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Posted: October 07, 2005

Spiritual Caregiving

The Perfect Heart Meditation

Think of it: It’s the dead of winter. The earth has hardened and flowing waters have crystallized into ice. Life itself slows to a cold crawl, but socially and spiritually we are called to share our most extravagant expressions of romance and passion on Valentine’s Day – yes, in the dead of winter.

For the body in tune with nature’s rhythms, keeping the heart out of hibernation requires great care and great love. Ashtanga yoga master Shiva Rea loves to stoke fires, she says, be they campfires or the flames of the human heart. "My primary yoga practice is to stay centered in my heart as I move through the world. Is that realistic? Over the years, I’ve definitely seen more stamina!" says Rea, who began studying yoga when she was 14 and is now on the faculty of UCLA’s World Arts and Cultures Program, where she received her master’s in dance movement therapy.

Stoke the fires of your own heart with the following meditation adapted from the Yoga Chant CD (Sounds True) created by Rea, who shares her heart-opening ideas in classes at Sacred Movement in Venice, California, and on yoga and adventure retreats worldwide.

To begin the meditation, find a peaceful place for your practice. Sit comfortably on the floor or on a blanket or pillow. For extra support, sit with your back to a wall. Bring your hands into jnana mudra, index finger and thumb touching. Turn the palms up to open your mind; turn the palms down to calm the mind. Effortlessly extend your spine; gently tuck your chin to lengthen your neck. Relax into the earth.

The meditation has three parts: chanting "ohm," visualizing the heart’s fire, and dwelling in the heart’s inner sanctum.

Sea of "Ohms"

Chanting "ohm" is like sounding the first pitch for an orchestra, says Rea, whose yoga classes incorporate chanting and world music to help students find their body’s natural rhythm. "The attunement immediately creates a ritual doorway through which you can then syncopate with a deeper frequency," she says. Listen to the sea of "ohms," sounding it inside the center of your chest, or on exhale, let the "ohm" expand the chest in all directions. Feel that the "ohm" can contain any emotion that arises. Refrain from analyzing the contents of your emotions; just keep swimming in the sea of "ohms." Settle into the very center of your chest — the inner sanctum of your body as temple.

Inner Fire

"When you’re dead, you’re cold; when you’re alive, you’re warm," says Rea. That’s the heart of this heart meditation. The image of the flame in the heart corresponds to the renewal that meditation offers. Light a fire here in the cave of the heart, and let it burn with just the right amount of heat. Let the flame comfort you and transform any obstacles that arise. Stay with this devotional concentration by gazing into the center of the fire.

Heart Dwelling

Gazing at a fire, watching the movement of the flames -- that’s a place of contentment. "Sitting before a fire lets you relax your awareness so you can feel your integrative capacity," says Rea. "It’s important to experience the state of meditation as something natural." Dwell in the simple radiance of the heart, beyond words and ideas. Dwell in the shining self of the heart, enjoying the experience of meditation.

Practice the heart meditation any time you want to stoke your heart’s fire. If you don’t already have a meditation practice, create some sort of ritual anchor for your practice. Rea recommends starting with a ritual that you can do every day for a week. The meditation can be done in about 10 minutes.

"We all know the power of love," Rea says. "Not from the Hallmark point of view, but from the perspective of a love that makes everything juicier, makes everything taste sweeter." In building her heart’s stamina, she has learned to sense the initial contractions of her heart when it tries to shut down. Because she practices fueling her heart’s inner fire, she’s able to encounter people and circumstances with great warmth and recognition of that spark from the source.

Once the heart fire is lit, Rea says, it seeks new sources of fuel. "Doing a heart-based meditation definitely has helped me. I’ve been with my husband for 17 years, and it helps keep the love alive." Hallmark couldn’t say it any sweeter.


Jennifer Derryberry is a freelance writer and yoga teacher based in Geneva, Illinois. She is the former editor of Science & Spirit magazine. For information on Shiva Rea and yogic meditations, go to

This article originally appeared in Spirituality & Health magazine, For subscriptions call 1-800-876-8202 or see Editor Stephen Kiesling and his staff contribute weekly columns, features and articles published every Friday as "Spiritual Caregiving" at Contact staff directly via email at

© 2005 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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