Awakening the Power of the Heart: Two Sacred Yogic Meditations for Activating and Opening the Heart Chakra
By Tias Little
Posted on March 10, 2017
The Heart Chakra and Its Vibration
The physiological and spiritual heart center is referred to as the hṛt chakra but is more commonly known as the anāhata chakra. The heart is thought to contain a mystical, silent sound that, like the perpetual expansion of the universe, resounds continually. Vibration within the heart is, paradoxically, called the “unstruck sound” (anāhata śabda), implying a profound, unruffled stillness. In the depths of heart chakra opening meditation, it is possible to experience silence resonating in the heart—a silence purported to lie at the very foundation of being.
In the transformational alchemy of the subtle body, yogis attune to vibration conducted through interior pathways of the body. Sound travels through nāḍīs, and like the vibrating strings of a sitar, pure sound currents reverberate through the nerves and vessels. Thus, frequencies of sound are borne on the prāṇa, moving through the fluids and tissues of the body. When the bones, joints, ligaments, and organs align in āsana and the lungs and heart expand through prāṇāyāma, the “soundless sound” of prāṇa is amplified.
Om—the heart chakra opening mantra—is the classic syllabic current used to expand and harmonize the vibratory rhythms of the heart in the subtle body. Throughout the sacred literature of India, the morpheme Om denotes the sound current of the divine (śabda Brāhma). In the first chapter of Patañjali’s Yoga Sutras, which extolls samādhi, the enunciation of Om, tasya vācakaḥ praṇavaḥ, exalts the divine within by amplifying the inner acoustics of the heart, or anāhata chakra. Thus, it is through sound vibration—sound that eludes the interpretive powers of the intellect—that a divine presence awakens. With this said, the heart chakra is the source of all vibratory rhythm, audible to those who can attune to its sublime presence. During spells of profound heart chakra opening meditation, the atmospheric space of the heart expands and absorbs the mind, the result being an interior state of quiescent joy. In this way, the vibrations of the spiritual heart, called spanda, are inseparable from the flow of consciousness. In the Vijñāna Bhairava (Wisdom of Śiva), a collection of tantric teachings from Kashmir compiled around the eighth century c.e., it is said,
He whose mind together with the senses is merged into the interior space of the heart,
Who has entered mentally into the middle of the heart lotus,
Who has excluded everything else from consciousness,
Acquires the highest fortune.
Practice: The Flame of the Heart Meditation
The aim of this heart opening meditation technique is to cultivate undistracted awareness and interior light by imagining a steady flame in the cave of your heart.
Begin by sitting comfortably on a three- to six-inch support throughout this heart chakra meditation and releasing the weight of your leg bones and pelvis into the cushion. Lift the sides of your trunk and raise and open the region around the eyes of your heart. Close your eyes and visualize a flame in the middle of the cave of your heart. As you settle into a very light rhythm with your breath, imagine this heart flame burning steadily. Should winds of distraction penetrate your heart-mind, then the flame will waver, flicker, and burn uncontrollably.
When distracted, the flame will not burn brightly and its oscillations will cause the flame tip to smoke, clouding your concentration. Make your breath even, soft, and steady. This will help the flame of your heart burn steadfast and still. Visualize an unruffled flame with a constant glow, like a flame in a windless place. Imagine the radiance and glow of this steady light filling your entire chest. Sense the spirit of great joy that accompanies this unperturbed, undying flame within your heart chakra. Remain for five to forty-five minutes.
The Cave of the Heart
One of the common allusions to the heart chakra in yoga metaphysics is that of the heart as a cave. Hidden, secret, and inscrutable, the heart is like an ancient grotto wherein the lantern of awareness is kept lit… and can be accessed through the heart meditations shared herein.
