Yoga psychology: Kristine Kaoverii Weber gets centered with this ancient/modern science.
It is likely that long ago people observed the natural world around them and started imitating the stretches of animals, creating postures that helped them feel better. These exercises became known as asana, a Sanskrit word that means "position comfortably held."
As yoga became more refined, practitioners found these exercises were affecting not only their bones and musculature, but also various organ systems and their minds. They discovered that in addition to easing their aching backs, the postures improved their digestion, respiratory and circulatory systems, helped to balance their mental/emotional states and made it easier to calm their minds and meditate.
This processes of balancing the mind/body through asanas was revitalized by Indian philosopher P.R. Sarkar, founder of Ananda Marga Yoga Society, in the latter Twentieth Century. He called it biopsychology and explained that by doing specific postures (while following a yoga diet and meditating) a person could help bring into balance agitated states of mind such as anger, shyness, fear, jealousy etc.
What is the basis of biopsychology? To begin this explanation, some Sanskrit words need to be understood. Let's start with one most people have heard: chakra. Chakra means "wheel" in Sanskrit. According to the yogis, we have seven main chakras in the body.
Research has been done to confirm the existence of energy fields at the areas of the body the yogis have called chakras. Valerie Hunt, a researcher at UCLA, found that there are high frequency vibrations emanating from these seven areas. Another researcher, Hiroshi Motoyama in Japan, found that when people directed their mental focus to individual chakras, they could increase the frequency of that particular area.
Sarkar says that the chakras are related to plexi-nerve networks in the autonomic nervous system that run near the spine. These are places where nerves converge and form a network, allowing for complex communication between nerve cells and the generation of more complex functional activity. These nerve plexi are the physiologic counterpart which help create the subtle energy of the chakras.
Chakras are also associated with endocrine glands. The yogis called these glands noble points. Contemporary science has shown that the hormones secreted by these endocrine glands have a profound effect on our moods. The yogis understood when these nerve plexi and endocrine glands functioned properly, the mind was balanced, the body felt better and meditation became easier. It was easier to be at peace.
In biopsychology, balancing the endocrine glands through yoga is the key to balancing mental/emotional states. Excessive or inadequate secretion from these glands results in triggering receptors in centers in the brain which exaggerate emotional states. By doing specific yoga postures regularly, we can balance the glands and more easily achieve mental peace. Each chakra contains various vrittis. A vritti is a mental tendency or propensity--a possible state of mind. You have probably seen drawings of yogis sitting in lotus position with their many-petaled chakras depicted in various colors. This image gives us a symbolic idea of the energy patterns the chakras and vrittis create.
The six lower chakras have a total of fifty petals. These petals represent the fifty main vrittis or vortices of psychic energy. Some of the fifty Sanskrit terms can be roughly translated as "fear", "anger", "greed", "hypocrisy", "hope", "affection", "universality." The first chakra, which is the beginning of our human existence, contains aspects of every desire or longing of life: physical, mental, psycho-spiritual and spiritual (kama, artha, dharma and moksa in Sanskrit). The second chakra contains very reptilian vrittis such as pitilessness, indifference and self-indulgence. The third chakra has vrittis that challenge our human potential such as anger, cruelty and lethargy. The fourth chakra's vrittis create our higher human capabilities for both beauty and destruction such as hope, love, and effort and conversely greed, arrogance and hypocrisy. The fifth chakra contains vrittis which elevate the human state such as altruism, universality and surrender to a higher power. And the sixth chakra's vrittis contain the possibility of limitless knowledge.
These chakras, with their distinct petals, or vrittis, create patterns of psychic energy. A person with a problem with depression, for example, would manifest a specific distorted pattern of energy within the second, third, and fourth chakras, because vrittis within each of these chakras could contribute to depression. Since different people manifest depression in different ways, each depressed individual's energy pattern would be distorted based on his/her own specific way of manifesting that imbalance. Why do two people who face the exact same challenge respond differently? Why does losing a child cause one person to create a support group, develop a scholarship fund, volunteer at a local school, and have a more pleasant disposition while it causes another person to sink into deep despair and become bitter? Why are the patterns of psychic energy so different in these two people?
Samskara is a Sanskrit word which means "reactive-momentum." According to yoga philosophy, samskaras are the seeds of reaction that we bring into this world with us. People often call this concept karma, and it is much the same idea. We all come into this world with different sets of challenges, or different samskaras. These samskaras help dictate which vrittis will be activated and cause mental imbalance. The two people who lost a child have come into this world with very different samskaras that have caused them to react differently to the same event.
So what is happening when you find yourself continually having challenges around a particular emotion? Say for example, you find you are getting angry at all sorts of little things that normally wouldn't you. Or perhaps you have a tremendous fear of public speaking. Both of these scenarios are symptoms of imbalance. The psychic patterns of chakra energy, distorted by samskara and activated vrittis as well as lifestyle, personal history, diet etc., have created the imbalance in the emotional state.
