Exploring Your Own Heart

by Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati & Vidyadevi Stillman

Your heart is an essential and amazing part of your body.  It is a hard-working internal organ, pumping blood (containing oxygen, nutrients, hormones, etc.) to every cell of your body, including your skin, your muscles, your other organs and all the way into the cells in your bones. It beats 100,000 times a day, over 35 million times a year.  It began beating before you were born! Even if you’ve had some problems with your heart, it has worked for a long time and is continuing to serve you still.

You could even pause here to say thank you to your own heart.  Take a moment, a few breaths and say thank you to your own heart.  In that moment of gratitude, you might even feel a feeling in your heart, a tangible feeling inside.  Now you’re looking at another meaning of the word, “heart.”

In English, “heart” also refers to your emotional condition.   You talk about your heart when you’re having an emotional experience.  So many English idioms express this:  with all your heart, to take heart, the child won everyone’s heart, to have your heart set on something, to follow your heart… In everyday conversations, when you use the word “heart,” you are usually talking about love and emotions.  This means that heart is a very important part of life!

Yet the word “heart” also has a broader meaning, used when we are talking about:  the heart of the matter, let’s get to the heart of it, to put your heart into it.

Yoga teaches you to put your heart into whatever you are doing.  Even businesses want their employees to put their heart into their work.  They don’t want their employees to become emotional and “wear their heart on their sleeve”, but they want their employees to bring some core, some essence or some meaningful quality to their interactions with customers.   This is because, when you are a customer, you want the person who is helping you to truly care about helping you.   

Yoga’s vocabulary agrees with all these definitions of “heart” and more, describing the heart as a gateway to the essence of a human being.  Swami Nirmalananda describes it this way:

What is the essence that is found in every human heart?

What is it about a human being that, no matter who they are, where they have been and what they have done, that there is still some essence, an essence of vital importance?

Whether we consider convicted criminals on Death Row or a child who is lost in the woods, each one is important.

Each one is a human being.

Each one matters.

There is something in every human.

What do you call that essence, found in every human heart?

Finding this essence is yoga’s goal, clearly described by the sages in the core of yoga’s teachings, in the heart of yoga’s teachings:

Aasanastha.h sukha.m hrade nimajjati.  — “Siva Sutras 3.16

The yogi established in a steady posture easily becomes immersed in the heart.[1]

“Immersed in the heart” does not mean to be immersed in your physical heart or your emotional heart, but to be immersed in the heart of beingness.  It’s what yoga does for you – immerses you in the heart of your own beingness.  This is the essential part of every human being, that core essence that yoga names “svaroopa.”

Originally published February 2014

[1] Rendered by Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati