The Practice: Opening the Heart with Yoga
The study of yoga is so vast, with a rich global history dating back thousands of years. But when you look at the history, writing, and teachings covering it, the one thing we can all connect to, regardless of time or place, is the feeling of the heart.
When you really get down to it, yoga opens the heart and provides us a pathway leading to connection with the universal self. We all yearn for this, and we find something of this purification in yoga–a purification that moves us away from distractions and cravings and moves us into the openness of the heart. The heart radiates when we are able to reach that space.
Uniting the body, mind, and heart
In asana practice, you start to learn about the intelligence of the body, the intelligence of the mind, and the intelligence of the heart. The goal of yoga is to unite these intelligences, because that unification is where we find ease, peacefulness, and balance.
For many years of my life, I was a corporate manager. I experienced what we all experience, which is a constant persuasion to shut down around the heart. We’re not asked to make our decisions from the heart. We’re outright prompted to make decisions from greed, to not be honest or truthful. To grasp for things and to always want more than what we have, and to achieve that by any means possible. We follow this greed and unkindness and become distracted and unsatisfied. We start to shut down and close in on the radiance of our hearts.
When my students come into my class, I see that wall. But even a simple asana practice opens the heart back up and begins to heal you. That’s what’s so beautiful about yoga, that opening up of the heart, just like a lotus flower blossoming.
The lotus of the heart
As the Chandogya Upanishad says, the space within the lotus of the heart is the same as the great infinite space beyond. Both heaven and earth are contained in that inner space, and both fire and air, sun and moon, lightning and stars.
Sri Sri also says in his teachings that bliss cannot be understood, and is extremely difficult to achieve. That all we seek is the Divine union with the Source, and that everything else in the world distracts us from that goal. There are so many unexplainable, incomprehensible ways of not coming home.
Everything that we do in yoga is preparing us for meditation. Meditation is the ultimate practice that will take you into more peacefulness. The more we practice yoga and meditation, the more it becomes like the background music of our life, and we’re able to tap into it whenever we need it.
Space to explore
Yoga is actually very practical and accessible. There are so many different pathways that are available to everyone. We’re all looking for the same thing. We’re all yearning for that feeling of peacefulness and open heartedness where we’re not afraid to give and receive love, or to be authentic and genuine.
It’s important to give yourself space to explore yoga. Sometimes it really does take going up to a beautiful place like the Art of Living Retreat Center to recenter yourself, be present in the moment, and explore your path. To take a break from distractions and technology and spend time in nature. And then when you go home, you have something really beautiful to take with you that you can weave throughout your life. It’s just not the same as struggling to do a meditation for 20 minutes every day. It really gives you a good baseline to build upon.
Finding your Dharma
It’s so worth it to step away and move into a space where you can start to seek out your Dharma, your purpose in life. So many of those experiences come to you through nature, which is something we of course have in abundance at the Retreat Center. Nature is one of our most wonderful teachers. Joining the yoga practice at sunrise, and then eating such nourishing food, really everything that is offered at the Center comes together to create a more purified environment for you to really feel the expressions of the heart, to let that space be more radiant for you.
Val Spies, E-RYT500, is the owner and director of the Lotus Pond Center for Yoga and Health, originating in 2003. She has been guiding yoga retreats for 12 years and is the lead teacher the Lotus Pond Teacher Training Programs. Together with Melissa Carroll, their expertise is in teaching yoga combined with dynamic, heartfelt sessions on yoga philosophy and creative guidance in retreat immersions.
Join Val Spies and Melissa Carroll at the Art of Living Retreat Center from September 28th – October 4th for her retreat, Yoga and Creative Writing.
Interested in learning more about Ayurveda and the programs at the Art of Living Retreat Center? Check out our annual catalog here!
In House: Val Spies on Finding Bliss with Chakras
Many of us begin a yoga practice to improve our physical condition and relieve stress. Then the after-class euphoria becomes more and more noticeable, and we start to ask, “Why do I feel so good? What is happening within to generate this feeling of well-being?” Val Spies shares her thoughts on the chakra and kosha systems of the yogic tradition, and how attuning these systems can help us find bliss.
The Doorway to Bliss
Through purifying, healing, and strengthening our physical bodies in the postures of Hatha yoga, we start to notice subtle shifts in our ability to connect with inner peace. Through practice, we build a precious relationship between our physical bodies and the mental, emotional, and spiritual layers of our being. As our awareness strengthens, so too does the desire to dive deeper into the studies that bring balance and bliss into our lives, inviting us to explore the subtle aspects of this beautiful yoga practice. This doorway to bliss begins to open when the inner and outer layers of the self start to find balance and equanimity with each other.
Chakras: The Subtle Body Experience of Yoga
For thousands of years, the yogic tradition has understood the subtle layers of reality that exist beyond our physical perceptions. There are two subtle body teachings that help us understand the magnificent possibilities of happiness: the chakras and the koshas. Both the chakra and kosha systems are like maps that help us more effectively navigate our experiences, from the physical to the mental, emotional, and spiritual dimensions of ourselves and our lives.
Chakra is often translated from the Sanksrit as “wheel”: the chakras are the energy centers that emanate from within and around our bodies. In many traditions there are said to be seven primary energy centers that run along the spine. Each center relates to an aspect of our lives. In order to find balance in the mind, body, and spirit, the emotional and physical aspects of the chakras listed below must be clear of blockages.
- Sahasrara – Crown – connection to the infinite / divine
- Ajna – Third Eye – wisdom / intuition
- Vishudda – Throat – communication / truth
- Anahata – Heart – love / compassion
- Manipura – Solar Plexus – power / strength / leadership
- Swadhistahana – Sacrum – passion / creativity / intimacy
- Muladhara – Root – home / earth / security
The chakra system is deeply rich and complex, just like the richness and complexity of our human experience. This brief overview is a glimpse into this remarkable field of study. Through study, practice, and self-reflection, the chakra system offers us a wonderful map to discover so much about our lives, and how to achieve a greater state of harmony.
Koshas: The Sheath
The second study focuses on the koshas, the layers of the self. Often translated as “>sheath” from the Sanskrit, the five koshas navigate our human experience from the physical to the spiritual dimensions. We can begin to explore them from the physical body inward, through sheaths of prana (life force, energy), the mind, the witness consciousness, and the spiritual core (universal bliss). Just like the chakras, the koshas are an incredibly rich piece of yogic philosophy. Understanding and harmonizing these sheaths is a study worth exploring!
Learning the divine play of inner exploration and the surrender to higher consciousness is our calling. Once your eyes are opened to this calling, you’ll find yourself on a fascinating path that leads you through a more elevated experience of life.
Deepen Your Experience
Practice yoga, meditate, chant, enjoy nature, and begin your exploration of the subtle body with teachers who devote their lives to being your guide on this magnificent journey. The Yoga Philosophy and Chakras Retreat is offered at the Art of Living Center in Boone on April 29-May 6th. Join me, Val Spies, and my good friend and celebrated national teacher Roger McKeever. With time for self reflection and inspiration, plus hiking, walking the labyrinth, and outdoor activities to appreciate the beauty of the surrounding Blue Ridge mountains, this promises to be a joyful, insightful, and unforgettable week.
Let’s start here. Atha Yoga Anushasanam. Now the Inquiry of Yoga.
Val Spies is the owner and director of the Lotus Pond Center for Yoga Teacher Training.
Interested in learning more about programs at the Art of Living Retreat Center? Check out our annual catalog here.