The Heart is Just a Muscle

Self Portrait, 2017 by Daniel Genova (used with permission)

I remember, in high school I was at a friend’s house and her father (I’ll call him Bruce) was watching some news show. They were reporting about a doctor who was doing research on heart disease, meditation and the body/mind connection. The doctor called the heart an organ of acceptance… or maybe something similar.

The conversation that ensued focused on the fact that the heart is a muscle and the belief that it is nothing more. My friend’s father was convinced that the story was a bunch of hooey, railed that the whole thing was beyond silly, called the doctor a quack and lit a joint.

This was around the time that I took my first yoga class in the auditorium at my school. I wasn’t much for competitive sports and I needed to earn my PE credits somehow. I didn’t know at the time that it would be the beginning of a journey. It took a long time, but I now know that when we take the time to notice deeply, what you can discover about these bodies that we inhabit will inspire awe. Nothing of which we are made is just an anything.

Our hearts, guts, brains, nerves and everything else are subject not only to their own intelligent functions but to the symphony of our bodies and minds. If you have ever placed your hand to your heart as a gesture of gratitude, had a sudden need to evacuate your bowels (or vomit) when presented with sudden anxiety or reacted to an event with a response more dramatic than the situation called for, you have been intimate with that symphony. 

While these reactions are responses to stimuli, the real noticing comes when we consciously focus our awareness inside. Many long haul COVID patients are finding relief from pranayama. This is not only because it inspires focus on the breath, it also engages that focusing to inspire insight into the workings of the entire body and the relationships: physical, emotional, energetic and spiritual, that reside there. 

So, do I believe the heart is more than just a muscle? Absolutely. The fullness of mine when I’m with my loved ones and emptiness I’ve felt when betrayed confirm it. Also, I continue to be bolstered by sensations within my structure and what they tell me about my overall well being. Those sensations are gifts.

A lot can happen in 40 years and I don’t know what Bruce thinks now. I like to think of him at 90 something attending mindfulness conferences in Palo Alto or the Berkshires. I imagine though that he has not embraced the heart as an organ of acceptance even if I hope he has.