Yoga Philosophy - What is Heart?

Article discussing the work we covered in the second Yoga Practice Philosophy Group session in July 2018

Yoga Philosophy Group - What is Heart?

In this article I summarise what we covered in our second group meeting in July 2018 ‘Yoga Philosophy – What is Heart?’
I’ll also be writing blog posts for the last sessions that link to this theme.  The first blog on ‘What is Mind?’ can be found here
The second Yoga Philosophy Group session was equally as enjoyable as the first.  We started off re-capping the first session ‘what is mind’.

In this session we discussed how heart is different from mind and simplified them into generic categories.

Mindthinks– process of considering or reasoning about something

Heartfeels– experiencing something before thought

Heart is linked with intuition – an instinctive feeling rather than conscious reasoning.  (Instinct – natural behaviour without having to think or learn about it, this is different to habit which is learned behaviour).

We talked about the mind and heart operating jointly as our psyche (citta) and that they are interlinked, however in some situations mind may dominate heart or heart may dominate mind.  We may want to try to feel that our mind and heart are more evenly balanced.

We then discussing types of feelings in small groups, some of which are summarised on the photo of the Flipchart…

Some people grouped ideas into positive and negative feelings.

We have been programmed into thinking that some feelings are good – we want to seek and experience these more and others are bad – we would like to avoid feeling these or  we try to repress them.

I mentioned Susan David who’s written a book on Emotional Agility  She explains that all feelings are useful, and they have something to tell us about what we value and what’s important to us.


I mentioned Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions.  This wheel is used to illustrate different emotions. I’ve added a bit more details to the model here… He suggested 8 primary bipolar emotions: joy versus sadness; anger versus fear; trust versus disgust; and surprise versus anticipation. Additionally, his circumplex model makes connections between the idea of an emotion circle and a colour wheel. Like colours, primary emotions can be expressed at different intensities and can mix with one another to form different emotions.
We also looked at the nature of heart.

We discussed the characteristics of emotions and came up with a list of adjectives we associate with the nature of heart.

These ranged from expressive, primitive, instinctive and transient.  To protective or the opposite – destructive and often they can be overwhelming.

They were described as watery in nature as they can permeate through everything, they can be large crashing waves or just lapping at the shore.

They can be a barometer for what is going on around us and how it is affecting us.

They were also described as our centre of being, they help us to connect to our deeper emotions and can offer us a centre of knowing (I’d see this as our intuition).

I then read out a definition of the term emotion.

Emotion– conscious and subjective mental reaction towards a particular event usually accompanied by changes in the physiological and behavioural aspects of a person.

I wrote out a flow diagram to demonstrate how an event may lead to us experiencing a feeling how that might lead to changes in our body (physiology) and mind which then results in a reaction (change in our behaviour)…
We discussed the many ways our emotions may express themselves in our bodies.

They might be short term immediate reactions such as a change in our breath, pulse, skin colour.  Our bodies may feel heavy, light or immobile. We may begin to shake, get sweaty or have a dry mouth.  We might verbalise the emotion – shouting, screaming or laughing.

We also looked at the longer term effect our emotions may have on our body including, high blood pressure, headaches, muscle aches and pain.  Higher levels of long term anxiety/panic attacks, sleep problems. And long term conditions such as Irritate Bowel Syndrome and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

We also discussed how emotions can affect our personality, our posture and that we can be ‘be-side ourselves’, separate from who we ‘normally’ are.

We then had a break before considering the yoga teachings around heart.

In Eastern Philosophy Yoga teaching’s see the heart or region of the heart (hṛdaye) as the seat of the mind.  (refer to the handout gave out).  One of the yoga practices, suggested by Patañjal,i is to meditate on the heart space.

Yoga Sūtra Ch 3 v 34 suggests that one point of understanding the psyche is to meditate on the heart space.
Yoga Sūtra Chapter Three verse 34 hṛdaye citta-saṃvit

hṛdaya – heart or region of the heart as the seat of feelings and sensations; mind as the seat of mental operations citta – psyche; mind; heart saṃvid – an understanding

“From meditating on the Heart, we come to know the habits of the Mind.  From coming to know the habits of the Mind, we come to know the Intrinsic Nature of the Mind.”– Paul Harvey Commentary

“Yoga Dhyānam (meditation) is the artof settling the mind in the heartspace.” Paul Harvey

“According to Yoga, the mind (citta) is mainly located in the centre of the chest rather than the brain!  This is the place of the emotions, love and other feelings.  The Essential Being (cit, soul, spirit) also inhabits this “heart space” (hṛdaya). “ Frans Moors Commentary

“Systematic meditation on this mysterious space can take us all the way to the very Source of existence. This point of internalisation is exactly where we must be in order for the saṃyama (complete focus) to give access to a thorough understanding of the mind (citta-saṃvit)” Frans Moors Commentary

There is discussion in the yoga sūtra that the heart space can be in a state of ease (sukha) when there is space or un-ease (duḥkha) where there is constriction.

