Understanding Health and Disease through Yoga Concepts II

 I will discuss the meaning of these concepts: Gunas and their relationship to suffering; Prana and the relationship to prana vayus, chakras, granthis, nadis, and sushumna. I will discuss these concepts about classical yoga texts: The Bhagavad Gita (written about 1795 C.E.), The Yoga Sutras (written about 400 C.E.), The Samkhya Karika (written about 2500 B.C.E.), and the Upanishads (written about 800-300 B.C.E.). I will share how these concepts are present in my life. You will also learn how these concepts relate to the understanding of health and disease.

Everyone has the aspects of the three gunas in them. A guna is a quality (specifically the qualities of matter and energy that make up the world). The three gunas are sattva (law, harmony, purity, and goodness), rajas (energy, passion) and tamas (inertia, ignorance).

In the Upanishads (1.9) “Conscious spirit and inanimate matter both have existed since the dawn of time, with maya appearing to connect them, misrepresenting joy as outside us. When all these three are as one, the self-reveals his universal forms and serves as an instrument of the divine will.” (Easwanan, 2007) The appearance that separateness and happiness come from an outside source in the world entangles us through maya. Maya is an essential idea in Vedanta.  Hidden behind the gunas is our true self.  Maya has this phenomenal reality and the appearances, or illusions of a world of separate entities yet the divine power, which creates the world, can be identical with Brahman.

Sutra (I-17, II-18, IV 12-14, and IV 32-34) views the gunas as one of the qualities of nature. The Sutra sees sattva, rajas and tamas as balance, activity, and inertia.   The gunas are constantly intermingling, thus creating prakrti. Nature is here to give experience to the reflected purusa upon our “mind stuff” so you could say that prakrti is the mental mirror of our gunas. The duty of prakrti is to torture our soul with storms of life until the soul renounces the world- sannyasa (abandoning or throwing down). When our soul detaches itself, it is pure, prakrti then stops because it has fulfilled its purpose. Prakrti’s job is to experience purusa to achieve its objective or dharma. Prakrti is present when the gunas are not manifesting separately, when the gunas manifest, prakrti functions with purusa.  Once that job is over, the gunas withdraw their actions from purusa. The force of prana is the three gunas (sattva/tranquility, rajas/activity, tamas/inertia).  When they are in equilibrium, they do not affect matter, but once there is a disturbance, a motion is created in the matter, which gives rise to various forms.

Prakasa means illumination and stands for sattva. Kriya is action and represents rajas. Sthitti is inertia or tamas. The purpose of prakrti is to give us knocks in life.  Prakrti is here to give us experience and ultimately to liberate us from bondage. The secret of our wanting change is in that mind changes. All of life is a short show. If we want to hold it, even for a minute, we have tension. (Satachidananda, 2005)

Samkya looks at the three gunas according to the worldview, which has always been (and continue to be) present in all things and beings in the world. Sattva is goodness, constructive, harmonious, quality of balance, purity, universality, holistic, constructive, creative, building, positive, peaceful and virtuous. Rajas is passion, active, confused, neither good nor bad, sometimes either, self-centeredness, egoistic, individualizing, driven, dynamic and moving. Tamas is vicious, lethargy, violent, imbalance, disorder, chaos, apathy, inertia, ignorant, anxiety, impure, delusion, negative, dull, inactive, darkness, destructive, and chaotic. The qualities of the gunas are present in all of us all the time. The interplay of the gunas defines the character of someone or something as nature determines the progress of life. The force to change comes from raja; sattva empowers towards peaceful and constructive change, and tamas retards the process. (Miller, 2012)

The Bhagavad Gita in chapters fourteen, seventeen and eighteen discuss the gunas as qualities of nature. Guna means “strand” or “fiber” like strands of a rope. The three gunas are woven together to form the objective of the universe. How and what the world made of is philosophically the gunas. From a yoga perspective, it teaches us if we are moving forward in life (sattva), running in place (rajas) and losing our way (tamas). Krishna portrays the gunas as the scope of guna, activities, and teachings that inform us that nothing is free from prakrti and the gunas. When we sharpen our self-observation skills and discernment with practice and the right intention we can learn to witness the activities of the guna employing balance and purpose. (Satchidananda, 2005)

