Expressing the Heart’s Wisdom Through Giving (Dimensions of the Heart in Yoga – Part 4)

The kindness of strangersCreative Commons License photo credit: Ed Yourdon

In our deepest moments of struggle, frustration, fear, and confusion, we are being called upon to reach in and touch our hearts. Then, we will know what to do, what to say, how to be. What is right is always in our deepest heart of hearts. It is from the deepest part of our hearts that we are capable of reaching out and touching another human being. It is, after all, one heart touching another heart”. – Roberta Sage Hamilton


Welcome to the 4th installment in a 5-part series looking at the dimensions of the heart and how yoga can be used to affect the heart at all levels (see Part 1 here). Using the kosha model (a yogic system that looks at the emotional, physical and spiritual aspects that together make up our human experience), we have seen how the heart is manifested in the Annamaya sheath (the physical heart), the Pranamaya sheath (the energetic heart) and the Manomaya sheath (the intelligent heart). Continuing this investigation, we now  move on to the Vijnamaya sheath.

Vijnamaya kosha is comprised of awareness, wisdom and intuition. We often advise; “Follow your heart.” Instintively we know that the heart is indeed wise and intuitive. The wisdom of the heart center is expressed as selfless acts of giving and receiving; and a generous attitude of openness and non-judgment.

If the heart is out of balance in our Vijnamaya sheath we will give only with the expectation of thanks and reward rather than from a place of selflessness. It also becomes difficult to see the big picture and as we get caught up in our own world, we will tend to judge others. Our attitude of righteousness is fueled by not seeing things without our own prejudices clouding our perceptions. A balanced heart will be open to its own true wisdom and more apt to choose to do things based on what feels right even if it is not the easy path.

It is not always easy to receive with grace, especially when pride becomes a factor. By cultivating genuine gratitude, we are giving back to the giver. Swami Sivananda says “Never, never say: ‘I have helped that man.’ Feel and think: ‘That man gave me an opportunity to serve. This piece of service has helped me to purify my mind. I am extremely grateful to him.”

When I was a kid, I always thought we had a lot. My dad went through a tough period when he lost his job loss and fell into depression. That Christmas we received a basket with gifts and food from the local church. We had always been on the giving end of the Christmas baskets before. It sure surprised me! I felt at once embarrassed, humbled and touched. I will never forget that gift. I can only imagine how it felt for my parents, particularly my old-fashioned dad. However, they accepted with grace and did not deny the givers the pleasure of giving their gift.

Yogic Tools for the Wisdom Heart


Karma Yoga

Karma yoga is the yoga of selfless service. Nischala Devi Joy says “My experience is that nothing opens the heart, whether it is a sick heart or a healthy heart, more than doing service.” She tells the story of one of her patients who had diabetes and heart disease. He followed all of her instructions for making healthy lifestyle changes. However, there was little improvement in his condition.

Nischala asked him if he did any service. He said yes, that he made regular donations to several charities. She suggested that over the course of a month he make weekly visits to the local hospital and spend an hour or two on the children’s ward. Although surprised he agreed to try it. Within two weeks he called Nischala and said that’s it was miraculous — his insulin requirement had dropped, he had less chest pain and he felt his depression lifting. “The children, the children. Their faces are so sweet, so loving. I want to go there every day. It makes me feel so good.” Giving of and sharing his time had opened his heart to healing.

In giving, cultivate acceptance and non-judgment of others. As the heart begins to open, we become able to serve others with compassion, giving them what they really need rather than what we think they need – preserving both dignity and personal power.

Here are some ideas for experiencing karma yoga taken from the The Secret Power of Yoga by Nischala Joy Devi (A  beautiful interpretation of the Sutras that I love!)

Experiencing Karma Yoga (Serving Others)

Begin by choosing an aspect of service you would like to offer – perhaps for an individual or through an organization. Find something that fits with your personality. You soon begin to feel joy from your act of giving.

Experiencing Karma Yoga (Serving Yourself)

In the midst of the craziness of everyday life, find something that nurtures you. This could be a bubble bath, a walk in the park, a quiet moment with a book. To give lovingly to others, we need to first feel the Divine within.

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)

3 thoughts on “Expressing the Heart’s Wisdom Through Giving (Dimensions of the Heart in Yoga – Part 4)”

  1. Thanks for placing my photo, “the kindness of strangers,” so prominently at the beginning of your part-4 blog entry. It’s one of my favorite photos, though it was a moment of pure serendipity that allowed me to see it, while sitting on a park bench on Central Park West, waiting for an appointment.

    I went up to the couple that had extended their help to the elderly gentleman, gave them my thanks, and told them they’d be able to see the photograph on the Internet in another day or two. I don’t know whether they did so; I never saw them again…

    Ed Yourdon

  2. Gratitude can be a practice in itself. And it really does open the heart. There’s a wonderful quote that sums it up nicely for me:

    All sorrow in this world comes from wanting only myself to be happy.
    All joy in this world comes from wanting others to be happy.
    – Shantideva

    And it is never to early to teach giving. Just as you noticed with the gift of the Christmas basket (a wonderful story). I was downtown yesterday with my family and we passed a homeless lady sitting on a milk crate. We were tired and hungry after a long day of walking as we passed this lady — who gave my children the most wonderful toothless smile. We ate and I gave each of my children a toonie. They asked me what it was for. I said, “When we walk back past the old lady on the crate, drop it in her cup.”

    I’m not sure my children understood the significance of this, but they didn’t question it and gave the money freely to the lady — who accepted it very graciously. I also did not mention to them that this lady was homeless or why they should give money to her. As you say, it is important to give without the expectation of thanks or reward. I believe it is something they will remember as they get older and look back.

    Anyway, thought it interesting that you posted this after this experience yesterday. Thanks for the post.


  3. Charlotte Bradley

    A beautiful photo. Thank you for placing it on Flickr to share. It reflects so well the quote from Sun’s comment above “All joy in this world comes from wanting others to be happy.” Your serendipitous moment has made me smile! I love the expressions on everyone’s faces – the senior gentleman’s joy is so contagious.

    Another case of serendipity! What a great way to teach your children about giving. (Thank you gracious lady with the toothless smile…) I think it will float around in their minds and resonate in their hearts for quite some time. It always amazes me what sticks with my little guys… when I’m not even really sure they notice something then a little while later some interesting (and often impossible to answer) question pops up. Or they blog about it 30 years later 😉

Leave a Comment