“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.” – Helen Keller
Continuing with our look at the heart in the kosha model of yoga, we move onto the third sheath – manomaya. The manomaya sheath is comprised of mind, including emotions and intelligence. The heart possesses its own intelligence expressed as feelings, influencing our mental health and interacting with our brain.
Feelings or emotions can be described as energy in motion. The movement of these emotions is important to both our physical and psychological health. In The Healing Path of Yoga Nischala Devi Joy explains “When we hold onto things, good or bad, it stops the energy from flowing in and through our hearts. It can prevent healing. Sometimes we need to express the pain. We may even ask for forgiveness or accept another’s forgiveness. The heart opens and then we let it go.”
Nischala relays an account of a woman who was in the late stages of ovarian cancer. After much time spent in meditation and spiritual contemplation, she realized, while lying in surgery, just how much anger she still held for her ex-husband who had betrayed her. She decided to confront her ex-husband and his new wife. Eventually she found compassion and forgiveness her ex-husband and his actions. Several years later she was thriving with virtually no sign of the cancer (previously deemed terminal) and was pursuing her dream of earning a college diploma.
The Heart’s Role in Our Mental Wellbeing
In Chinese medicine the heart controls the minds and the brain is simply a place where thoughts are stored. Our psychological health is directly related to the amount of chi in the heart. The blood represents our joy. I love how Louise L.Hay describes the functions of the heart and blood; “Our hearts lovingly pump joy throughout our bodies.” According to Chinese medicine, insomnia, depression, poor memory and psychological disorders are symptoms of heart imbalance.
The “Heart Brain”
Research by Western scientists has found that the communication between heart and brain is not a one-way street as once believed. The heart is actually a highly complex and organized processor of information. It has its own “brain” that communicates with the cranial brain via hormones, neurotransmitters, pulse waves and electromagnetic fields. The nervous system of the heart contains 40,000 neurons.
Heart-focused and sincere feeling states have been shown to boost the immune system while negative states suppress the immune system. Consider the body’s physiological response to anger. After an angry episode, it takes the body three hours to come back to a state of physiological balance – many heart attacks happen within three hours of such an episode. Yoga’s ability to lessen (or deal with) anger helps to lower the risk of heart attack.
In one study, several participants viewed a film of Mother Teresa. Scenes included Mother Teresa holding extremely malnourished and malformed babies, holding a man who was glued to the streets with his own blood and showing love to the many people who lay dying in cots so that they could die with dignity. Blood samples were taken from the participants before and after the documentary. Many of the participants wept openly during the movie but others voiced their disdain and distrust of Mother Teresa. However, the blood test results showed that immune function had risen in every single one of the participants. It appeared that no matter how much the minds tried to close to the goodness of what Mother Teresa exemplified, the hearts of even the most cynical were affected.
Yogic Tools for the Intelligent, Emotional Heart
Performing yoga postures moves the energy through the body helping to unblock any stuck emotions. As mentioned previously, backbends are particularly helpful for opening the heart center. Personally, I find Ustrasana (Camel Pose) often stirs up my emotions. Although this probably indicates I should practice it often, I have to admit it’s not my favorite pose 😉
Practice pranayama that move the energy and create an uplifting feeling.
Amy Weintraub is a leader in the area of yoga and mental health and the author of Yoga for Depression: A Compassionate Guide to Relieve Suffering Through Yoga. She describes the benefits of Breath of Joy: “(this) breathing exercise can sweep away cobwebs of lethargy and bring more energy into your life.” Have a look at our article: Try Breath of Joy to Energize, Uplift and Cleanse for details.
Bhramari (Bumble Bee Breath)
Helps to tone and balance the pituitary gland, remove negative emotions and create a sense of well being. This breath is also very beneficial to the energetic and physical heart helping to alleviate heart disease, high blood pressure and insomnia and stimulating the heart chakra.
Mediation is a tool that helps us quiet the mind and become more aware of our bodies on all levels including Manomaya. We can become more in tune with our emotions. We also come to realize that our emotions are a part of us but we are not only our emotions. We can change thought patterns (samskaras) and feelings. Shiva Rea has created an energizing heart meditation on her DVD, Shiva Rea – Radiant Heart. It helps to release any stagnant, trapped energy stored within our rib cage and generate natural joy and vitality
Patricia Walden says, “For many people who are depressed, chanting is really a wonderful practice. Especially when you do it with other people, chanting has the ability to pierce through the layers of cloudiness and dull mess and bring you into a positive state.” (from Yoga as Medicine)
5. Imagery or Visualization
Focusing our attention positively can help to heal both the body and mind. For example, give positive energy to an emotional (or physical) wound by visualizing it as healed thereby supporting the heart’s own natural intelligence and ability to heal.
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)