The gunas are present in my life by representing signposts to guide me where I am and where I aspire to be. Raja (attachment) and Dvesa (aversion) seem to be my habitual pattern where I lean hard into pleasurable experiences and lean away from the un-pleasurable. Leaves Prakrti needing to give me some good knocks and bumps to get me moving. While I feel rajas are at the forefront of my personality, it can either create movement toward sattva or tamas. In my forties, I am just getting to a place where I can observe my language cultivate rajas and tamas in service of sattva. The interplay of the gunas in my life seems to be more in the subconscious or outside of my conscious awareness. Nevertheless, as I start to understand the gunas more, and I allow my mind to label what is rajas, tamas or sattva behavior in my external environment, I begin to notice the distinctive qualities. I realize that I have a choice in how I respond and act, allowing me to work on cultivating my gunas. For example, when I am choosing to overwork as a form of self-protection, I can give myself permission to cultivate more tamas to be in service of self-care of stability and rest. When I am choosing to ignore a character issue with someone close to me, I can give myself permission to cultivate more rajas and modify the relationship. When I am choosing to allow my mind to run in habitual thought patterns and making decisions based on yesterday’s dirty dishes or living in the future, I can give myself permission to pause to check in with my breath. Cultivate sattva like a transparent piece of glass.  Allow the light of my conscious awareness to reveal my true nature, creating clarity and elevating my awareness so I can foster new patterns that serve my greater good.

In the context of understanding health and disease, the gunas provide a way for us to observe what could be out of balance, in balance and harmony. If the gunas are, in harmony, we have a loving mind, clarity, bliss, good health, longevity, a surplus of prana and our immunity is high. If sattva is great or we may have receding gums, muscle spasms, gas, constipation, dry skin, low back aches, insomnia, sciatica, feel anxious, insecure, and fearful, have other neurological or mental problems and gives us an irregular metabolism. If rajas is high we may experience intense cravings for sweet, nausea, vomiting; inflammatory conditions start to arise, judgmental and critical toward ourselves and others, hyperacidity, gastritis, hypoglycemia, colitis, diarrhea, dysentery, heartburn, hot flashes, indigestion. A sharp and hyper-metabolism in the body. If our tamas is high, we experience hypo-metabolism, dull, congestion, cough, allergies, nausea, mucoid vomiting, obesity, hypertension, diabetes, lethargy, excessive sleep, weakness of the body with the mental attachment of greed and possessiveness. The gunas control the five koshas.

Prana is our life force. Prana’s relationship to prana vayus is as the life-force “winds” that govern the movement of energy in the pranamaya kosha. Prana’s relationship to chakras (wheel or disk) is like the energy point or doorway to the subtle body. Prana’s relationship to granthis is as energy knots or blocks on our personality where the energy and consciousness interact and manifest.  Prana’s relationship to nadis is as pathways or highways in which prana travels. Prana’s relationship to sushumna is like the central energy channel that travels the full length of the middle of the spinal cord.  Pranic energy (vital life force) flows here as we experience kundalini (latent energy believed to lie coiled at the base of the spine). All of these concepts aid in the constant motion of Prana in the human body and are the energies responsible for the body’s life, heat and maintenance. 

Just as modern science describes two types of nervous systems SNS (sympathetic nervous system) and PNS (parasympathetic nervous system) and the two nervous systems interconnect with every organ of the body.  Pana and consciousness connected to every organ of the body. Energy supplied to the organs comes through the physical and emotional bodies creating channels. Ida nadi represents the mental energy and pingala nadi represents the prana energy while sushumna nadi represents spiritual awareness.

The Upanishads describe Prana as Pra “forth” and Na to breathe “living energy.”  Prana “Vital Energy” the power of life… the underlying substrate of all forms of energy and one of the five kinds of vital energy in living creatures. The five pranas are prana, apana, samana, vyana, and udana. Vyana is responsible for distributing energy throughout the limbs and organs. Udana Ud means “up” And means “breathe” this is an upward moving energy and is responsible for the power governing the rise of spiritual energy or tejas (the subtle essence of fire that governs digestion on both subtle and gross levels). Samana is equalizing and responsible for harmonizing and balancing energy in the body. Apana is active in biologic functions and controls downward energy processes such as elimination and the expenditure of sexual energy. Nadi is a track of prana in a living creature. Pippalada (ancient Indian Vedic sage and philosopher) names the primary polarity prana and rayi (stuff, materials) roughly as consciousness and matter. You could say he wrote a hymn to prana: prana is energy, which fuels evolution, powers the vital processes in all forms of life and ultimately becomes thoughts and desires in the mind where it becomes accessible for us to conserve or redirect. Prana is a comprehensive theory of life, which accounts for everything from health to morality.  Prana Vayu works with the other four vayus to carry out different functions in the body. Apana Vayu dwells in the eye, ear, mouth, and nose and is a downward force of the wind in the organs of sex and excretion. Samana Vayu is an equalizing force in the middle, digests foods and kindles the seven fires. Vyana Vayu distributes energy moving through a myriad of vital currents radiating from the heart where it lives at the time of death through the subtle track that runs up the spinal channel. Udana Vayu leads the selfless up the long ladder of evolution, and it leads the selfish down, but those that are both selfless and selfish come back to this Earth. (Easwaran, 2007)

The Sutra (1-34) looks at prana as vital energy and the dualities of prana and apana the ascending and descending energy within the human body. The force that moves upward is prana, the force that moves downward is apana, and the aim is to bring them together in equilibrium just as Hatha yoga is two forces (sun and moon) to gentle establish peace in mind, the two opposites must blend. Regulate and watch the breath because where the mind goes the prana follows. (Satchidananda, 2005)

The Bhagavad Gita (6:13, 15:1, 15:14) views prana as the vital energy.  Prana and apana are the life currents within, and as such, is the digestive fire. Krishna said earlier in the Gita that “The fire is me; the offering into the fire is myself; the one who accepts the offering is myself; the offer also is myself. It is all ultimately myself. So I am playing all the parts.” He appears to multiply himself into all of us. The Chakras are subtle nerve centers along the spine which when concentrated upon yield experiences of various levels of consciousness. The nadis are subtle nerves, and the sushumna is one of the major nadis or subtle nerves. The Gita gives us a suggestion of spinal alignment and gaze; it says that the flow of energy should be easy through the spine along the Ida, pingala and sushumna as these nadis are important since they pass through all the chakras. If we work on our posture, we will find our center of gravity allowing the whole body to be very still. When this energy is flowing, and we are focused on the center of the head, in the location where the king and queen glands are (pituitary and pineal), the location of the seat of consciousness it allows our intuition to flow. (Satchidananda, 2005)

Samkhya (XXIX), the standard function of the three internal organs, is the five vital airs: prana, apana, samana, udana and vyana. Prana resides inside the mouth and nose; its circulation is the common function of all the thirteen organs since the organs come into being when there is prana. Brahmrishi Vishvatma Bawra describes prana as a bird in a cage, giving motion to all, it breathes. Apana takes away, and its circulation is the common function of the organs. Samana resides in the center of the body; it distributes food and rest properly. Udana carries up, draws or lifts energy.  It lies between the navel and the head, and the circulation it provides is a common function of all the organs. Vyana is that which pervades the body and divides its interior-like space. Its circulation is a common function of all the organs. The five vayus offer circulation to the organs; this is why you see it explained as the common functions of all organs. (Bawra, 2012)

I am not sure where I heard this analogy before but I think it is exquisite and describes the vayus eloquently. Sun is the prana of the universe and rises to bring light to our eyes. The Earth draws the lower fire of apana. The space between sun and earth is samana. The moving air is vyana; fire is udana – when this fire goes out the senses draw into the mind, and rebirth happens.

The concepts of prana in relationship to the vayus, chakras, granthis, nadis, and sushumna, are present in my life as the vayus can act as a mirror if I take the time to check in with my breath, it can lead to information about what is happening in my chakras, granthis, and nadis. Being able to have my vayus flowing allows my charkas to be open and determines how I will grow and evolve as a human being. Do I want to create more shakti in my life? The more that I learn to work with my vayus and chakras the more my emotional and physical harmony will come into unity with the universe. The granthi’s and I have a love-hate relationship, to say the least. Many times I want to be tamas with them and ignore them, but I am learning to honor the information and work with them, especially the Brahma Granthi (located at the base of the spine between Muladhara and Svadhisthana chakra). The primitive brain lives here. When I am feeling fear, anxiety about basic survival needs of shelter and food, overworking, etc., this is telling me that I lack grounding, and my fears are preventing me from reaching my greater good. Vishnu Granthi (located between Manipura and Anahata chakra) is where ego and power live. Clinging to something, fear of feeling ignored or losing power and possessions is telling me I am not exercising my “letting go” muscle. I need to be more vulnerable and to put my facade aside and challenge the status quo. Rudra Granthi (located between Anhata and Ajna chakra) is difficult for me; it brings up a level of vulnerability that I leave me uncomfortable. I love to serve others to the point I have to remind myself I do not need to fix anything, and I need to be mindful of not imposing my will on them. Also, when I am performing my seva actions at the homeless shelter or raising awareness around human trafficking, I have to remind myself to bring light to these dark subjects since we are not separate from them. I could easily have been (or could be) part of this darkness. I ask others and myself these questions: Would you want to be treated how we treat homeless people? Would you want your loved ones treated how we treat those rescued from human trafficking? When you look away would you want someone to look away from you? I usually get silence with no acknowledgment, to which I ask the questions again.  Then, in dead silence that I let linger, I express that this veil of separation lifted, and we do this by healing ourselves and choosing to live a full life. 

