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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.