The ancient science of living from the heart
“In the great teaching of the Vedas, there is no touch of sectarianism. It is of all ages, climes and nationalities and is the royal road for the attainment of the Great Knowledge.” ~ Henry DavidThoreau
Yoga has reached an apex since its emergence, from at least pre-3000 B.C. based on archeological findings, amalgamating the lush heritage of the East with the practical science of the West, and combining the numinous with the practical in a very palpable manner. There are now thousands of peer-reviewed scientific papers which explain yoga’s efficacy as a healing modality for diseases as varied as cancer, depression, diabetes, and cardiovascular failure, and the mystical aspects of yoga have been passed down, either in classes meant for the masses, or through heavily guarded transmissions bestowed by a master to his or her select students. However, some of yoga’s most esoteric aspects are only taught to those who are deemed ‘ready’ to take those powers into the world. In this age, it behooves us to share, in a mindful manner, the secrets of yoga beyond just the mystical or the scientific. A blending of the two will be necessary to bridge the gap between the dogma of religion and the filtered opinions of science that are often slanted depending upon which pharmaceutical company or institution is funding a study. Surely, Western medicine would be alarmed to know that an ancient practice could replace billions of dollars’ worth of medications, surgeries, and even chemotherapy and radiation treatments, but yoga indeed contains the elixir of life in its annals, and they are meant to be shared with the world. One of yoga’s biggest secrets, and often-dismissed jewels by the uninitiated is how to live from the heart. “Remember the emphasis on the heart. The mind lives in doubt and the heart lives in trust. When you trust, suddenly you become centered.” ~ Osho The heart is the first organ to function when we are in utero. It is another, important intelligence center, the brain notwithstanding, of the human organism. According to Rollin McCraty, Director of Research at the Institute of HeartMath, the heart’s electromagnetic field is about 5000 times stronger than that of the cranial brain, interacting with and permeating every cell of our bodies. McCraty’s book, The Energetic Heart, explains how the heart carries out the bioelectromagnetic interactions within and between people. For example, when we are not consciously communicating with others, our physiological systems are interacting in subtle and surprising ways. The electromagnetic signal produced by our hearts is registered in the brain waves of people around us. The heart is in fact an important carrier of emotional information and a key mediator of energetic interactions between all living things. When the energy of our hearts is coherent, our bodies change, as do our lives. As we look more deeply into yoga as a medicinal modality, we must include introspection into the workings of the heart, its electromagnetic field, and how the intelligence of this organ aids in mental, spiritual, and physiological healing. “The heart is one of the most important organs in the human body, because it is one of the main mediums for connecting us to each other and the Universe. Conventional science has taught us that the main role of the heart is to pump blood to all the systems of our body. This definition of the heart is not very accurate. Besides pumping blood, the heart also has an intelligence of its own. According to neurocardiologists, 60 to 65 percent of heart cells are neuron cells, not muscle cells. This discovery has helped them develop experiments that have proved the heart works similar to the brain and in some ways is even superior to the brain. This may be the reason that the heart is the first organ to function after conception. Within about 20 days after conception, the heart starts to function, but the brain does not function until after roughly 90 days. This information tells us that the brain is secondary to the heart.” While not all neurons are brain cells (and not all brain cells are neurons – some are also glia), they are specialized cells of the nervous system that use an electrical potential across the membrane of all our body’s building blocks, which have evolved a specific function to trigger depolarization that sends an electrical signal down their axons that then communicates that ‘information’ to another cell. Neurons reside throughout the body. There are neurons in the spinal cord and in the peripheral nervous system as well as the heart, and neurons alone cannot explain the phenomenon of consciousness, or even the subconscious, (certainly not the Supra-Conscious) but the heart has been proven to be in charge of more than just regulating basic bodily functions, as some materialist scientists have suggested. For example, further research from the Heartmath Institute has stumbled on some curious findings about the intelligence of the heart. Notably, the heart was found to receive and respond to intuitive information. A significantly greater heart deceleration occurred prior to future emotional stimuli compared to calm stimuli, and amazingly, the heart receives prestimulus information in the psychophysiologic systems, and then appears to process it in the same way as conventional sensory input. As an aside, women seemed to be better at decoding information taken in from the heart. The findings lead the authors of the paper to assume a theory about holographic principles in the Universe, and how our heart’s intuition allows us to tap in to the field of energy all around us. The heart and non-locality The ancient tenets of yoga have said much about the Universal Field, and 21st century science seems to just be catching up. In modern physics it is understood that two photons traveling in opposite directions at the speed of light are still interconnected, no matter how far apart they travel. Henry Stapp, a physicist from UC Berkeley, said that the discovery of non-locality is perhaps the most important fact learned in all of science.  