The concepts of prana in relationship to vayus, chakras, granthis, nadis and sushumna are understood (in health and disease assessment) by noticing which chakras appear to be closed or struggling.  We look to these concepts to identify possible diseases rooted within them.  In the Muladhara chakra, we can see such diseases as addiction/addictive behavior, anorexia, colitis, constipation, Crohn’s disease, diarrhea, glaucoma, hemorrhoids, hypertension, impotence, kidney stones, knee problems, and weight gain. In the Swadhisthana chakra, we see such diseases as a testicular disease, prostatic disease, pre-menstrual syndrome, muscle cramps, menstrual problems, kidney complications, irritable bowel syndrome, fibroids, fertility issues, and endometriosis, cystitis, and bladder issues. In the Manipura chakra, we see such diseases as food allergies, coeliac disease, diabetes, digestive problems, gallstones, hepatitis, liver disease, pancreatitis, peptic ulcers, stomach problems, and ulcers. In the Anahata chakra, we see such conditions as immune disorders, heart diseases, fatigue, and circulation, breast cancer, high blood pressure, and allergies. In the Vissudha chakra, we see such diseases as asthma, bronchitis, ear infections, hearing problems, lost voice, mouth ulcers, sore throats, teeth and gums, thyroid problems, tinnitus, tonsillitis, mouth ulcers, and upper digestive tract. In the Ajna chakra, we see such diseases as visual defects, tension headache, shortsightedness, migraines, long-sightedness, insomnia, deafness, catarrh, cataracts, brain tumor, and blindness. In Saharara chakra, we see diseases such as Alzheimer’s, depression, dizziness, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, paralysis, Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia, and senile dementia.  Self-study through the chakras, gunas, and vayus, can help us prevent and delay some of these former disease states.

If the gunas control the five koshas then the vayus point to the energy of the chakras.  Tamas primarily affects the chakras Muladhara and Swadhisthana. Rajas primarily affect the chakra Manipura. Sattva primarily affects Ajna and Sahasrara. Rajas and Sattva together primarily affect the chakras Anahata and Vissudha. (Judith, 2015) While Vyana Vayu pervades the whole body, you can find it mainly in Swadisthana chakra.  You find udana vayu primarily in the Vishuddha chakra, prana vayu primarily in Anahata chakra, samana vayu mostly in Manipura chakra and apana vayu in Muladhara charka.  Vyana vayu is associated with the nadis and the two primary nadis of ida and pingala intertwine the length of the body, passing around and through the chakras until they reach the base of the spine (the entrance to the main nadi of sushumna). Their intertwining generates the energy of the swirling charkas. (Keller, 2015) While yoga is not a cure all for these diseases and does not fix someone, it can add in delaying or alleviating symptoms for these disease states. Our body does speak our mind, and we can choose to heal or not, the yoga lifestyle is a wonderful compliment to anyone’s life at any stage of health.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References

Bawra, B. V. (2012). Samkhya Karika with Gaudapadacarya Bhasya. USA: Brahmrishi Yoga Publications.

 

Easwaran, E. (2007). The Upanishads (2nd ed.). Tomales, CA: Nilgiri Press.

 

Judith, A., Ph.D. (2015). Wheels of life: The classic guide to the chakra system (2nd ed.). Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications.

 

Keller, D. (2015). Refining the Breath: Pranayama: The Art of the Awakened Breath. South Riding, VA: Do Yoga Productions.

 

Miller, B. S. (2004). The Bhagavad-Gita Krishna’s Counsel in Time of War. New York, NY: Bantam Dell.

 

Miller, R. (2012). The Sankhya Karika: A New Translation.

 

Satchidananda, S. S. (2005). The Living Gita: The complete Bhagavad Gita: A commentary for modern readers (6th ed.). Buckingham, VA: Integral Yoga Publications.

 

Satachidananda, S. (2005). Sadhana Pada Portion on Practice. In The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (11th ed., pp. 131-151). Buckingham, Virginia: Integral Yoga Publications.

 

 

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