Photo by Sofia Drobinskaya

This is the 5th post of ‘The Soft Spot’ – a section of the Naropa University blog dedicated to compassion.

By Erika Berland, founding faculty and co-creator of the unique movement curriculum of the MFA Theater: Contemporary Performance Program at Naropa University

In Eastern thought and medicine, the heart is generally considered the seat of consciousness and awareness, while the West tends to locate consciousness primarily in the brain. Regardless of cultural orientation, for most human beings the heart holds a wealth of imagery as reflected in the language and symbols that we associate with it. We are “heart-sick,” we have “loss of heart,” we are “heartened,” or our experience is “heartfelt.” Feelings of compassion and love, or the lack of compassion and love, are all expressions of the heart. When we “feel our hearts,” there is the sense that we are touching into our truth and our “heart’s desire.” When we put our hands on our heart, we touch our human goodness, vulnerability, and a deep desire for happiness.  When we “give our heart” to others or when we are genuinely “openhearted,” we extend those same feelings we have for ourselves to others.

The anatomical heart has its own blood supply, nerves, and glandular tissue and it beats tirelessly throughout our lives, very rarely missing a beat. The main aorta that carries freshly oxygenated blood to the whole body arches upward out of the heart toward the clavicle at the base of the neck. Like a fountain, the blood is muscularly pushed out of the heart into the aorta and carried through the rest of the body via the arteries and the even smaller arterioles. This sense of uplift, vitality, and fluid power can be felt to support the gentle suspension of the front of the chest venules and veins that eventually empty into the vena cava and the heart. The movement of the blood back to the heart gives us a sense of self-nurturance and a return to “home base.” Energetically, the hands and wrists are connected to the heart. It is through our hands and arms that we can reach out to others–it is our hands that pull others toward us and allow us to embrace them closely, heart to heart. Our hands are the physical expression of what our hearts want to say. When we sit in the meditation posture we can feel a triangle of energetic support from the palms of our hands to our heart. 

Hand and Heart Erika B


Intention: To feel the connection and flow between the heart and the hands in the meditation posture.

Sensory Focus:


Our hands support our hearts and our hearts support our hands. As you go through your day, notice if your heart is behind your handshake or touch as you interact with others. Notice also if what and who you touch is brought back into your heart as feeling and connection.

If you find yourself feeling especially tight, spaced out or dis-connected when you begin a meditation session, it can be helpful to spend a few minutes simply breathing into your heart.[ii] Your breath is like a “flashlight of awareness,” illuminating what is held in your heart and reconnecting you to the tenderness of your feelings.


Intention: To feel how the heart helps supports the chest and ribcage and to awaken the heart’s natural vulnerability, gentleness, and compassion.

Sensory Focus:


When we feel emotionally disconnected or unsynchronized, feeling our hearts can remind us to connect to how we actually feel. Take a moment to lightly breath into your heart as you go about your day, noticing if you feel more synchronized with your feelings and emotions.

Erika Berland is the author of The Physical Art of Sitting, a guide to the ancient form of sitting meditation practice utilizing contemporary research in somatic education and experiential Anatomy. You can purchase the book here.