In her book The Namaste Effect: Expressing Universal Love Through the Chakras, Nischala Joy Devi presents a relatable vision of these “whirling vortexes of love.” She notes that she deliberately offers her overview of the chakras from a modern Western perspective, hoping to accomplish nothing less than a global shift in consciousness. Devi asks, “How many of us are really conscious of the role our hearts play in our lives? Do we truly understand what they need to feel supported enough to open?”
“Expressing Universal Love Through the Chakras”: Fill the Available Space
Love is an aspect of our mystical selves. We try to contain love, to clearly define it so that it seems manageable. And we categorize it: This is the kind of love I have for my family, for my car, for my dog. This is the kind of love I have for my partner.
But when we categorize love and put it into containers, the problem is, it doesn’t expand as easily. So when we come into a situation where a person needs that love, but we don’t know them well enough, or it’s an inappropriate time, our mental processing comes in. We start to put restrictions on our love, instead of our heart coming in and saying, “Wait a second. This is another being just like me who has the same pain and suffering as I do. Let me expand that outward and embrace them, even though I don’t know them. I may not even know their name, but let me embrace them as myself.”
To me, that’s what the Namaste Effect is—you get the mind out of it and it’s more the heart. One of my favorite quotes, from philosopher Blaise Pascal, is, “The heart has reasons that reason knows nothing of.” There’s no rational reason that I should love you. That’s OK. My heart does anyway, because I see the spark of divinity in you that meets the spirit of divinity in me, and in that there’s love.
This way of being takes away the prejudices; it takes away the color of your skin, what language you speak, the way you dress, your gender. All we’re left with is the spirit that’s in each of our hearts. And that unites.
The Time Is Now
So that’s what I think the world needs right now. We have too much that divides us, too many things that separate us. We need to get back to the one thing that’s the same in everybody. It seemed like a really good time to write this book.
In the United States we’ve continued to have mass shootings, for example. It’s heartbreaking. You go into Walmart to buy a few things, and next thing you have been shot and killed. And that was part of my frustration. People may say, “Writing a book is not the solution.” No, but it was something that I could do.
My skin color seems to be the popular skin color. (My gender seems to be less popular, but it’s gaining popularity.) But that doesn’t mean I don’t feel for the people who have been suffering from prejudice for hundreds of years. And why? They’re just like us. They have the same desires and love and needs and family and everything—why are we doing this?
To me, if you felt good in yourself, you would befriend people, no matter their color or language or ethnicity. But if you don’t feel good in yourself, you have to make yourself feel better. So you pick on someone else. And that’s the whole bullying mentality.
A few years ago, I wrote what I call the Nischala Devi Sutra: “Happy people don’t make other people unhappy.” Because if you’re happy when you’re with yourself, you bring joy to the world. You don’t pick on someone who for some reason looks different or sounds different. We’re killing each other and suffering for no reason, based on mischaracterizations of another person, or long-time prejudices that aren’t real.
In my way of thinking about spirituality, we have to plant the seeds, and we must help these seeds to take root. That’s our own practice. I think that’s the most important thing, whether we’re doing yoga therapy or just moving through the world— whatever we’re doing, we have to ground ourselves in our own spirituality. That’s a little bit of a play on words, to “ground into spirituality.” But that’s how I always see it—the tree has to have very deep roots, so we know who we are. Once you know who you are, you know who everybody is.
The key is spending as much time as possible doing the deeper practices—pranayama, meditation, really going into our spirit, our soul, and touching that place where there is no difference between us and other people. Even if you can’t meditate, just sit there for a period of time with yourself, and go into your own heart and find out what we need to live in this world. Then when we go out and we see somebody, instead of being prejudiced or thinking something negative about them, we embrace them as ourselves.
That work has to continue in everything we do. When you’re in a store, notice the person handing you change. Notice who they are. There’s a human being there—it’s not just a hand handing you change or a receipt. There’s a real person who we can take the time to smile at, wish them a good day, whatever it is. And that small act changes the world; that’s how the world has changed, one person smiling at a time, one person caring—or even noticing—at a time.
It’s a human connection that I think in our busy times, and also our times of prejudices, we forget. This is what does it, not treaties or sweeping gestures. I always go back to a beautiful quote attributed to Margaret Mead: “Never doubt whether a small group of committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it has never been any other way.”
People sometimes say to me, “Well, what can I do as just one person?” And I say, “Just allow yourself to touch the people you see during your day. Give them love. From whatever chakra you’re vibrating from. If it’s from your survival chakra, give them clothing, feed people. If it’s from the power center, let them know that they are powerful by smiling at them and showing them they’re just like you. And if you’re lucky enough to get into your heart chakra, then pour all that love out to people. And when you hear about tragedies like those mass shootings, sit down and say a prayer for those people.” This is the kind of thing that I feel has to be done for our world to change. We can’t depend on our leaders to do it; we have to do it on an individual basis.
