Traya means three, and Sharira means body, thus Traya sharira simply means three bodies. Our self is seemingly attired in three bodies and delights in three interrelated states namely sleeping, dreaming and waking respectively. According to the Ancient Hindu Philosophy and the ‘’Tenet of three Vital bodies’’ Every human being constitutes three vital bodies namely, Sthula sharira or the Gross body, Sukshma sharira or the Subtle body and the Karana sharira or the Causal body. The panch kosha or five cardinal sheaths resides in these three bodies.
The food body is called the Gross body (sthula sharira).The physiological systems, the emotions, the intellect and the self-counterpart (ego) are called the subtle body. The seeds of one’s past experience are hailed as the Causal body because they cause one to think, feel and act. The Gross, Subtle and Causal bodies are substantiated by the atman (the self), if the self identifies with the gross body it seems to have a waking existence. When it identifies itself with the subtle body it seems to be in a dreaming or thinking state. If it tags itself with the causal body it seems to be in a sleeping state. This process is akin to an actor playing different roles in a play, or a crystal that takes on the colour of the object near it. Similarly just like an actor the self is distinct from the roles it appears to take over or assume. Therefore the self is called the Observer or Witness (sakshi) of the three bodies and their respective states. The self is ‘’I’’ and the three bodies are ‘’this’’.
The Gross body is the outmost and revealed aspect of a thing. It is the exterior material sheath. Thus the ‘’crude body’’ (sthula sharira) is the perishable corporeal frame. It is the gross tangible body of the soul or the atman. The gross body embodies the five cardinal elements (panchmahabhutas) –space (aakash), air (vayu), fire (agni), water (jal) and earth (prithvi) after they experience the process of splitting and combining (pancikarana). It is born as a result of worthy and creditable deeds of the past. It is the prime channel through which the soul communicates with the outward entities and experiences both the pleasures and miseries of life. It undergoes these six changes namely Birth, Subsistence, Growth, Maturity, Decay and Death. It is actually a dense physical body.it is an instrument of all other principles (bodies) during physical existence. The food sheath (annamaya kosha) and part (physical expression) of the vital breath or Energy sheath (pranamaya kosha) inhabit the gross (physical) body. The Annamaya kosha and Pranamaya kosha provides food, drink and air to the gross body for fulfilling its needs. When one dies the physical body vanishes and its five cardinal elements pass into oblivion. According to the Hindu philosophy the prime objective of the Gross body (Sthula sharira) is to attain the knowledge of the self, experience divine bliss and reach the acme of spirituality which would lead to Salvation (Moksha) finally in this short span of human life. The human soul gets entrapped in this mundane world of untold desires and thereby experiences all sorts of pain and pleasures resulting from the attachments to various desires and wants. Constant practice (Abhyasa) and Dispassion or Detachment towards all worldly pleasures (Vairagya) is the means to attain Moksha or final emancipation (a state of perfect bliss).
The Subtle body (Sukshma sharira) is also known as the Astral body (Linga sharira). It is subtle psychological or functional body.It comprises of the subtle aspect of the five elements before they experience the process of splitting and recombining.it is a consequence of good deeds done in the past and is a means to feel subtle experiences. It embodies seventeen parts: the five perceptive senses(jnanendriyas),the five organs of action(karmendriyas),the five vital airs : respiration(prana),evacuation(apana),circulation(vyana),digestion and assimilation(samana)and the power in the body discard undesirable objects(udana). Udana is also active at the time of death and is also responsible for ousting the subtle body from the gross body. The subtle body also contains the mind and the intellect. The gross body is sustained by the subtle body which manage the organs of perception and action, the pranas and the physiological systems. When the gross body perishes the subtle body also leaves. The subtle body varies from one person to another .the association of the self with the emotional aspect of the subtle body gives rise to feelings like ‘’I am mirthful’ ’I am sad’ ’I am angry’’etc. The subtle body is the seat of the mind and the intellect.manomaya kosha(the mental sheath), vigyanmaya kosha(intellect sheath) and part of pranamaya kosha( energy or vital air sheath)lie in astral or the subtle body. The subtle body consists of the cognitive and the cerebral coverings which carry the emotions and feelings of the mind and ideas and ideals of the intellect. All these are mere perceptions. The subtle body comprises of the thoughts.
