Listening to the Heart During Practice – Vinyasa at Yoga on Yamhill in Downtown Portland

Heart Chakra, from WikimediaOne thing I love about teaching at Yoga on Yamhill is that I tend to have students who are visiting from out of state. I suppose they’re staying or visiting downtown, and the studio’s location at SW 2nd and Yamhill is  walkable. Plus the studio is donation-based. This Saturday I had 26 students in my class, including two visitors from So Cal. I have also had students from New York City and Salt Lake City, that I recall off the top of my head. Saturday is a good day for visitors–I always see walking tours as I stroll around between classes. Today in my noon vinyasa class we worked on heart-opening–stretching, relaxing, and healing the front, back, and sides of this very intelligent organ.

I say intelligent because the heart is actually a major location of neurons in the body. Rather than one singular location for intelligence in the body (the brain) it turns out we have many centers of intelligence, including the heart and the gut. When we say our “heart skipped a beat” or “my heart dropped,” we are speaking to the wisdom of the heart.

In yoga the heart is the location of the 4th chakra, a balancing point between lower and upper  chakras. This is where the self-protection and self interest of the lower three chakras meets the upper three chakras, which have more to do with truth, intuition, and wisdom. In other words, this is where selfishness transforms into altruism.

Over the last couple of years I have been focused on the third chakra, the energy center in the body having to do with ego. I have sought avenues for building strength, confidence, and a stable career path. I have participated in triathlons, half marathons, bootcamps, and sweaty, sweaty power vinyasa yoga classes. And now it appears I may be moving more into fourth chakra territory–how my own personal strengths and talents can serve others.

As is often the case, my own spiritual musings informed my class, where I spoke about paying attention to the heart. I know, I know, platitudes about listening to your heart abound. But my own experience in yoga and Vipassana meditation suggests that when we take time to tune into this area of the body, right around the heart, we often find what we need. We may discover that we feel hurt or jealous. We might discover disappointment or vindictiveness. Whatever we find there, we just sit and observe it.

That’s it. We notice. We pay attention.

Natarajasana Florence

Dancer’s Pose, Natarajasana, on the Oregon coast!

The trick is noticing without passing judgement on ourselves for what arises. This objective space allows a breath, a beat, to realize what our first impulse says, and then to hopefully see an opportunity to choose whether we really want to make that knee-jerk reaction. Oftentimes just acknowledging how we feel is enough to calm the spirit and bring the rational brain back online. This is the sort of meditative approach I try to foster in my classes.

Throughout today’s class, we used our arm and hand positions to open the heart. This was the crux of my “lesson” for the flow. (Students always tell me that one way my classes are different is that I actually teach, I don’t just lead movements.) I hoped that we could establish that it’s possible to open the area around the heart by moving the hands and the arms. We used hand binds to open the chest. We kicked into dancer’s pose to continue opening the front of the heart. Side body stretches–including one in an archer’s arm variation–brought us to later opening for the sides of the  heart. And finally, embryo pose and a thread the needle variation helped us open the back of our hearts.

After class, I felt so grateful for the students, and for the beautiful teaching space and community. That’s a final add-on for the 4th chakra/heart area: We can take care of it through gratitude. Physical movements, cardio, emotional support, and self-awareness are all wonderful tools for heart health, as is gratitude. Investing in gratitude always pays off–in more gratitude reflected back at you.

Here’s wishing you a heart-happy weekend!


Anjali Mudra

<image 1: By Mirzolot2 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons>

© Colleen Cash 2016.


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