Most of the time I’m preaching to the choir, because most yoga teachers have at least some feeling in this, but I’m with Margaret Mead. I really believe the only way things will change now is on a grassroots level. We’re the ones who have to change, because it’s not being done by our elected officials. We’re the ones who have to step out and start loving. Even the elected officials have to be loved! Everyone has to be loved, and that’s hard to do. It’s easy to love people who are nice. It’s not so easy to love people who aren’t, but they’re the ones who need it the most, and right now.
We Are One
Love and generosity, we learn them at a very early age. One of the things my parents did for me is to show me that everybody is inherently the same. I don’t think that’s easy, and they showed it through their actions.
My father had friends of all different colors, with varied nationalities and religions, and we would constantly visit their homes and be part of their lives. So in my little mind, these were people that were friends, these were people that you loved. And so when I saw another person of that color, or another person that spoke that language, I associated it with the people I knew and loved already, instead of seeing them as “other.” I think that really helped mold me.
When I started traveling and going to different countries and seeing people in diverse cultures, I naturally felt like they were my friends. I still have that attitude toward people in the world. I assume that everybody’s going to be a friend. And sometimes they’re not. Sometimes they’re actually mean, and I just say, “Oh, well, they must be having a bad day,” or maybe they don’t like my hair or the way I look—they have a prejudice against it—and I put it on the back burner instead of just dismissing them completely. And often I even give them even more love and attention because of that.
I saw a lot of that in my work with people who were very ill. Some didn’t want to hear what I had to say. I use the expression “be like water going around an obstacle instead of trying to get through it”; I would just be even kinder and more loving to people and see how they worked with that.
People do bring their prejudices into their work with us. At the Commonweal Cancer Program, we would do laying on of hands with the participants, and they in turn would do it with each other. We found this was very empowering for the patients.
There was one man who was very, very prejudiced against Black people for some reason. When everybody else paired up, the only other person left was a Black woman, and he cringed every time he went near her. But she couldn’t wait to get her hands on him! She was a very open, loving person. So he lay down first, and she put her hands on him, and something very deep happened. The love from her heart flowed into her hands, into him, and when it was time to change places, he was a different person.
He became so loving and so open, and when he put his hands on her, it was a totally different situation. Afterward they embraced, and you could see that all his prejudice had just evaporated because we’re the same. It’s not even a quarter inch of skin, just some pigmentation, that makes us different—we’re all the same otherwise, so why push someone out of your life when you can instead embrace them?
That’s really what I’ve learned from all the people I’ve worked with, and from my parents: Loving somebody leaves us with a happy feeling. When we hate someone, it doesn’t leave us with that feeling—it’s almost like a poison, hatred in our systems. So why not choose love if you’re given the opportunity?
That one encounter in the cancer program changed both of those people’s lives. It also changed the people in the room who wer e observing it. That’s what love does. If you see two people being loving and kind to each other, it’s contagious. That’s the kind of epidemic I want to see: an epidemic of people loving each other.
Often we encounter people who are not the kindest people, but it doesn’t mean that we withhold our love from them. It’s our nature to love them. I think most people hold back because they say, “How do I know I’m going to be loved in return?” Well, we don’t know. But that’s not the point. Love is not a physical law—you don’t have an equal and opposite reaction. There may not be a reaction. I give, and whatever happens afterward is up to them. I’ve done my part. But to withhold love doesn’t make sense to me. And that’s unfortunately what’s happening now.
Touch a person’s hand for a moment longer than you need to, look into their eyes. Or if they offer one hand, take two and embrace them. It’s so simple, and they don’t even realize what’s going on, but they feel it. Their mind may not know it, but their heart knows.
Bhakti Yoga Therapy
Compassion is a way of being present with someone in pain. We have to be very careful not to follow Western medicine in engaging only our minds. Because the heart will tell us so much more that we need to know about that person we’re with. We would encourage our cancer and cardiac patients by telling tell them, “When you’re looking for a doctor, always find a doctor who loves you and believes you can get well.” Because if they don’t, if you ‘re just a statistic to them, then that healing relationship is absent.
As yoga therapists I think it’s very important that we teach assessment and base it on facts, but once that assessment is made, there has to be a human connection, there has to be that heart-to-heart. Otherwise, it’s not yoga therapy anymore. It’s just a prescribed set of practices that were given to someone. That person needs to know that you really care about them and believe they can get well. And to me, that’s the difference between Western medicine and yoga therapy.
We forget that yoga is not just asana, pranayama, and meditation. Yoga is also devotion and loving and caring for one another. Bhakti yoga is that devotion; it’s seeing yourself in that other person. If you’re with someone in pain, yes, give them practices that help, but don’t forget to connect with their heart and feel compassion for their being in pain. To me, that’s the most important thing, the human connection. It’s always been the ability to be there, completely present, in love with that person. That’s when the magic happens.
Nischala Joy Devi, C-IAYT, is an author and teacher who developed the yoga portion of The Dean Ornish Program for Reversing Heart Disease and co-founded the Commonweal Cancer Help Program. She also created the Yoga of the Heart Cardiac and Cancer Certification training program for yoga teachers and health professionals. Nischala’s most recent book, The Namaste Effect, inspired this conversation and is now the basis of an Approved Professional Development Program