The Heart Chakra and Its Vibration
The physiological and spiritual heart center is referred to as the hṛt chakra but is more commonly known as the anāhata chakra. The heart is thought to contain a mystical, silent sound that, like the perpetual expansion of the universe, resounds continually. Vibration within the heart is, paradoxically, called the “unstruck sound” (anāhata śabda), implying a profound, unruffled stillness. In the depths of heart chakra opening meditation, it is possible to experience silence resonating in the heart—a silence purported to lie at the very foundation of being.
In the transformational alchemy of the subtle body, yogis attune to vibration conducted through interior pathways of the body. Sound travels through nāḍīs, and like the vibrating strings of a sitar, pure sound currents reverberate through the nerves and vessels. Thus, frequencies of sound are borne on the prāṇa, moving through the fluids and tissues of the body. When the bones, joints, ligaments, and organs align in āsana and the lungs and heart expand through prāṇāyāma, the “soundless sound” of prāṇa is amplified.
Om—the heart chakra opening mantra—is the classic syllabic current used to expand and harmonize the vibratory rhythms of the heart in the subtle body. Throughout the sacred literature of India, the morpheme Om denotes the sound current of the divine (śabda Brāhma). In the first chapter of Patañjali’s Yoga Sutras, which extolls samādhi, the enunciation of Om, tasya vācakaḥ praṇavaḥ, exalts the divine within by amplifying the inner acoustics of the heart, or anāhata chakra. Thus, it is through sound vibration—sound that eludes the interpretive powers of the intellect—that a divine presence awakens. With this said, the heart chakra is the source of all vibratory rhythm, audible to those who can attune to its sublime presence. During spells of profound heart chakra opening meditation, the atmospheric space of the heart expands and absorbs the mind, the result being an interior state of quiescent joy. In this way, the vibrations of the spiritual heart, called spanda, are inseparable from the flow of consciousness. In the Vijñāna Bhairava (Wisdom of Śiva), a collection of tantric teachings from Kashmir compiled around the eighth century c.e., it is said,
He whose mind together with the senses is merged into the interior space of the heart,
Who has entered mentally into the middle of the heart lotus,
Who has excluded everything else from consciousness,
Acquires the highest fortune.
Practice: The Flame of the Heart Meditation
The aim of this heart opening meditation technique is to cultivate undistracted awareness and interior light by imagining a steady flame in the cave of your heart.
Begin by sitting comfortably on a three- to six-inch support throughout this heart chakra meditation and releasing the weight of your leg bones and pelvis into the cushion. Lift the sides of your trunk and raise and open the region around the eyes of your heart. Close your eyes and visualize a flame in the middle of the cave of your heart. As you settle into a very light rhythm with your breath, imagine this heart flame burning steadily. Should winds of distraction penetrate your heart-mind, then the flame will waver, flicker, and burn uncontrollably.
When distracted, the flame will not burn brightly and its oscillations will cause the flame tip to smoke, clouding your concentration. Make your breath even, soft, and steady. This will help the flame of your heart burn steadfast and still. Visualize an unruffled flame with a constant glow, like a flame in a windless place. Imagine the radiance and glow of this steady light filling your entire chest. Sense the spirit of great joy that accompanies this unperturbed, undying flame within your heart chakra. Remain for five to forty-five minutes.
The Cave of the Heart
One of the common allusions to the heart chakra in yoga metaphysics is that of the heart as a cave. Hidden, secret, and inscrutable, the heart is like an ancient grotto wherein the lantern of awareness is kept lit… and can be accessed through the heart meditations shared herein.
As a way of describing entry into the cave of the heart through meditation, from surface to depth, my Dzogchen teacher in Tibetan Buddhist practice, Tsoknyi Rinpoche, outlines three aspects of the heart—the outer, inner, and secret (innermost) heart. The outer heart can be thought of as the threshold to the cave. It is affected by circumstances and interactions with people—in a sense, it is shaped by the day-to-day effects of karma. Any formulation of a social self is determined by exchanges and contacts that occur at the level of the outer heart. This layer is a source of both joy and pain, as thoughts, emotions, hopes, and fears are conditioned by outside phenomena. The outer heart is subject to the variable winds of circumstance, and as a result, confusion, anger, attachment, pride, and jealousy (the five poisons) can metastasize inside this heart chakra.
The inner heart, the second layer of the heart chakra, is located in the interior heart cave. It is a repository for our inner feelings, moods, and impressions and can be accessed with the heart chakra meditations outlined in this article. This middle heart holds the personal sense of I, born from myriad imprints that determine how we feel about ourselves. This includes everything that is ingrained in the psyche due to conditioning, initially and formatively, by the domestic scene into which we are born. It includes self-image; thoughts, judgments, habitual affect, and personal identity. This layer has lasting, hidden, often ambiguous effects on the subtle body.
The deepest level, the secret heart, has an affinity with the immeasurable—that which cannot be put into language and can never be known. This secret heart chakra is intimately woven within the subtle body. Due to its depth, it can never be named or recognized. The only way to commune with this deep-seated, enduring heart is by moving into the deep recesses of the cave, veritably a journey into the heart of darkness.