Archive | Physical Health

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.

Ayurvedic Skin Care in the Cold Season

Or Vata season. Dr. Pratima Raichur is the author of Absolute Beauty, to me the bible of Ayurvedic health. I discovered her nearly 10 years ago and gave her book to all my friends who came and celebrated my birthday with me in 2003. And I had the honor of meeting her finally this past June when I was in NYC. Her clinic in Soho is amazing and I enjoyed some health promoting treatments there.

Here is a short piece on how to care for your skin during the Vata season, which is now, called “Why fall is skin-freak out season?” And Dr. Raichur says in part because….

The Ayurvedic calendar says October through February is a time when our bodies—and skin—are plagued by imbalances and change, says Dr. Raichur, who has made skin health her specialty.

Here is her clinic Pratima Spa. And here is her online store Pratima Skin Care (I love so many of the therapeutic oils but this one
Healing Neem Oil with Rose, Lavender and Sandalwood is my favorite).

If you’re lucky enough to live in NYC you can see her at

Pratima Spa
110 Green St
Suite 101
Soho

Alpha Males Doing Yoga

This seems to be a theme, though my last post on this subject was based on an essay written in 2010. This one this time appeared just the other day in the British newspaper The Telegraph. And this news so excites me because I feel this is a demographic that would very much benefit from yoga. The piece opens first with how a yoga practice kept one master of the universe from investing in the subprime market. Then,

Yoga, once the preserve of scrawny men in drawstring trousers meditating on top of a mountain, has, since the Nineties, turned itself into a spirit-lite way for women with Gucci mats and Sweaty Betty vest tops to keep fit and tone their bums, tums and thighs. In the past three or four years, however, an increasing number of people from the top echelons of business, finance and politics, looking to get an edge over their rivals or manage their stress levels, have been following Gross’s lead and adding a yoga instructor to their retinue of chefs, nannies and personal trainers. Suddenly, it’s not only acceptable for alpha males to do yoga; it’s considered by many to be a badge of honour.

Then the piece lists several yogis in business, including Steve Jobs. But this is my favorite quote:

“Very ambitious, high-achieving people realise that there’s something in yoga that is useful to them,” says instructor Tara Fraser, who, with her partner, Nigel Jones, runs the Yoga Junction studio in north London. “It’s not weird, not hippy. If you’re a man, the fact that you do yoga shows that you’re in touch with your intuitive side and you’re flexible as well as strong. “If you said, ‘No, no, no. I don’t want to do any of that stuff, I just want to work out at the gym and build muscle’, I think, nowadays, people would think, ‘Hmm. What are you trying to prove?’ “Yoga shows that you’re a well-rounded individual. You know how to choose the wine, you know which restaurants to go to. Adding yoga to your portfolio of skills impresses people.”

Read the whole thing here – Power yoga: how money has changed a spiritual pursuit (the title is misleading – it’s more about how yoga is changing the money industry, plus yoga is far more than a spiritual pursuit!) Worth the click.

I sure hope it’s true that more alpha males are seeing the benefits and value of yoga, and not just in London. They would be happier, and the world a better place. I know one or two, myself!

Yoga, Sex and Orgasms (for Men Especially)

A provocative headline on a popular news blog, Tina Brown’s The Daily Beast.

Are Yogasms Real?

Touch is an integral and important aspect in teaching yoga but the intent behind the touch is what is most important and needs special caution. The purpose of touching a student is threefold:

  1. for bringing awareness to a part of the body or
  2. to support the body in a pose or
  3. to adjust an alignment.

If the touch feeds the teacher’s ego instead of the student’s practice, then the intention is wrong. And, no matter how subtle, this intention is conveyed and felt. And it’s pernicious because it can undermined so much that is so valuable and helpful about yoga.

So I’m uneasy about this focus, and especially the feeding of the ego teachers in particular.

Yoga brings awareness to the breath and the body. And help people inhabit and feel their body. That is inherently beneficial to sex.

And yes, it has once happened to me.

But what I found most interesting about this piece, and worthwhile if not redeeming, is the coverage of men and yoga and orgasms.

Alan Finger, founder of ISHTA (Integrated Science of Hatha, Tantra and Ayurveda) Yoga argues:

that men actually benefit sexually from yoga more than women. “The man starts at a disadvantage because his orgasm is outwards, which makes it briefer and shorter than a woman’s.”…one can experience an intensely meditative (and arguably spiritual) full-body orgasm. “It fills your being rather than just being something that happened in your genital boundary,” explains Finger.

