Yoga teachings suggest that the heart is the “seat of knowledge”. In thinking back about the evolution of my practice and of people I have taught – I recognized some milestones which seem to mark a path. I began my journey as most westerner’s do – entrenched in the mind, seeking something more. Early in my practice I observed that Yoga both reflects and affects my life. Therefore these milestones can be found both on and off the mat.
The beginning is strongly anchored in the mind, which depends on the senses, which are anchored outside. Stimulation from the outside are observed and are often translated into action – we see and we do.
A delicate first change is a small break in the immediate link between observation and action. Yoga postures are new to most beginners so they require a bit more attention – there isn’t yet an automated routine to handle them.
This small gap in reaction to stimuli presents an opportunity for even more refined attention. There are potentially limitless variation and details to explore in postures – this exploration takes time and extends our stay in contemplation and observation. Conscious & expanded breathing linked to movement give us time to and space to explore.
With the skills of opening a gap and staying attentive at hand, a teacher can now guide us into more subtle aspects of practice. This leads us to the heart. As with the mind, visiting the heart is done gradually. Initially the visits will be short – they bring about a subtle quality of care.
As our capacities for attention, breath, movement and emotions expand the heart gets more involved. This is a phase where clear instructions are replaced by subtle queues, metaphors, meditative focuses, etc. It is usually an extensive period of continuous practice.
This has the potential for a very subtle but major shift in experience – it is approached slowly and gradually, but arrives suddenly. When you get it, it feels like you’ve know it forever. The point of origin is no longer on the outside – you find it is now within you – your intentions. Another subtle change is that the loop is no longer open ended, things seem more connected, there are subtle relationships that draw a bigger picture than the mind was able to comprehend on its own.
I think this is where the “beyond” part begins to really kick in. You may find that you can both sense the world and act on it directly from your heart. Enough said!
When that gate has opened … well .. the heart emerges as “the seat of knowledge” and … well… enough said!
Engaging the world with heart and care can lead to a new perspective - differences observed by mind are replaced by commonalities known in the heart.
Eventually we may even come to the conclusion that what we have in common is what dominates our lives. That the seat of knowledge is one.