Archive | Philosophy

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.

Plans For Valentine’s Day?

Have no plans for Valentine’s Day? Here are some good suggestions from a family therapist Joe Elliott, via Elephant Journal – 10 Things to do for Yourself on Valentines Day. Excellent ideas, all.

Elliott concludes:

Don’t forget that the most complex and important relationship that we have is with ourselves and that we must remain true to ourselves in order to feel whole and complete about our lives.

I am also thinking of Whitney Houston this morning, with deep sadness. One of her most popular songs Greatest Love of All is really a ballad about self love —-

I believe the children are our future

Teach them well and let them lead the way

Show them all the beauty they possess inside

Give them a sense of pride to make it easier

Let the children’s laughter remind us how we used to be

Everybody searching for a hero

People need someone to look up to

I never found anyone to fulfill my needs

A lonely place to be

So I learned to depend on me


And if by chance, that special place

That you’ve been dreaming of

Leads you to a lonely place

Find your strength in love.

So I wish for you this Valentine’s Day lots of love, of all kinds.

How Love Triumphs

Just because Valentine’s Day is coming up, and because really good love poetry can transcend cliche, enjoy this poem —-

Love is a night bent down to be anointed,
A sky turned meadow, and the stars to fireflies.
Love triumphs.
The white and green of love beside a lake,
And the proud majesty of love in tower or balcony;
Love in a garden or in desert untrodden,
Love is our lord and master
We shall pass into the twilight:
Perchance to wake to the dawn of another world.
But love shall stay,
And his finger-marks shall not be erased.

-Kahil Gibran

What is your favorite love poem? Just because….

Michael Bernard Beckwith Coming to DC

This weekend event in Washington looks like it could be good – A Weekend Workshop with Michael Bernard Beckwith, Author of Life Visioning and Spiritual Liberation.

It’s Friday night and all day Saturday, March 23-24th and being held at Unity Church on the 12th block of R Street, NW.

From the description —

Here is a chance to join this dynamic teacher as he shares breakthrough insights for navigating every stage of your evolutionary journey—and fulfilling your highest calling as only you can.

Beckwith has seen time and again what happens when people engage in the practice of Life Visioning. “When your thoughts and actions begin to align with the imperatives of your soul,” he explains, “you enroll the full support of the universe.”

Michael Bernard Beckwith’s gift is to reveal how we can answer these questions and live in sync with our inner calling through his Life Visioning Process— a method of deep inquiry and spiritual practice to enable our growth, development, and soul-level unfoldment.

This event is produced and sponsored by SoundsTrue. To me, that fact alone is an endorsement.

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=”” 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.

What People Talk About When They Die?

I finally saw The Descendants – a movie about families and love and forgiveness and death. I found the story thoughtful and real and funny. And religious – in the sense that it’s about unity. As I note in my essay Is Yoga a Religion?, the term “religion” enjoys a similar etymology as yoga. Derived from the Latin word, “religare,” religion means “to bind back” or to reunify.

And here is how I defined yoga at

B.K.S. Iyengar notes the etymology: “The term yoga is derived from the Sanskrit root yuj meaning to bind, join, attach and yoke, to direct and concentrate one’s attention on, to use and apply.” Iyengar also conveys that in the Bhagavad Gita, Sri Krishna defines yoga as, “a deliverance from contact with pain and sorrow.” Donna Farhi notes, “Yoga is a technology for removing the illusory veil that stands between us and the animating force of life.”

How to we bind back? Join? Attach? Through love and forgiveness. That practice can deliver us from pain and sorrow. It is a practice, none of us are perfect lover and forgivers.

For me, that practice inherent on the yogic path and my spiritual practice. And those moments when death enters our lives crystalize the importance of this – how we love and forgive. And helpful to remember why we love and forgive.

Here is the trailer:

And then I saw this article, which is about love, really, and how we define meaning in our lives at the end and how and if God figures into it.

