The heart can be a source of love and where we can connect to our truth. Love for ourselves is possible when we honor our truth and continue to check-in with what serves us at any given moment. The heart chakra, Anahata, is also where some of us house our pain (ie heart broken). Our physical and emotional ails may be transformed at the heart if we connect to our truth and explore what activities, communities, and relationships bring a sense of lightness and love into our being.
Anahata is the fourth chakra and is at the center of the seven chakras. It serves as a bridge to connect the lower chakras, which relate to our tangible connection to the earth, with the upper chakras, which relate to our consciousness and immaterial aspects of nature. It is within our hearts that we can create harmony and balance between our internal and external worlds. The heart is where we can discover a state of ease, compassion, and serenity. Themes of the fourth chakra themes include love, forgiveness, sadness, and grief.
The element for Anahata is air. Our breath is our life force, our vitality, and is one of the key indicator on how we’re feeling emotionally. Tightness or shortness of breath is a sign of stress or can indicate we are holding pain in our chests.. When our breath is smooth, slow, and deep, we are in a state of ease. When we are at ease, we can interact with our environment and other people with more integrity.
This week on the podcast discussion, we responded to your questions around balancing community with compensation and issues surrounding cultural appropriation. We opened this week’s talk with an overview of the chakras in what they are and why they’re essential to the practice and unpacked the heart chakras themes, blockages, and imbalances.
Introduction to The Chakras
Clara: A chakra literally translates as a wheel, it’s an intersection of energy lines inside of the body. The energy lines in Chinese medicine are known as meridians in Ayurvedic medicine, which is the sister science to yoga, we call these energy lines nadis. An intersection of nadis is considered a chakra. Why it’s considered a wheel is that the energy lines when they intersect create a vortex of energy.
We have thousands of chakras in our body, thousands of these intersections. The ones that we focus on as yogis go up to our main energy channel, Sushumna or the spine, which starts at the pelvis and goes through the middle of the spine all the way to the top of the head. The seven chakras are located at Sushumna. The first one, Muladhara, is at the base. The second one, Swadhisthana, is just below the belly button. The third one, Manipura, is at the solar plexus, The fourth one, Anahata at the heart. The fifth one, Vishuddha, goes to the throat. The sixth one, Ajna, is at the third eye center, which is the middle of the head.
And then the seventh one, Sahasrara, is the top, the head, or just above the head, depending upon who you talk to.
Why do we focus on the chakras as yogis? It’s said that at the base of our pelvis sits our creative force known as Shakti or Kundalini. This is this dormant creative force that lives inside of the pelvis. As yogis, we want to ignite or awaken that energy to have it rise up from the pelvis to our third eye center where our consciousness lives. When the kundalini energy rises, it’s said that we are awakened or that we receive enlightenment.
When the chakras are all open, the energy flows freely and we are awakened. The asana and pranayama help to move the stagnant energy that day-to-day life can create in the body. Yoga is a way to clear the stagnant energy by observing the themes and blockages of each chakra, and then creating a practice to clear and move the energy. This is why we wanted to focus on the chakras.
Themes for Anahata
Clara: It’s said that the union is found inside of our hearts, which I love. Themes of the fourth chakra include compassion, love, forgiveness, acceptance, healing. Self-love. Love for others. On the shadow side of the heart chakra, we have grief and sadness.
Anahata means, unstruck, which is the unstruck sound that lives within each of us. It’s the vibration that lives inside of us. It’s the potential. I love this idea, the potential of the sound of vibration. And that is the heart, the potential of connection to all things.
One of the ways we observe if we’re blocked around a specific chakra is to ask, where do I feel tight or where does it feel uncomfortable or sticky? Another way we discover if the heart chakra is blocked is through ideas of sadness of grief.
So now, you would go into the emotional body where you may find constriction or a lack of forgiveness. Forgiveness is a big one that has to do with the heart. So you’re not able to forgive to let go. You can’t surrender, you’re holding on tight. And again, that tightness you generally feel in the chest. Self-care comes into this chakra as well, which is part of self-love.
