Let’s begin with the heart. A masterpiece of engineering, this muscular organ pumps blood to your body about 110,000 times daily. But the heart is much more than central plumbing.
Long before the heart’s role in sustaining life was understood, the symbol took root in ancient cultures. The same scribbled shape we draw to show affection has been found in the caves of the Cro-Magnon hunters of the Ice Age.
In India, the ancient Hindu texts, the Vedas, describe the heart as energy, one of the seven chakras, or energy centers, in a channel from the base of the spine to the head’s crown. If the heart chakra is open, we feel love towards others. If blocked, we experience isolation.
The Egyptians saw the heart as the center of life and morality. The Greeks called it the seat of the soul. Scientists, philosophers, artists…all have pursued the heart’s purpose. Hippocrates and Aristotle theorized that the heart pumps in relationship to the lungs. Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius’s physician, Galen, fleshed it out even further by labeling the valves, ventricles, veins and arteries. Later, Leonardo da Vinci rendered the first known accurate sketch of the organ.
Religious thought has weighed in. The sacred heart seen in art and prayers of the cathedrals in Europe symbolizes divine love. Jewish philosopher Maimonides signified the heart’s profound role determining right action. The Ashante people of West Africa embroidered the heart symbol of love and wisdom into their sacred Adinkra cloth.
What does all of this mean to our yoga practice? It’s simple. We follow in the path of others who have yearned to know the way of the heart. We may be no closer than the mystics at fully understanding the heart but as we flow from one posture to the next, the heart beats, the blood pumps, the lungs fill and empty. We’re fully alive. And as we move and breathe in community, we follow our hearts.