Dimensions of the Heart in Yoga – Part 1: The Physical Heart

Our heart keeps our physical body alive. It pumps blood throughout the entire body carrying oxygen to each cell. Essential – yes! However, you only need to look at the language of the heart; heartache, heartbreak, kind hearted, warm hearted, heartthrob, heartfelt, to see that intuitively we know the heart is more than just a pump.

Heart transplant recipients have reported having strange dreams about their donors. Sometimes the heart donor would appear and ask the recipient to go to a specific place to tell the family that they were okay. Visions of the donor were confirmed by photos the heart recipient saw in the family’s home. Perhaps the emotional heart of a loved one is somehow embedded within our own emotional heart even after they have died.

According to the yoga kosha model, our body is manifested in five different sheaths; annamaya, pranamaya, manomaya, vijnamaya and anandamaya. In a 5-article series, we are going to look at how the heart is manifested in each kosha and at what yogic tool we can use to access the heart in each of its expressions. More than just a mechanical pump, the heart center has its own energy, intelligence and wisdom and is home to our Divine Soul. A healthy heart on all levels allows us to live the life that we are meant to live with integrity, compassion, joy and love.

The Heart of Annamaya

“Every heart that has beat strong and cheerfully has left a hopeful impulse behind it in the world, and bettered the tradition of mankind” – Robert Louis Stevenson

Annamaya, the first layer is the food sheath. The heart in this layer refers to our physical heart (the muscle) as well as the cardiovascular system. A healthy heart means the cells of your body are receiving nutrients and oxygen and getting rid of waste products so that you have the energy to do what you want to do.

When the physical heart is out of balance the result is heart disease. Every seven minutes in Canada someone dies from heart disease or stroke. In my family, my dad’s dad died in his early 40s from a heart attack — I never met him. My dad suffered from angina and underwent angioplasty. On my moms side, my grandmother died from a heart attack in her 50s, her husband 10 years later also due to heart failure. My mom’s youngest brother had a heart attack at age 34. He survived but died from a heart attack in his 50s. Her other brother had a recent heart attack and happily, is doing very well post-surgery. We are all touched by heart disease in some way.

You can benefit the physical heart in numerous ways to help prevent as well as reverse and heal heart disease. (Note: Please check with your doctor and consult with a qualified instructor before undertaking any new exercise program)

Preventive Tools of Yoga

1. Asana

Inversions allow the heart to rest by using gravity to help bring de-oxygenated blood from the extremities to the heart and oxygenated blood from the heart to brain. Vinyasa style yoga (including Sun Salutations) get the blood flowing and help to improve cardiovascular conditioning.

2. Pranayama

Kapalabhati (Shining Skull Breath) helps to increase circulation and cleanse the respiratory system. It is sometimes called breath aerobics.

3. Stress Reduction

The stress response affects the heart of many harmful ways. It raises blood pressure and heart rate and can cause spasm in the coronary artery. According to 3 10-year studies, emotional stress was more predictive of death from cancer and cardiovascular disease than smoking. Yoga helps people deal with stress in a healthy way.

Yogic Tools to Help Heal Heart Disease

1. Asana

Practices should be gentle and incorporate lots of relaxation. Chair yoga is a great option.

2. Relaxation

Nishcala Joy Devi developed a sequence for heart patients that incorporates a deep relaxation pose (Savasana) at several stages. Relaxation helps lower the heart rate and has been shown to relieve angina pain. When patients engage in deep relaxation during an angiogram, there is a physical release of spasm in the coronary arteries.

Nischala Joy Devi used the following practice for the “Lifestyle Heart Trial” which saw reversal in heart disease:

While seated in a chair: neck circles, shoulder shrugs, ankle circles, knee to chest pose (lift one knee at a time and hug to chest)
Savsana (1 minute)
Half Locust
Savsana (1 minute)
Seated Forward Bend
Supported Shoulderstand
Savsana (1 minute)
Savsana (1 minute)
Seated Spinal Twist
Yogic Seal (Yoga Mudra)
Savasana (longer with guided relaxation)
Pranayama in chair: 3-part breath, alternate nostril
Meditation in chair

(Source: Yoga as Medicine: The Yogic Prescription for Health and Healing; Timothy McCall)


Dimensions of the Heart in Yoga (A 5-Part Series)

Part 1: The Physical Heart (The Heart of Annamaya Kosha)

Part 2: The Energetic Heart (The Heart of Pranamaya Kosha)

Part 3: The Intelligent Heart (The Heart of Manomaya Kosha)

Part 4: The Wisdom Heart (The Heart of Vijnamaya Kosha)

Part 5: The Heart of Bliss – Unconditional Love (The Heart of Anandamaya Kosha)

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