As a way of describing entry into the cave of the heart through meditation, from surface to depth, my Dzogchen teacher in Tibetan Buddhist practice, Tsoknyi Rinpoche, outlines three aspects of the heart—the outer, inner, and secret (innermost) heart. The outer heart can be thought of as the threshold to the cave. It is affected by circumstances and interactions with people—in a sense, it is shaped by the day-to-day effects of karma. Any formulation of a social self is determined by exchanges and contacts that occur at the level of the outer heart. This layer is a source of both joy and pain, as thoughts, emotions, hopes, and fears are conditioned by outside phenomena. The outer heart is subject to the variable winds of circumstance, and as a result, confusion, anger, attachment, pride, and jealousy (the five poisons) can metastasize inside this heart chakra.
The inner heart, the second layer of the heart chakra, is located in the interior heart cave. It is a repository for our inner feelings, moods, and impressions and can be accessed with the heart chakra meditations outlined in this article. This middle heart holds the personal sense of I, born from myriad imprints that determine how we feel about ourselves. This includes everything that is ingrained in the psyche due to conditioning, initially and formatively, by the domestic scene into which we are born. It includes self-image; thoughts, judgments, habitual affect, and personal identity. This layer has lasting, hidden, often ambiguous effects on the subtle body.
The deepest level, the secret heart, has an affinity with the immeasurable—that which cannot be put into language and can never be known. This secret heart chakra is intimately woven within the subtle body. Due to its depth, it can never be named or recognized. The only way to commune with this deep-seated, enduring heart is by moving into the deep recesses of the cave, veritably a journey into the heart of darkness.
This move involves a radical suspension of self, a direct experience of utter selflessness. Since thought, cognition, and intellect are barred from gaining access to the secret heart (like Plato’s shadows, they merely project traces of their own images), the ultimate way to arrive at this layer is through unmitigated surrender, a kind of out-and-out, total letting go. By ceding to not knowing, by capitulating to the darkest recesses of the heart cave, we “see the greatness of the self, sorrow at an end.” In Buddhist teaching, this unforgettable dropping away of self-identity is described as śūnyatā (emptiness). My Zen teacher Roshi Joan Sutherland identifies this meditative journey into the wisdom of the subtle body and the depth of the heart as the process of “endarkenment.”
Practice: Meditation in the Cave of the Heart
This heart chakra healing meditation technique guides one to the very depths of the interior heart, to the secret heart, a place beyond comprehension that transcends linguistic reference. Assume a comfortable seated position and begin your session with soft, slow strokes of your breath. Settle into the weight of your bones and be sure to relax your jaw, tongue, and throat. Gently shepherd your awareness into the cave of your heart. Become aware of the outside surface of your anatomical heart, the side that faces outward toward the world. In so doing, recall any events within the last several hours, days, or weeks that have had an impact on your emotional being. Make note of the events or the people that form the constellation of your felt experience in this outer heart.
Next, bring meditative awareness to your inner heart and notice how outside circumstances affect your breathing, heart rate, brain waves, and electrical signals. This involves the process of interoception, observing feelings of pain, body temperature, pulsation, tingling, and so forth. These sensations may reflect emotive states of humiliation, judgment, shame, irritation, intolerance, and so on. Notice how there may be traces of toxic feeling left in your subtle body from events or personal relationships that have arisen in your life. Be patient and tolerant while practicing nonjudgmental awareness.
Finally, bring meditative awareness to the posterior surface of your heart, the side that faces inward toward your spine. This is the secret heart that is outside karma, outside of circumstances, causes, and conditions. Conjure feelings of space and lightness in this innermost recess of your heart. Avoid attempting to identify or make cognitive sense of your heart meditation opening experience. With undistracted awareness, allow yourself to be absorbed into your secret heart chakra area and into silence, space, and a sense of timelessness. This realm is uncontaminated by bias, interpretation, or judgment. Rest your awareness in the unspeakable, unintelligible, and truly vast realm of your innermost heart. Remain in this heart healing meditation for ten to thirty minutes.
This article on heart chakra meditation is excerpted with permission from Yoga of the Subtle Body by Tias Little. Reprinted in arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc. Boulder, CO. shambhala.com © 2016