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Have you ever wondered just how much impact your state of mind has on your health? This has long been debated, and is somewhat difficult to study empirically. But the short answer, at least according to Ayurveda, is that the mind has a very powerful influence on our overall health and well-being. Ayurveda defines health not only as an absence of disease, but also as a very holistic level of vitality throughout our lives. As a result, the Ayurvedic approach to treating any single aspect of our health begins with taking into account the whole of who we are—body, mind, and spirit. Similarly, the Ayurvedic tradition recognizes that any of these three aspects of self—body, mind, or spirit—can either support or undermine our well-being, making the mind one of three equally influential players in our overall health. Further, Ayurveda considers even minor disturbances in the mind to be deeply influential, with the very real potential to compromise the quality of our lives, and to more directly cause any number of diseases—physical and otherwise.
Thankfully, Ayurveda also provides us with a very elegant and insightful perspective on the mind, and on the art of fostering its health, which is considered to be a thriving state of mental, emotional, and even spiritual well-being. The Ayurvedic tradition also offers us a number of practical, and powerfully effective, tools for balancing common disturbances of the mind.
So whether you are interested in fine-tuning the habits of your mind, strengthening your mental acuity, rejuvenating your mind and mental capacities, or just cultivating a more wholesome state of mind in general, you’ve come to the right place. We will begin by introducing, and briefly exploring the Ayurvedic perspective on the mind—and conclude with links to several useful resources geared toward supporting you in cultivating vibrant mental and emotional health.
The Channel of the Mind
According to Ayurveda, substances and energies move throughout the body via distinct channels—both physical and energetic—known as srotamsi. Remarkably, one of the primary channels named in the Ayurvedic tradition is the channel of the mind, known in Sanskrit as mano vaha srotas. The fact that there is a channel of the mind at all should elicit some suspicion that Ayurveda views the mind as an important participant in our overall health and longevity. And in fact, the more we explore the particulars of this channel, the more significant it seems to become.
But before we delve into the Ayurvedic perspective, let’s examine our own personal and cultural preconceptions for a moment. Briefly reflect on this idea of “mind.” What are your natural associations with it? And where in the body do you imagine the mind resides? Here in the West, most of us think immediately of the head. Our culture tends to associate the mind with the brain itself, and so we are naturally inclined to envision the “mind” (at least to a large degree) residing within the confines of the cranium. But in no way does Ayurveda subscribe to these same limitations. Instead, the Ayurvedic tradition defines the mind far more broadly. Ayurveda’s map of the mind quite elegantly reveals its significance in the broader landscape of who we are—both in terms of its level of importance, and also in terms of its vast field of influence on our overall mind-body ecology.
<h4>Ayurveda’s Map of the Mind<h4>
For each of the major srotamsi, Ayurveda describes a root (mula), a pathway through the body (marga), and an opening (mukha). These aspects of each channel (srotas) serve to orient us to its prominent locations in the body, illuminate important influences upon it, and can inform our approach when it comes time to restore balance to an individual channel.
The Root of the Mind
In general, the root of each channel is seen as the developmental center, or point of origin, for that particular srotas. As such, it tends to hold a unique significance for the channel system as a whole. Think back to where you first imagined the mind might be located in the body. Great. Now, consider this: according to Ayurveda, mano vaha srotas is rooted—not in the brain—but in the heart. Let me say that one more time. The channel of the mind is rooted in the heart (and in the ten great vessels, but we’ll get to that in a moment). So actually, as soon as we begin to explore the channel system of the mind, Ayurveda asks us to get out of our heads, and in fact, to step into our hearts.
This is incredibly significant because the Vedic sciences of Ayurveda, Yoga, and Tantra all view the heart as a critically important energetic hub in the body—a meaningful intersection of a diverse range of physical and energetic pathways. Picture a wagon wheel with the heart at the center, each spoke representing a different system, channel, or substance that either originates from, resides within, or passes through the heart. For example, of the thirteen srotamsi present in both men and women, three of them are rooted in the heart. This is notable because it is actually rather unusual for the physical location of distinct channels to overlap at all. Incidentally, the three channels rooted there also happen to permeate the entire physical body—which is also rare.