Kerry Egan, a hospice chaplain, and she wrote this thoughtful essay, My Faith: What People Talk about Before They Die for the CNN religion blog. I was interested too because a dear friend and fellow OM teacher trainee recently shared with me that she is exploring working

What do people who are sick and dying talk about with the chaplain? …Mostly, they talk about their families: about their mothers and fathers, their sons and daughters. They talk about the love they felt, and the love they gave. Often they talk about love they did not receive, or the love they did not know how to offer, the love they withheld, or maybe felt for the ones they should have loved unconditionally.

They talk about how they learned what love is, and what it is not…people talk to the chaplain about their families because that is who we talk about God. that is how we talk about the meaning of our lives. That is how we talk about the big spiritual questions of human existence.

We don’t live in our heads, in theology and theories. We live our lives in our families: the families we are born into, the families we create, the families we make through the people we choose as friends.

And concludes towards the end –

If God is love, and we believe that to be true, that we learn about God when we learn about Love. The first, and usually the last, classroom of love is the family. Sometimes that love is not only imperfect, it seems to be missing entirely.

Monstrous things can happen in families…Even in these cases, I am amazed at the strength of the human soul. People who did not know love in their families know that they should have been loved. They somehow know what was missing, and what they deserved as children and adults.

When love is imperfect, or a family destructive, something else can be learned: forgiveness. The spiritual work of being human is learning how to love and how to forgive.

I agree with that.

If you’re looking for a book on forgiveness and Buddhism, check out Jack Kornfield’s The Art of Forgiveness. If you’re looking for a book on death and Buddhism, check out the Lotus in the Fire by Jim Bedard. I’ve read the latter.

UPDATE: Marianne Williamson tweeted on Thursday February 9: “Think of who you haven’t forgiven, then close your eyes and see yourself washing their feet. Hold 2 minutes; you’ll be 1,000 times lighter.” Love that. We all have someone to forgive in our lives, sometimes ourselves.

Losing Your New Year Resolve?

Do you feel like you are losing your new year resolve? Are you wondering about your “overriding purpose for being here?”

This article – Inspired Intention – by Kelly McGonigal is the best I have ever read that shows how yoga philosophy and ideas can inform our choices and our resolve. She teaches yoga, meditation and psychology at Stanford University and I’ve long appreciated her for her book Yoga for Pain Relief. She is making constructive contributions to the field of yoga and pain and the body/mind connection, and I very much hope one day to meet her.

She starts the article with a definition (a mind after my own heart!) —-

A sankalpa is a statement that does this for us. Stryker explains that kalpa means vow, or “the rule to be followed above all other rules.” San , he says, refers to a connection with the highest truth. Sankalpa, then, is a vow and commitment we make to support our highest truth. “By definition, a sankalpa should honor the deeper meaning of our life. A sankalpa speaks to the larger arc of our lives, our dharma—our overriding purpose for being here.” The sankalpa becomes a statement you can call upon to remind you of your true nature and guide your choices.

She goes on to explain how sankalpa or resolve can take two forms – a goal/intention or a heartfelt desire. (that adjective is important). Then she describes how you uncover your heartfelt desire and goals, how best to state them, how to plant and nourish the seed and finally concludes with quoting Rod Stryker –

According to Rod Stryker, this apparent contradiction is the essence of both sankalpa practice and nondual teachings. “It all goes back to this idea that each of us is both being and becoming. There’s the part of us, para atman, that is transcendent, inherently one, and doesn’t need anything. We also have a jiva atman, that part of us that comes into life with a purpose and a destiny and is always becoming.” Stryker explains that to fulfill your dharma, you must find a way to integrate these two seemingly opposite aspects of being. “It’s vital for happiness that you walk both paths simultaneously. Direct your energy with intention, but be mindful that your nature is unchanged whether you achieve your goals or not. Live as contentedly as possible in between the goal and realizing the goal.”

The essay is long and full of content, but trust me, it’s worth the click over. Or you can listen to or download an hour long public radio interview with her here on the subject.

“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.