Developing a heart-centred practice that will shine through the darkness. By Stephanie Spence
Living with the daily realities of life, in a world with a growing insensitivity to others, can be stressful. If you’re like most, you watch the news, read online media and blogs and/or participate in water cooler conversations and see the insensitivity played out daily. Thus, it’s hard not to come away with a belief that the world is an increasingly dangerous place, fraught with peril at every turn.
But, what if there was an alternative way to operate in the world? An alternative that could diminish or eliminate the growing stress you feel? More importantly, what if you could take control of the alternative, guide it to what you wanted and truly needed?
In fact, I submit to you that you can survive and even thrive simply by embracing a living from your heart mindset.
Research at the HeartMath Institute suggests that the heart is “an access point to a source of wisdom and intelligence that we can call upon to live our lives with more balance, greater creativity and enhanced intuitive capacities. These are important for increasing personal effectiveness, improving health and relationships and achieving greater fulfilment.”
From the heart
I first heard about HeartMath about 15 years ago. It was when I was publishing a wellness lifestyle magazine and met Gregg Braden, a New York Times best-selling author and scientist who is known for bridging science, spirituality and the real world.
Braden was at a conference where he explained how there is a scientifically proven energy field that extends out from us. He showed us that the heart is surrounded by a field of energy that extends out about five to eight feet. This heart field extends on the physical and quantum level. This understanding is fundamental to why it’s important to keep your energy field and body in harmony. From my own practice, I’ve learned that dis-harmony in my energy field will cause disease in my body. Since your yoga practice is a reflection of your life, if your energy field is out of balance, your body will be out of balance.
Braden went on to demonstrate how we all may be separate but we share what he labelled a heart field. As a random subject sat on stage, he connected them to a monitor where we viewed their brain energy field through various colours. He explained that we could witness the signal from the heart to the brain. The quality of that signal is called coherence. Simply put, if we can create an optimal feeling in our heart, it will affect our brain.
He instructed us to close our eyes and asked us to think of something we were grateful for. As we did, the subject’s brain waves – based on our energy – changed. Positively. I was in awe of the transformational powers that my heart, that our hearts, had on a total stranger.
Here was scientific proof that my heartfelt gratitude could affect myself and others. I yearned to learn more so I could integrate this wisdom into my yoga practice. I had always known that yoga is an ancient science but became fascinated with the idea that a group heart centred practice could heal the world.
Yoga is not a religion; it is a spiritual practice. One of my main goals of practicing yoga is to raise the energy of my spiritual self. I define that as cultivating a life where my frame of reference comes from my heart. The Yoga Sutras tell us that yoga stills the fluctuations of the mind. My belief is the value of that calm state allows us to move actions and behaviours from your head to your heart. Practicing yoga cultivates heart intelligence.
To cultivate heart intelligence, you must make a conscious choice to spend your time in areas of concern or areas of influence. You’ll need to limit your exposure to the negative influences of the news and people that dwell in the world of negativity. Instead, fill your heart with positive influences including yoga, nature, spiritual literature, uplifting imagery and positive friends, and creative endeavours.
I encourage you to consider the energy between your heart and brain the next time you practice yoga. In addition to practicing heart-opening postures, try Bhakti yoga. The Sanskrit word bhakti comes from the root bhaj, which means ‘to adore or worship.’ Bhakti yoga has been called ‘love for love’s sake’.
Bhakti yoga complements other paths of yoga well, and it is said that Jnana (knowledge or goal in the practice of Bhakti yoga) is to reach the state of Rasa (essence), a feeling of pure bliss achieved in the devotional surrender to the Divine. The exquisite thing is no matter what yoga path you take we all achieve the same thing: harmony.
Take the essence of the practice and begin to apply it to your own life. Remind yourself that life is interconnectedness. We are not separate. Life flows through our lives with ourselves and others. Yoga is union: with self and with others. But it begins with you.
Developing a heart-centred practice
You can begin or reaffirm your own heart-centred practice by making a habit of these two simple things:
- Do a daily check-in and journal your gratefulness. Sit in a quiet place and close your eyes. Check-in with your body. Feel the sensations. No judgement. Recall something amazing about your body. This could be simply an appreciation for getting you where you need to go. Say silently, or softly to yourself, “Thank you body.” See how that feels. Ask your body, “What do you need from me today?” Next check-in with your intellect, emotional self and spirit. Ask your whole self for a message. Listen from your heart. It could be colours or images or words.
- Light a candle to express your wish that all beings be free from suffering; while chanting the mantra Om Mani Pad Me Hum.
While your valid concerns for your safety, and those you care about, must be taken seriously, fear is not a place that is healthy to dwell in. Living from your heart and feeling peaceful does not mean living secluded away in a cave on a mountaintop or being optimistically naïve, ignoring the realities of humanity. Through the darkness, we can all do our part to strive to live a peaceful life at our peak potential. We all can step into our light. As we shine, it will diminish darkness. The good news is when you use yoga to connect to your heart field, that conscious choice creates health for yourself and the world.
Yogis are the most open to learning how to live a heart-centred life, so I hope this Buddhist chant and information help you with your ongoing yoga pilgrimage. When you shift your energy from your head to your heart, your life – and the lives of those around you – will be enhanced.
You can visit Stephanie Spence’s website here
First published in November 2009, OM Yoga magazine has become the most popular yoga title in the UK. Available from all major supermarkets, independents and newsstands across the UK. Also available on all digital platforms.