Yoga Sūtra Chapter 2 verse 42  saṃtoṣāt-anuttamaḥ sukha-lābhaḥ
From (perfect) contentment arises unparalleled happiness.
saṃtoṣa – contentment anuttama – unparalleled sukha – pleasure; happiness; agreeable; ease; comfortable; pleasant lābha – attained

This is the key to supreme well-being (sukha), complete incomparable joy (anuttama).  This satisfaction is not linked to an unsteady, changing, fleeting world; it comes from deep within the heart. – Frans Moors Commentary

The opposite is constriction of the heart space.  Duḥkha – suffering, pain, sorrowful – Constriction of the heart space

T Krishnamacharya Commentary on Yoga Sūtra Chapter One verse 31. “Duḥkha is the mental activity that brings impurities into the heart, thus disturbing it.”“When impurities disturb the heart, one feels restricted and unable to move.”“Impurities in the heart cause mental agitation – anxiety, lack of direction, anger. This agitation, in turn, affects the body, sometimes making it impossible to sit still even for a few minutes.”

Yoga Sūtra Chapter Two verse 16
heyaṃ duḥkham-anāgatam The suffering not yet come must be overcome.
heya – overcome duḥkha – suffering, pain, sorrowful anāgata – not yet come

TKV Desikachar Religiousness in Yoga Chapter Three Page 41
The only duḥkha that matters is that which is about to come.  Things that have happened or are happening must be accepted.  Where there is duḥkha, there is Avidyā(illusion).

Paul Harvey:Duḥkha is the space in the heart feeling constricted through:
‘Not getting what you want’ or ‘Getting what you don’t want’.

We discussed the concept of duḥkha and how suffering often leads to change.

“We usually start seeking because we have something which we do not want: sufferingSuffering pushes us to seek.” – TKV Desikachar from unedited manuscript for ‘What are We Seeking?’.

T Krishnamacharya:“The way to better oneself is not to ponder over the past but to look ahead. Even Duḥkha is a great teacher. In fact it is the first and important step in the ladder of Viveka (discrimination) or clarity. The greatness of Patañjali is to look at Duḥkha as the stepping stone to success.”

Inspirational Quote

“The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers….”M Scott Peck

We then briefly looked at the ideas I’ve explored with Sylviane Giannina.  She wrote a summary of the workshop I participated in early this year around emotional patterns which you can find here (  Sylviane’s work is mainly influenced by yoga (tradition of TK Krishnamacharya/TKV Desikachar), cosmic astrology (Stephanie Azaria), 5D consciousness  (Tracey Ash, Maartje Kreuzen, Laurie Galfetti)

Sylviane describes the heart space as our hub that holds our psyche (citta) and soul/spirit/ essence (cit).

I explained that this hub can be in a state of duḥkha where there is constriction in the space or anywhere between highly constricted and a state of sukha (ease / openness / space).

I very briefly explained an emotion’s job is to take us away from the hub and help us to return to our centre.  If an emotion is seen as a wave which flows and breaks, the breaking of the wave helps us to return to our hub.  However, the mind can often prevent a wave from breaking.  If we repress our emotions and don’t allow them to fully express this can add to the feeling of constriction in our heartspace.

Yoga practice can help take us closer to our hub as it helps us to re-connect with our body.  If we can explore emotions by observing what our body is trying to tell us, we will be more aware when our heart is trying to give us information.  With this information we may be able to allow our emotions to fully express, without repressing them.  Allowing this expression will lead to us feeling less constricted in our heart space and closer to our hub.

I suggested that you try to gain literacy in emotional language by exploring what your heart is telling you through observing sensations in your body.  Remembering that some waves are more ease to manage than others. We may need support to explore some of the deep-seated emotions that have been held within us for a long time. Not everyone will be ready to face these and for lots of people it is safer to keep them dormant.  Sylviane said you know when you are ready to face these when the desire to change is greater than the fear.

We will discuss some of these ideas in a little bit more detail in our next session ‘what is soul’ where we will explore the other aspect in our hub – cit (soul / spirit / essence)


To summarise this session…

We looked at how mind and heart differ and interact.  We discussed the activities of heart, nature of heart and how the heart expresses emotions through the body.

In the yoga sutra we looked at the idea that the seat of the mind is in the heart space, and that this space can be in a state of ease / openness (sukha) or un-ease / constriction (duhkha).

We explored the heart space (hub) holding our psyche citta (mind and heart) and cit (soul/ spirit).

We discussed that emotions can take us away from our hub and bring us back closer to this place and help us feel more at ease if they are allowed to be expressed.  We briefly considered how the mind can sometimes stop our emotions going through the full cycle of a wave building and breaking.

To finish I suggested that you explore how your body might be giving you information about your emotions and suggested that you took time to observe these signs.  We also talked about meditating on the heart space and observing that area of the body.


Online references :-

The Yoga Sūtra’s and Paul Harvey’s discussion for each can be found here…

During the first session I also referred to the Romanised Online Sanskrit Glossary available on Paul Harvey’s website…

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