Sometimes it’s tricky to avoid thinking of the chakras as having a hierarchy. Even though they’re all equally instrumental in our development, certain ones get more attention than others, and I hear people mention the “heart chakra” the most. It’s understandable, since, as we discussed early in this series, the functions of the chakras are difficult to distinguish from other physiological and spiritual processes, and we are in many ways creatures of the heart.
Until science elevated the brain to the position of highest esteem, humans instinctively saw the heart as the center of our ability to feel and connect, to experience love and compassion. As our language conveys in phrases such as “the heart of the matter,” we see the heart as symbolic of the center or core of something. In the same way, the heart chakra is considered to be our spiritual core.3 As the pivotal chakra between the three below it and the three above, it has the role of integrating and bringing wholeness and balance to all parts of ourselves and our world – above and below, inside and out, body and mind, spirit and matter.
The heart chakra is called Anahata, which means “unstruck” – like a drum that beats without ever being hit. It’s located in the center of the chest and is associated with the air element and the breath. Physically it relates to the heart and pericardium, the lungs, the thymus (an immune gland that produces T-cells), breasts, and the arms and hands. Psycho-spiritually, it governs all those functions we historically attributed to the heart – the capacity to love, to feel, to empathize and relate. Different from the love associated with the second chakra, which relates more to physical connection, sexuality, getting needs met, and which always has an object, the love of the Heart Chakra transcends objects and needs.3 It is inclusive and unconditional.
Although the chakra system is from India, there is a tremendous amount of overlap between these Tantrik concepts and those of Daoism and Traditional Chinese Medicine, where the heart is referred to as the Emperor or Empress among the internal organs. The emperor in ancient China (and Greece, Japan, and other cultures) was seen as a human representative of God. Thus, the heart, as emperor, was viewed as the main portal for the Divine to enter a human being. The first acupuncture point on the heart channel is called Utmost Source, and it is used to restore a person’s connection to Spirit.
The empress’s job, like a divine metronome, is to set the rhythm to which the kingdom will be synchronized. In such a way, she generates the atmosphere within which the world will be held. A loving empress, like a healthy heart, includes and unifies all the citizens, not excluding anyone or anything.
The connection between the heart and upper limbs is also easily explained within the framework of acupuncture, where the heart and its three accessory organs are all accessed through channels that run along the arms and hands. In this way, our hands help us communicate the truth within our heart and to do the heart’s work in the world.
Harish Johari wrote that when we evolve to living with an open heart chakra, we “have overcome the preoccupations of the lower chakras: security (first chakra), sensuality and sexuality (second chakra), name, fame, authority, social status, power, and physical immortality (third chakra).” He said that we naturally orient around this chakra between the ages of 21 and 28, “becoming aware of one’s role, one’s actions, and one’s life goal. Dedication, devotion (bhakti), faith, and self-confidence are the motivating forces as one strives to achieve balance at all levels.”1
Caroline Myss writes that this chakra teaches us “how to act out of love and compassion and recognize the most powerful energy we have is love.” She says this center represents “our capacity to ‘let go and let God.’” And she proposes that its energy enables us to “accept our personal emotional challenges as extensions of a Divine plan, which has as its intent our conscious evolution.” Instrumental in this evolution, she explains, is forgiveness – and releasing “our lesser need for human self-determined justice.”
Besides cultivating love and acceptance, listening to your heart, and practicing forgiveness, there are some body-oriented ways to support the heart chakra. Breathing deeply and freely helps this center to open – and, in contrast, restricted breathing promotes (and is promoted by) a relatively closed heart chakra. Chest-opening stretches, like cobra and behind-the-back prayer pose, can also help.
Finally, if compassion is one of your gifts – or you’d like to grow in this area – I’d love for you to attend this workshop Briana is hosting today about clearing the blocks that stand between you and your heart’s work.
Dr. Peter Borten
- Johari, H. (1987). Chakras. Energy Centers of Transformation. Destiny Books.
- Judith, A. (2004). Eastern Body, Western Mind: Psychology and the Chakra System as a Path to the Self. Berkeley, CA: Celestial Arts.
- Judith, A. (1999). Wheels of Life: The Classic Guide to the Chakra System. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications.
- Khalsa, G. K. (1991). Energy Maps: A Journey Through the Chakras. La Crescenta, CA: CyberScribe.
- Myss, C. M. (1996). Anatomy of the Spirit: The Seven Stages of Power and Healing. New York: Three Rivers Press.
- Svoboda, R. E. (1995). Aghora II: Kundalini. Albuquerque, NM: Brotherhood of Life Publishing.
- Wallis, C. D. (2013). Tantra Illuminated: The Philosophy, History, and Practice of a Timeless Tradition. Petaluma, CA: Mattamayūra Press.
- White, J. W. (1990). Kundalini, Evolution, and Enlightenment. New York: Paragon House.
- Woodroffe, J. G., & P. (1931). The Serpent Power: Being the Shat-chakra-nirūpana and Pādukā-panchaka; Two Works on Laya yoga. Madras: Ganesh.