So we are beginning to get a sense of the heart as the powerhouse organ and energy center that it is. The heart is intimately connected to every cell and tissue throughout the body, three different times, through three distinct channels. No other organ in the Ayurvedic srotamsi shares that level of integration with the entire body. The heart center is also said to be the very seat of our emotional experience, home to our purest form of self, and, of course, the heart chakra (anahata chakra) is associated with our capacity for unconditional love. As the root of the mind, all of these energies that are associated with the heart take on a newfound significance. In truth, Ayurveda invites us to adopt a fundamentally expanded view of the mind as a whole.
The fact that the mind is also rooted in the ten great vessels (an important set of subtle energetic pathways that inform the subtle body) is a testament to the profound level of influence that subtle energies have upon the mind. While this is a vast and meaningful topic, we will keep our exploration brief. For now, it is important to understand that, of the ten great vessels, three (the solar, lunar, and central channels of ida, pingala, and sushumna, respectively) are said to be the most important.1 These nadis (subtle energy channels) travel from the base of the spine to the crown of the head, intersecting at each of the seven chakras, and are said to carry the flow of prana, establishing an important relationship between prana, the subtle body, the heart, and the mind. Interestingly, when we practice pranayama (yogic breathing exercises), ida, pingala, and sushumna are among those pathways that are most profoundly activated, cleansed, and balanced.2 This is why pranayama so powerfully supports the our psycho-spiritual health.
As we can see, mano vaha srotas extends far beyond the boundaries of the rational mind. In fact, as we continue to explore the Ayurvedic map of the mind, this channel’s immense field of influence only expands further.
<h4>The Pathway of the Mind</h4>
According to Ayurveda, the pathway (or physical location) of mano vaha srotas is the entire body—making it the most overtly all-encompassing srotas of them all. The mind quite literally affects, and is affected by, every cell and tissue throughout the body, meaning that there is a direct relationship between the mind and our overall health and vitality. And this field of influence travels in both directions. In other words, yes, mind influences matter, but our physical health also very much affects our state of mind. In this way, our every experience has the potential to either support or disturb our overall state of balance—both mind and body.
Doorways to the Mind
The channel system of the mind also has a number of important openings (mukhas) to the exterior of the body. These doorways significantly influence the channel of the mind, and, when necessary, can be used strategically to help restore balance to mano vaha srotas. First among these openings are the five sense organs (the eyes, the ears, the nose, the tongue, and the skin). This means that, when it comes to the mind (and to our psycho-spiritual health), the sense organs matter—as does the sensory input they receive on a daily basis. For better or worse, we tend to align (at least energetically) with the qualities of our day-to-day sensory experience. For instance, if we are exposed to a great deal of trauma, our systems develop a natural and familiar association with the energetic experience of trauma—and begin to anticipate its recurrence. On the other hand, if we are routinely surrounded by loving, inspiring relationships, our systems naturally tend to orient toward hope and possibility. Of course, each of us has a unique degree of sensitivity to these influences. For some, simply watching or listening to a news broadcast that is focused on the more disturbing elements of our society can cause a noticeable shift in the tendencies of the mind—especially when compared to times when we chose to limit our exposure to these types of inputs. Others are less sensitive. But for all of us, changing the overall quality of our sensory experience can radically alter our state of mind. If we are serious about inviting vibrant health and balance into the channel of the mind, the quality of our sensory input is certainly an important consideration.
Another important doorway to the mind is found in the marmani—a set of precise energy points on the surface of the skin that are connected to deeper, more subtle energetic pathways throughout the body. Each marma point offers a powerful access point for shifting the energy within the channel of the mind. And in this way, working with the marma points can be an effective means of restoring balance to mano vaha srotas.