Causal body (karana sharira) is that which is unexplainable (anirvachaniya) and beginningless (anaadi). It is free of division and the source of self-ignorance. It is the foundation of the gross and the subtle bodies.it is called the karana sharira because it is the germ or seed of the gross and the subtle body.it is the main basis of the gross and subtle bodies and also results in the future birth of the soul that is not set free or liberated from the causal body. The causal body regulates the growth and evolution of the other two bodies, and shape every aspect of the next birth. The causal body is the emanation of higher consciousness.it is related to the state of dreamless sleep and Samadhi of highest order. It conjoins the microcosm (individual consciousness) with the macrocosm (collective consciousness). The past life mindfulness and perceptions are saved in the causal body, it permeates the information and knowledge attained during the previous births. All the mundane moorings and intense desires for the carnal objects and pleasures named ‘’vasanas’’go hand in hand with the karana sharira or the causal body.
The causal plane of our personality –the insentient intensity layer of our mind is elucidated in the Upanishads as ‘’Nescience”or Ignorance (Avidya).The ‘’Ignorance’’ of the ethereal vitality, and its eternal splendour and completeness in us the root cause of our sense of restlessness, loneliness, fear etc. and thereby the intuitive “uges’’ for, the mind ‘’shakes’’ with, and the sense organs ‘’indulge’’in the world of sense objects.
Anandamaya kosha (blissful sheath) inhabit the causal body (karana sharira). It confers upon the bliss to the causal body. After the death of the human being, both the causal and astral bodies (that exist together) separate from the physical body. Once the soul gets isolated from its causal body it commingles with the divinity. There is no need to come back to this worldly plane for the soul except for God’s wish. When they do return they arrive as a divine soul who leads the ordinary masses and exalt them to the path of enlightenment or divine essence (moksha).
The life span of each of the bodies varies largely. Since the gross body is nurtured by the gross food thereby it has very short life. The subtle body is nourished by thoughts and feelings so its life span is a bit longer than the gross body. The causal body has the highest life span as it needs only bliss and peace. The soul is distinct from all these three bodies .it does not requires anything because it is the experience and the observer and thereby it is imperishable and immortal.
Death is nothing but the falling off the gross body. The soul remains along with the suble and causal body where samskaras are stored. Man would take human birth again and again with the help of gross body till the samskaras are fully exhausted. We can only use and burn all our samskaras (karma phala)only in our human life by conscious living and our will power. It is not possible in any other life besides human life and that is the prime reason why human birth is regarded as greatest from liberation perspective.
Shambhavi literally means appertaining to lord Shiva.It has two fold meaning. Shambhavi is also one of the names of goddess Parvati(consort or better half of Lord Shiva), so Shambhavi means Parvati or Kundalini Shakti.Another purport of shambhavi is – assumed by shambhu, hence shambhavi mudra is so significant that lord shiva himself posits himself in this mahamudra. Mudra literally means a gesture ,movement or a pose in yoga. Shambhavi mudra is an ancient tantric and yogic technique which was enunciated and taught by lord shiva or mahadeva to parvati or shambhavi. The prime reason behind teaching the shambhavi mudra to goddess parvati or shambhavi was to gain control over one’s senses and self-awakening. It is a cardinal mode for opening the third eye of wisdom by converging all our outgoing and digressive tendencies towards the ajna chakra with eyes open and gazing towards the center of our forehead. Shambhavi mudra is a form of sensory meditation and the final stage of trataka,(concentrated gazing)with internalized one pointed cognizance and external gaze unblinking ,as mentioned in the Vedas.