Western science has given us the ability to look at how these energies relate to physical matter in the body. Candace Pert's research on psychoneuroimmunology has been groundbreaking in showing how mental/emotional states are produced all over the body and are not confined to the brain. Pert explains that nerve cells have long finger-like endings which reach out and send neuropeptides to other cells. When we are sad, the nerves produces neuropeptides that promote sadness and send that chemical to all the cells in the body, so that every cell in the body becomes sad--your skin is sad, your bones are sad, your toes are sad; literally, the whole body is sad.
An imbalance in the chakra/vritti creates an energy field that is picked up by very subtle nerve currents (nadiis in Sanskrit). The mind field becomes perturbed, which in turn stimulates or inhibits the secretion of the endocrine gland associated with that particular chakra causing an over- or under-secretion of hormone which then activates a certain physical/emotional response.
Specific yoga postures can help strengthen the endocrine glands and sub-glands associated with the particular chakras and vrittis that are unbalanced. If you have an imbalance of the anger and fear vrittis, you can use postures which primarily balance the third chakra (see sidebar), though most asanas balance more than one chakra. Specific asanas held for specific periods of time put sustained, alternating pressure on the endocrine glands and help them to function better through facilitating blood circulation. The better functioning glands begin to shift the energy field of the chakra, helping to bring the disturbed vrittis into balance.
There is a tremendous need individually and collectively to achieve balance in our body-minds. So much of what is happening in the world at present tells us that yoga's timeless gifts are invaluable to us in the here and now. Biopsychology gives us the tools to begin to change the things that dissatisfy, us about the world within ourselves first. All of us are seeking to unblock the energy of our fourth chakra, our heart chakra, and allow compassion, magnanimity, and love to flow freely. There is a deep, collective force within us that wants to surmount our lower vrittis and merge with others and with all of life. This is both the greatest desire of the human heart and its greatest challenge.
Sit with your legs crossed, right leg under the left leg. Behind your back, hold your left wrist with your right hand. Inhale deeply, exhale as you slowly move forward, bringing your forehead and nose towards the floor. Keep your arms relaxed. Hold the position for 8 seconds. Then bring the body up while inhaling. Repeat eight times.
Lie on your stomach. Lift your feet and grab hold of your ankles. Breathe in. Simultaneously lift your chest and legs, try to keep your knees moving towards each other. Imagine you are balancing all of your weight on the navel area. Extend your neck and chest up and slightly back. Eyes look forward. Hold for eight seconds. Breathe out and come back down. Repeat eight times.
These are just two of the postures that can help the third chakra. There are many others. In addition to asanas, meditation is highly beneficial for relieving stress and controlling third chakra vrittis.
1. Take a shower or bath before your do asanas, but not immediately after. Bathing before doing asanas (with water that's not too hot!) cools down the body, relaxes the heart and nerves and calms the mind. Touching water immediately after doing asanas is not advised. Water will influence the electromagnetic state that the asanas have helped generate. It is better to wait at least thirty minutes after doing asanas before bathing.
2. Wear comfortable clothing. Contrary to popular fashion, it's actually better not to wear tight clothing while doing asanas, because it can restrict energy and lymph flow.
3. Breathe through your nose. Breathing through the nose filters, moistens, and warms the air and promotes the flow of prana (vital energy) through the body.
4. Practice on an empty stomach. Give yourself a couple of hours to digest food before doing asanas to avoid indigestion or nausea. Give yourself some time after practicing before eating to allow the body a chance to assimilate the glandular effects of the postures.
5. Don't strain or hurry. It's better not to jump in and out of yoga postures. It is the sustained, relaxed pressure on the glands that affects the secretion of hormones. Go slowly. Feel the breath guiding the flow of your movements. References:
Acarya Ananda Mitra Advadhutika, lecture notes on Bio-psychology, (1996).
Hunt Valerie (2000), Infinite Mind: Science of Human Vibrations of Consciousness, Malibu Publishing
Motoyama, Hiroshi (1981) Theories of the Chakras; Bridge to Higher Consciousness, London: Theosophical Publishing House.
Pert, Candace B. (1997) Molecules of Emotion. New York: Scribner.
Sarkar, Prahbat Ranjan (1991) Yoga Psychology, Calcutta: Ananda Marga Publications.
Kristine Kaoverii Weber, MA, LMBT, RYT is a shiatsu practitioner and yoga instructor. She teaches yoga at the Asheville Quest Center, 22 Ravenscroft Dr. in Asheville, NC. She can be reached at 828-775-1200.
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|Author:||Weber, Kristine Kaoverii|
|Publication:||New Life Journal|
|Date:||Feb 1, 2002|
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