Blockages of Anahata
Clara: The most obvious one is tightness in the chest, like a physical tightness in the chest. Or another way is to look at someone’s posture or look at your own posture and if shoulders are rounded forward. With rounded shoulders, there’s this idea of physically protecting your heart. Or if you having any injuries that are happening in the chest or the shoulders that generally tells you that something’s going on in the heart.
A shallow breath would be the other biggest obvious one. So if you can’t breathe deep, there’s a constriction in the chest. As physical practitioners of yoga, we practice Asana versus meditation and we always come to the body first because the body never lies. One thing I like to do is to take a couple of deep breaths and go into my body and observe how you feel. One of my favorite things to do at the beginning of my own practice is a body scan to see how I feel and where my body needs attention.
I’ve been doing this so long, living yoga to the best of my ability, that it bleeds into all that I do. Running a business, teaching yoga, parenting; all of it is living yoga. I strive to always come back and connect to myself and my integrity. One of the reasons I wanted to create an online platform was to grow a global community and continue to connect with people. It felt like a very natural progression. You have to follow your instincts, receive, and respond to what comes naturally. For me, shifting my passion into a business was a natural progression from where I was. Integrity
Community versus Compensation
My experience right now is that there is a very low glass ceiling in this room. Studios where I live and it is more economical for them to hire brand new instructors versus paying an experienced instructor, more money. I see the value in teaching in studios because they serve as a place to practice and the presence of community and meet new students. I feel a struggle about teaching in studios when the pay is so low and I’m being asked to perform lots of other non-yoga tasks.
Stephanie: I think this is related to heart chakra because we love teaching. And I’ve been in this position where you’re teaching for free or you’re teaching for very little because I get so much out of giving that to others.
Clara: I think the first question that I would ask is what do you want, I want, like, what does this student, or what does this teacher want?
I used to teach 25 classes a week and my Tuesday would start at 7:00 AM. And my last class ended at 8:30 PM and I taught at three different studios. It was crazy but I put in my time because that’s what I believed in, it was what I wanted to do. Through putting in all that time and effort, I started to build a following.
So I would ask: what’s most important to you? Is it most important to you to be part of a community or is it most important to pay your bills? It’s a real thing, to have to pay your bills and be validated as a teacher. Community is one of the main reasons I teach, and in the past, I’ve actually chosen to work for free and donate proceeds to a charity over making an hourly wage that didn’t sit well with me.
I’ve spent over $10,000 on my education in this field, so anything less than minimum wage I would rather work for free. I’d happily do Seva, which translates as selfless service towards others.
If teaching is your main source of income, the other thing you need to think about is your worth.
Honoring the Roots of the Practice
I’m curious about appropriation. I have an interest in interreligious dialogue. There are people who believe yoga cannot coexist with Christianity or Catholicism. How do we successfully respect and incorporate different traditions?
Clara: So yoga is its own philosophy. Hinduism just means philosophy from India. The biggest thing with yoga is it believes in a higher power. There’s Vedantic yoga, there are all kinds of yoga. You can fit whatever your religion or philosophy is into yoga. There’s a space for it.
Are we culturally appropriating a philosophy and a way of life, a lifestyle that is not ours? The short answer around this is there is space for everything. In terms of you take what works for you and you leave the rest. But that being said, you honor where it came from. So we honor that it does come from India. We honor that. Traditionally, we talk about the chakras and traditionally we do mantra and meditation and all these things, but the practice should evolve as we evolve.
As we’ve evolved as humans, the practice also evolves. I don’t think it should be rigid or static, and that’s why there are so many different styles of yoga and so many different cultures have taken it on and you’ll talk to most Indian people and they’re thrilled to share the practice of yoga.
It’s a benefit to all of us, because essentially it’s a tool kit, whether or not you’re doing the Asana practice or whether or not you’re doing meditation or mantra. It’s a toolkit to make yourself whole again. My understanding is that the great religions are about connecting to the divinity right inside of us or outside of us, depending upon which religion you’re talking about, but to find wholeness again is to be a part of something greater.
And so yoga fits, I think yoga fits in that. I think it’s really important to honor where it came from. And to know the history of it.