This means that we are connected to one another and to nature without question. This is called non-locality. Ancient Vedic scholars taught the very same concept. They advised us that separation we perceive is an illusion. Some of the greatest western minds were influenced by Vedic teachings – Nikola Tesla, Nobel Prize winner Niels Bohr, physicist Erwin Schrödinger, and Werner Heisenberg, famous for his uncertainty principle, and as well as Fritjof Capra and others, all believed in the Vedic concept of an integrated, conscious Universe. In fact, Schrödinger wrote, “This life of yours which you are living is not merely a piece of this entire existence, but in a certain sense the whole; only this whole is not so constituted that it can be surveyed in one single glance. This, as we know, is what the Brahmins [wise men or priests from the Vedic tradition] express in that sacred, mystic formula which is yet really so simple and so clear;tat tvam asi, this is you. Or, again, in such words as “I am in the east and the west, I am above and below, I am this entire world.” Here the scientist is referring to the Mandaka Upanishad Mantra, 2.2.11, which Paramahansa Yogananda explains in part, “The lower knowledge is the knowledge of the phenomenal world. In reality it is ignorance, for it does not lead to the Highest Good. The seer of the Upanishads asks the aspirant to acquire both the knowledge of the relative world and the Knowledge of Ultimate Reality. When by the pursuit of the former he fails to attain true freedom and immortality, he cultivates the latter.” Most people of this world utilize ‘lower knowledge,’ that is they use their intellects to try to understand the world, and to heal their bodies. This is evidenced in the ways in which allopathic medicine has divided up the body into all manner of parts – the cardiovascular system, the respiratory system, the cellular system, the digestive system, the endocrine system, etc. without ever concerning itself with the body as a whole. The heart’s intelligence does not see things as fragmented, though. When we become ‘heart’ centered, the finer, expanded intelligence of the Universe takes over, and the body, mind, and spirit can then be healed. In fact, the heart sends messages to the brain, and the brain obeys. The heart can even inhibit or facilitate the brain’s electrical activity, thus influencing how we perceive the world – essentially over-riding the analytical, mechanical, left-brain cognitive dominance of most of modern society. “I agree with the fact that the heart is more than a pump,” said Dr. Ronald Freudenberger, chief of cardiology at Lehigh Valley Health Network. “The heart has many functions that we are probably not aware of. We are finding new attributes of the heart. New roles for the heart.” These ‘functions’ of the heart that modern medicine and science have not yet been able to explain are accounted for in yogic science. Anandamurti, for example, taught that asanas should be practiced slowly and held for a certain period of time in order to affect the glandular secretions of the endocrine system, thus affecting our health and mood. It is well known that the heart and its accompanying endocrine gland, the thymus, which is responsible for producing T-cells for the immune system, has a great impact on our overall well-being. Without yogic intervention, the thymus tends to shrink as we age, eventually being composed of only fat and fibrous tissue, completely unable to produce the correct amount of thymosin A, an important hormone which supports immune health. If we look at the heart, the thymus, and the immune system more fully, we can observe that the main function of this particular system is to be able to observe the difference between ‘self’ and ‘non-self.’ When our thymus is compromised, our attraction to unhealthy foods, and unhealthy energies is increased, and while ‘all is one’, we tend to then become sick more often, the immune system being unable to fight off viruses or bacteria that are not cooperative to our vitality. Increasing the energy of the heart and thymus not only improves physical health but also helps to address the emotional issues associated with a ‘broken heart.’ Furthermore, yogic practices like Suryanadi Anuloma Viloma Pranayama (alternate nostril breathing) have been shown to modify the autonomic activity of the heart. Aside from charging the body with an increased supply of oxygen through the lungs, and then “burning” or oxidizing waste impurities in our venous blood, chiefly carbon, this process of purification is enhanced by an accompanying large increase in expulsion of waste carbon dioxide from the lungs during exhalation. As a consequence, very little of the tissue remains in the blood as waste material. There is less need for the breath, as the flow to the lungs of blood for purification slows down. The heart and lungs are given profound rest. As further studies are conducted on this phenomenon, the exact mechanism by which alternate nostril breathing influences the function of the autonomic nervous system is still unknown, though it has been speculated that this is through a neural reflex mechanism in the superior nasal meatus. Still more research sheds light on the ‘heart brain.’ A complex and sophisticated nervous system intrinsic to the heart consists of around 40,000 neurons that allow the heart to learn, feel, sense, remember, and even make functional decisions without the full consent of the brain. This means that our over-analytical habit of ignoring the urgings of the heart cannot be entirely surpassed. There seems to be a mechanism, very obviously increased with the practices of yoga and meditation, which support the heart’s intelligence instead of that of the mind. This mechanism can ensure that in distressing times, we don’t ‘over-think’ the day, and ‘over-stress’ about the doom and gloom that is being force-fed to us by non-heart centered agencies. We can literally lose our minds in the tangle of the modern world but our hearts will always lead us back to peace. “Occasionally in life there are those moments of unutterable fulfillment which cannot be completely explained by those symbols called words. Their meanings can only be articulated by the inaudible language of the heart.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.