Archive | Hinduism

What is the Heart Chakra? What Does Anahata Mean?

What is the heart chakra? Back up – what are chakras? And what does Anahata (the Sanskrit name for this chakra) mean? Who cares? Why should we care? Just because it’s Valentine’s Day?

The heart chakra, also know as Anahata, is located over the heart and is in the middle of the seven common chakras, which gives this light well a special significance. In the middle, this chakra integrates opposites – male and female, self and community, mind and body, lust and reason, earth and divine. A healthy, balanced heart chakra enables us to offer compassion, love deeply and bestows a sense of ease and centeredness.

In Sanskrit, chakra means “wheel.” Some think of the chakras as energy centers or filtration systems or “wheels that heal.”

Anodea Judith offered that last definition. She also describes the chakra system as the architectural of the soul. She is most knowledgable and accessible writer about the chakras I have encountered. Her book Eastern Body Western Mind is, as John Friend puts it in his blurb, an “Absolutely brilliant synthesis of the chakra system and the heart of Western psychology.”

In the Hindu tradition, seven main chakras exist –

  1. Root Muladhara, which means root
  2. Sacral Svadhisthana, which means sweetness
  3. Solar Plexus, Manipura, which means lustrous gem
  4. Heart, Anahata, which means unstuck
  5. Throat, Vissudha, which means purification
  6. Third Eye or Brow, Ajna, which means to perceive
  7. Crown, Sahasrara, which means thousandfold

The three below focus on the physical and emotional realms and the three above the heart chakra focus on the spiritual. The heart is the connector between the two realms along this system. And it’s the place of human love and feeling.

According to Dr. Brenda Davies, there are 27 minor ones and many lesser chakras. I read a book last summer by Alberto Villoldo who there noted that in the Native American Indian tradition, there are 9 chakras. Unsurprisingly, he elaborated that other living beings have chakras, even trees. I found his teachings very interesting because of the similarities and dissimilarities between these two distinct and apart cultures. Though separated by the Atlantic Ocean, each culture came to recognize these energy locales in the human body and soul. In the Inka tradition, chakras are called ojos de liz, or eyes of light. His Inka mentor called them pukios, light wells. Isn’t that lovely?

Chakras can be imbalanced if there is too much energy or too little. With the heart chakra too much energy there is characterized by possessiveness, jealousy and poor boundaries. Too little is associated with isolation, loneliness, bitterness, critical, shyness and lack of empathy. Imbalances in this light well are deeply connected to our own self-acceptance.

Associated with the the element of air, Anodea Judith writes of the Anahata,

Air is formless, largely invisible, absolutely necessary, and the least dense of our first four elements. Air is expansive as it will expand to fit any space it is put into, yet it is soft and gentle.

So, too, is love. Love is the expansion of the heart, the transcendence of boundaries, the interconnectedness of spirit. Love is balance, ease, softness, forgiveness. And love at the heart chakra is felt as a state of being, existing independently of any object or person.

Rather than reinvent the wheel (pardon the pun), for a brief overview of the heart chakra, I refer you to this terrific brief essay Anodea Judith wrote on Anahata – The Heart Chakra for the Llewellyn Encyclopedia. There she notes that the Sanskrit name Anahata means “sound that is made without any two things striking.” She elaborates the meaning clearly and beautifully and also refers to the Celestial Wishing Tree, which is related to the heart chakra.

I also took a very rewarding online course Chakra Activation with her at Sounds True last fall. You can check out her other offerings here.

Also for your information, Villoldo runs the Four Winds Society in Park City, Utah. They had an exhibit booth at the Yoga Journal Conference in May, and I find the work they are doing very intriguing and personally meaningful. Another really good book on this subject is The 7 Healing Chakras by Brenda Davies, MD. Her book is short and is really a workbook – offering guided meditations, exercises, questions to ponder. Indeed, turns out she also has a workbook based on her book! Check it out here.

Kama Sutra? Yoga Sutra? What’s the Difference?

In a word – much!

They were both written in India in Sanskrit about the same time and have the same word in the title. So genre, time, place, language are common to both texts, but as you would learn from listening to the recommended BBC interview on the Kāma Sutras – many other topics were written about in that time and place and language on a variety of subjects in sutras.

Sutra means thread or line that holds or threads ideas together. The Kāma Sutra’s were written about 2000 years ago and is about sensual pleasures (among other lifestyle tips). Vatsyayana is thought to be the author. The Yoga Sutra is estimated to be written between 1900 and 2400 years ago and written or compiled from an oral tradition by Patanjali.

I briefly wrote about the Yoga Sutra a few months ago here. The Yoga Sutras offers four chapters, while the Kāma Sutras is seven chapters, so the Kāma Sutra is much longer. And sex comprises only the second of seven chapters. So there is much else there to explore and learn.

There is a new translation of the Kāma Sutra just published, and The New York Times printed a laugh out loud hilarious and favorable review on Sunday. When to Quote Poetry or Moan like a Moorhen: The Kama Sutra, Newly Translated by A.N.D. Haksar. Reviewed by Dwight Garner.

