus or behind the navel. It’s a vague map. There are all manner of metaphors regarding fire in the belly. Willpower lives in manipura chakra. When this chakra is blocked I fail to take action. Dithering, oblivious, timid, shy? Perhaps upward or downward facing bow pose can help. Make space in the abdominal cavity. When this chakra is clear people exhibit passion, direction, ambition, strength of character, morals, values, kindness, compassion.
When these three chakras are clear and strong I have foundation, creativity and the ability to act. Reduce the stress in the body to reduce the stress in the mind. Support the anatomy for a healthy heart and mind, a healthy emotional and physical life.
Who needs higher chakras than that? ? ? Well, we can talk about those next time – they do have a tendency to get more and more ethereal as I move on up the spine. Now y’all play nice!
Too many people spend money they haven’t earned, to buy things they don’t want, to impress people they don’t like. -Will Rogers, humorist (4 Nov 1879-1935)