Heartfulness: The age-old process which helps people access the gentle energy of their hearts
Could tapping into the subtle energy of your heart help you to find greater ease in this fast-paced world, asks Dee O'Keeffe
"Through pride we are ever deceiving ourselves. But deep down below the surface of the average conscience a still, small voice says to us, something is out of tune."
Perhaps these words from psychiatrist Carl Jung come close to explaining the search within most of us for a greater sense of ease in what feels like an increasingly frantic world.
Mindfulness is one movement that has captured the zeitgeist, perhaps filling the void that organised religion once occupied in the West.
But it is the heart, rather than the head, that has been described as the seat of the soul - across many cultures for millennia - and a practice called 'heartfulness' aims to help people access the gentle energy of their hearts.
"To put it simply, in heartfulness, the focus is on the heart and in mindfulness, the focus is on the breath and the body," explains Dr Hester O Connor, a clinical psychologist with the HSE, who has been meditating for over 20 years.
"As a trained mindfulness teacher and as a heartfulness instructor, the best words to describe the difference between these two meditation practices is subtleness of focus.
"In heartfulness meditation, we sit comfortably with our eyes closed and connect to our own heart by making the suggestion that we are connecting to the subtle source of light that is within the human heart," says Dr O Connor.
Meditation on the heart, via the 'natural path' or 'natural way', was established in India in 1945.
In order to simplify the approach to this practice of meditation on the heart, in February this year, heartfulness relaxation and meditation was introduced in over 120 countries across the world and there are now thousands of people practicing heartfulness relaxation and meditation globally.
Accessing a link to a seven-minute YouTube video (www.heartfulness.org) is the first step for anyone who is interested, as this helps the seeker to tune into the wisdom of their own heart at their own pace, in their own time and from their own home.
When you become familiar with the relaxation sequence, you can talk family and friends through it without any need for the video. Heartfulness is part of a broader system of raja yoga, the aforementioned 'natural path' or 'natural way', which offers meditation on the heart with yogic transmission (information about this practice can be found at www.sahajmarg.org).
"The process is very subtle and the philosophy behind this is that we become whatever we meditate upon," says Dr O Connor. "Let me explain this further, if a person focuses on their anger, they become a more angry person. When we connect within to the subtle energy of the heart over time, we become more refined and subtle and this experience soothes the deepest longing of the heart to experience joy and simplicity."
But how do you tune into the energy of the heart when your mind has such noise in it?
"In heartfulness, we do not seek to empty the mind, we do not use mantras and we do not seek concentration," explains Dr O Connor.
"We learn to allow thoughts to come and go, and with practice, we notice that by gently bringing our attention back to the heart, we become less disturbed by the chatter of the mind. What many people notice is that by not 'trying' to stop thoughts, and by tuning into the heart, that they are less disturbed by thoughts."
How can utilising the energy of the heart help one lead a more balanced life?
"More and more people are noticing that life is so hectic and technology has become almost like a second skin to the extent that we have lost contact with the heart.
"Heartfulness meditation helps a great deal with reconnecting with the simplicity and the purity of the human heart. You could describe it like learning to rebalance one's life, almost like a bird flying with two wings; the inner wisdom of the heart and the material life becoming more refined and in harmony with each other."
Of the YouTube link, which talks you through the relaxation process, Laura Fallon, a fashion lecturer at Dublin's Griffth College and heartfulness instructor, further explains that: "Even the relaxation technique by itself can help you manage day-to-day stress as it does bring you closer to the heart.
"We are always trying to make changes, mostly changes to other people, but really, the most you can do in your life is change yourself and that ripples out and changes others around you - so if you do the relaxation, alone or with others, it can only benefit you and anyone in your life."
Laura, who has been meditating for over 15 years, gives introductory workshops around the country, open to anyone who is interested. "I always start by telling people it's an experience because, rather than having a heady intellectual discussion about it, I believe once people feel the effect, then it all makes more sense."
Dr O'Connor adds that: "If and when you are ready for the next step, then it is possible to take it further and you can do this by attending a heartfulness session or by contacting a heartfulness trainer through the website.
"If you decide to attend a heartfulness session, which is free of charge, you will get to experience heartfulness meditation with transmission of yogic energy called 'prana'."
Of course, the million dollar question for most of us who are time poor to begin with is: what changes can a person expect to see and feel in themselves if they practise heartfulness?
"I have introduced many people to heartfulness meditation over the past few months and here are some of the comments that I have been told," says Dr O Connor.
"A woman from Dublin told me that she now feels more in tune with her own heart and she feels more connected to her friends and family.
"A young man from Dublin told me that he feels calmer and less irritable since trying heartfulness meditation."
Most of us associate the heart with love - is love and self-love one of the aims of heartfulness?
"It is about love and self-love, but love at a deeper level; beyond love based on exchange," says Dr O Connor. "Through the heart, we connect with the deepest part of our soul or essence, and this, in turn, softens our heart.
"When we soften to our own heart within, it is automatic that we soften to the heart of every living being. It is like a heart-to-heart connection and even this thought permits us to imagine a world connected heart-to-heart."
There are no age restrictions for heartfulness relaxation and Dr O Connor is keen to open the technique to youngsters.
"I would love to see how we might let children teach others heartfulness relaxation. This is possible because it is heart to heart based and requires no technology or tools.
"Heartfulness meditation with transmission of yogic energy is done with the help of a heartfulness trainer and this is for those who are aged 18 years and over."
Visit www.heartfulness.org to experience heartfulness relaxation, or connect with a heartfulness trainer in Ireland, free of charge