There is this:

You might not think the Kama Sutra and “Downton Abbey,” the warm <a “=”” abbey”=”” downton=”” href=”http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/masterpiece/downtonabbey/” style=”color: #004276; text-decoration: underline;” title=”Web site for “>PBS soap opera about intrigues on a large rural estate in England, would have a great deal of thematic overlap. You would be wrong. Both are to some degree investigations into the kind of life a gentleman (or gentlewoman) should aspire to lead.

And then this:

your partner might find this sleek new Penguin Classics edition an intellectual aphrodisiac, though it contains no erotic illustrations, except several sublime ones on its cover. (For a certain audience, all Penguin Classics are trance-inducing objects of lust.)

And then this:

There is an impressively esoteric list, for example, of varieties of moaning during sex. These include: “the whimper, the groan, the babble, the wail, the sigh, the shriek, the sob and words with meaning, such as ‘Mother!’ ‘Stop!’ ‘Let go!’ or ‘Enough!’ Cries like those of doves, cuckoos, green pigeons, parrots, bees, moorhens, geese, ducks and quails are important options for use in moaning.” America’s porn actors have clearly not made anywhere near a proper study of this sonic landscape.

See? Funny! I’ve had a tiger but not a green pigeon (?!) or a geese, quail or duck!

If you don’t have time to read the book but are still curious about the origin and context of Kāma Sutra, I can very highly recommend this BBC4 Radio broadcast from the show In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg . There I learned that the arts and culture of India was at a height. And how the Kama Sutra is part of a popular genre of the time. Not only the yoga and kāma sutras were recorded then but also on a wide range of topics including logic, astronomy, politics, aesthetics, medicine and social ethics.

The discussion about 42 minutes long, free and you can download from iTunes here. He interviews:

  • Julius Lipner, Professor of Hinduism and the Comparative Study of Religion at the University of Cambridge
  • Jessica Frazier, Lecturer in Religious Studies at the University of Kent and Research Fellow at the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies
  • David Smith, Reader in South Asian Religions at the University of Lancaster.

Check it out. Or if you don’t have 43 minutes, you can also download this eight minute free podcast from SoundsTrue on Taoist Sexual Secrets. At eight minutes, it’s only a teaser but the entire series is about how to transform lovemaking into a spiritual practice informed by ancient and somewhat arcane material.

“In Our Brokenness, We Are Unlimited.”

I loved Julie Peter’s piece on the Equinox video, and I love this essay – Why lying broken on the Bedroom Floor Is A Good Idea – even more.

Her main point is that at that moment – you really are in the present moment.

In pieces, in a pile on the floor, with no idea how to go forward, your expectations of the future are meaningless. Your stories about the past do not apply. You are in flux, you are changing, you are flowing in a new way, and this is an incredibly powerful opportunity to become new again: to choose how you want to put yourself back together.

Now that’s spin a good lawyer could be proud of, but that characterization doesn’t make it any less true. Mental gymnastics (or yoga twists) that help pry you off the floor and get you to get up and get up and get up again and keep you going – well, that better than still lying there, no?

This is a favorite Japanese proverb – “Fall seven times, stand up eight.” At times, that is my mantra. To me, failure is only when we choose not to stand up or get up. Zen Habits is another favorite web site of mine and here’s one on how to Flip Your Karma: 8 Trick to Turn the Bad into Awesome. Leo Babauta, the author of Zen Habits, quotes that proverb.

But if you’re flipping out on your bedroom floor, think of Akhilandeshavari, suggests Julie Peter’s. She is the “never not broken goddess” and she rides a crocodile (which represents fear). Akhilandeshavari doesn’t reject fear and doesn’t let fear control her – she rides on it and dips into the waves. I love that. It’s takes courage to let the fear in never mind face it. Akhilandeshavari has no limitations. She is described as being like a fractured diamond and thereby she embodies a more diverse beauty.

We are made more beautiful by our brokenness that lets the cracks of light in.

I found her story (both Julie’s and Akhilandeshavari’s) both insightful and resonating. And next time I am on the floor of my bedroom broken I will think of her, riding a crocodile like a warrior princess. Thanks Julie, awesome piece.

What are the Yoga Sutras?

Sutra literally means, “thread,” and each sutra contains a thread of a thought. A sutra is an aphoristic statement or a work containing such statements.

The Yoga Sutras is the source text of classical yoga. These 195 aphorisms serve as a concise guide for the philosophy and practice of yoga. Patanjali compiled them over two thousand years ago. Although often considered the author of the yoga sutras, historians generally believe that he assembled and recorded the oral tradition of yoga.

The Yoga Sutras are divided into four chapters:

  • 1st chapter on ecstasy samadhi-pada
    Addresses the theory of Yoga is called the chapter on ecstasy
    51 aphorisms.
  • 3rd chapter on the powers vibhuti-pada
    Sets forth the internal rigor and ability a yogi acquires
    55 aphorisms.
  • 2nd chapter on the path sadhana-pada
    Introduces the practices of Yoga for the novice
    55 aphorisms.
  • 4th chapter on liberation kaivalya-pada
    Delineates the freedom and peace gained from Yoga
    34 aphorisms.2

2Georg Feuerstein, The Yoga Tradition (Prescott: Hohm Press, 1998), p. 216.