I came to yoga because of a man. After we broke up, I missed his emotional strength. I discerned he gleaned that strength from his daily yoga practice. I had already been a dancer, so I took a few classes with him and I was interested, but not won over. Until I missed those certain qualities about him. so I walked into a local class here in DC. And thusly, another love affair began.

Comments? What do you think of this sort of coverage? Are you comfortable with touch in teaching yoga?

Hot Oil Massage in the Winter

These cold months are a perfect time to develop a routine for the ayurvedic practice of Abhyanga – a full body oil massage. A regular practice of giving yourself a full body oil massage is an essential part of yogic health.

Ayurvedic medicine complements and completes yoga and is the traditional healing system of India. As old as yoga (5000 years old!), ayurveda uses the same Sanskrit language as yoga and struggles as well with the translation of certain concepts and attitudes which originated in a very different language, rich and with deep roots. Ayurveda, like yoga, encompasses more than the physical. In Sanskrit, Ayur means “life” and Veda means “science or knowledge.” So ayurveda means science or knowledge of life. Therefore, in ayurveda, good health address all of life – not just the physical organs.

Snehana is the Sanskrit term for massaging herbal oils into the skin. The root of this word highlights a vital aspect of this practice. Sneha means love, and the literal translation of snehana is to love your own body. So as you do this, you really need to feel affection for your own skin and what’s underneath.

Abhyanga is any massage treatment that uses oil, and here I describe how to administer a self oil massage.

Abhyanga is also a Sanskrit word and with ang meaning “movement” and the prefix abhi meaning “into” or “toward”, Abhyanga literally translates as moving into the body. Moving what into the body? Energy, love, prana.

I used to heat up the oil on the stove. But my own yoga teacher showed me an easier way, with some tools easily available from from Bed Bath & Beyond. First I looked for a hot plate for a mug. Turns out an electric candle warmer does the trick. I’d never heard of a candle warmer before, but it’s just the right size. You can check them out here. I got the Valmour brand. Electric power heats the plate and on top I place a Faberware “melting pot. You can check that out here. It’s just the right size and has a pouring spout.

Then all you need is the oil and the time. Check out the link with instructions above.

Meditation Can Help Heart Disease, Medical Study Finds

A medical study suggests that meditation provides physiological benefits – at least with people with coronary artery disease. The New York Times time reported the news in a brief blurb, Regimens: Meditation, for the Mind and the Heart.

Money quote:

The participants found transcendental meditation easy to learn and practice, Dr. Schneider said. He suggested that the stress reduction produced by the meditation could cause changes in the brain that cut stress hormones like
cortisol and dampen the inflammatory processes associated with atherosclerosis.

Arnica Use Backed By Science

Arnica use is now backed by science, according to a New York Times post, The Alternative Medicine Cabinet: Arnica for Pain Relief.

It is believed that the plant contains derivatives of thymol, which seems to have anti-inflammatory effects. Either way, scientists have found good evidence that it works. One randomized study published in 2007 looked at 204 people with osteoarthritis in their hands and found that an arnica gel preparation worked just as well as daily ibuprofen, and with minimal side effects.

This entry is apparently the first of many that Times columnist Anahad O’Connor (I love America!) will do weekly to explore “the claims and the science behind alternative remedies that you may want to consider for your family medicine cabinet”

You can check out other entries for The Alternative Medicine Cabinet here.

Yoga=Mindful Eating=Healthier Weight

Regular yoga practice is associated with mindful eating, and that in turn causes people to be less likely to be overweight, finds a new medical study published in the August issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

What seems particularly interesting is that it’s yoga – not just any exercise – that provides this associated benefit.

The researchers found that people who ate mindfully—those were aware of why they ate and stopped eating when full—weighed less than those who ate mindlessly, who ate when not hungry or in response to anxiety or depression. The researchers also found a strong association between yoga practice and mindful eating but found no association between other types of physical activity, such as walking or running, and mindful eating.

The key too is that the practice of yoga has to be regular. To the study, that appears to translate to more than one hour a week, a pretty low threshold, it seems to me.

The study measured:

  • disinhibition – eating even when full;
  • awareness – being aware of how food looks, tastes and smells;
  • external cues – eating in response to environmental cues, such as advertising;
  • emotional response – eating in response to sadness or stress; and
  • distraction – focusing on other things while eating.

You can read more here.