It is also known as bhairavi mudra or the eyebrow gazing center.(bhairavi is another name of parvati or shambhavi).another appellation of shambhavi mudra is bhrumadhya dhrishti, bhru means “eyebrow center’’ and dhristi means “gazing” hence this is the practice of eye gazing. it is said that practicing this mudra bestows upon the sublime and supreme awakening on the practitioner. Shambhavi mudra or the state of supreme and paramount shiva is a stage of involuntary or extemporaneous meditation, in which the eyes converged within and the mind thrills and raptures in the inner self naturally. Shambhavi mudra is an indispensable tool of dharana used to still and quieten the restive mind in a tranquil state and reach an elevated phase of self awakening.it aids one in opening the third eye and also leads to Kundalini arousal to the hilt.If the yogic practitioner remains with the citta and prana absorbed in the internal object and gaze motionless, looking. He is not seeing it is verily shambhavi mudra. This is the real state of shiva consciousness. Shambhavi mudra has been delineated in details in many texts like gheranda samhita, hatha yoga pradipika and shiva samhita.
The greatness of shambhavi mudra is well elucidated by this famous shloka :
SAMBHAVI YO VIGYANIYATSA CHA BRAHMA NA CHANYATHA||
By assuming the position of shambhavi mudra a yogi beholds the self.when the brahma is seen in the form of a dot he should fix his mind on it and nowhere else. A Yogi who knows the science of shambhavi he himself becomes brahma and none else. I Lord Maheshwara(Shiva), am telling this again and again that this is the truth.
Shambhavi mudra essentially involves focusing the inner gaze and in some cases even the outer gaze at the ajna chakra. It is practiced in order to gain mastery over ones turbulent and frivolous senses.as the practice evolves gradually, light and and variegated visions are beheld at the trikuti or the eyebrow center. The light and various visions that are seen vary from person to person and depends upon many factors. This “game of light’’must be observed incisively without digressing and wavering mind and simultaneously maintaining inner and outer purity.
Anyone who practices the shambhavi mudra gains complete self control over one’s scattering and rambling psyche.the practitioner gradually elevates its consciousness to a sublime and supreme level. From the physical standpoint, shambhavi mudra energizes and beefs up the eye muscles and helps in releasing the garnered strain in this area. From the mental perspective, it soothes and quietens the high-strung mind. It also aids in eliminating the emotional stress,wrath and pent up passions. The salutary benefits that are accrued as a result of exercising shambhavi mudra are deep concentration,mental steadiness,poise and thoughtless state.The regular practice of shambhavi mudra checks the devolution of the pineal gland and owing to this it is specially advocated for children and adolescents to harmonize their emotional advancement.shambhavi mudra is a built-in part of kriya yoga.it is a potent mode of arousing the ajna chakra and is a contemplation practice in toto. It assists in gaining deep insight and profound experiences with regular practice in continuity. However, it should be always performed under the strict observance of an enlightened master. It is also encompassed in asanas such as simhasana(the lion pose). People suffering from eye disorders or eye diseases should not practice shambhavi mudra sans the guidance and supervision of an adept teacher.
Yoga Nidra, the concept, is adopted from the ancient science of Tantra. It is a powerful practice for achieving deep relaxation while being conscious and aware. Nidra as a word stands for sleep, but the application here is totally different from what we generally understand sleep as. To understand this we need to log onto some basic insight into the different states of consciousness as explained in the yogic system.
There are three states in which our consciousness keep oscillating at regular intervals, through the agency of mind. These intervals are predetermined most of the times which is referred as the Bio Rhythms.
Jaagrut awastha or normal wakeful state (conscious): This is outer most dimension in which consciousness is in contact with the external material dimension through the agency of sensory organs. We have five sensory organs viz. sight, smell, audition, taste and touch. This is where most of worldly communications takes place. Consciousness exists in an extroverted state relying on sensory organs to relay the information from surroundings.
Swapna awastha or dream state (sub conscious): This is a totally different dimension where consciousness experiences a reality in forms of dreams.
Sushupti awashta or deep sleep (unconscious): State of deep sleep when even dreams don’t appear to the consciousness and an absolute state is experienced which is mostly untraceable by common mind.
While we enter into ordinary sleep, the consciousness drifts from conscious plane to other two without an awareness of this transition. In yoga nidra, we train our mind to retain the awareness not just of this transition but of the actual experience it receives while being in each state.
During the practice, consciousness moves to a threshold state between sleep and wakefulness, thereby connecting with the sub conscious and unconscious dimensions.
This awareness is the actual scientific definition of relaxation which is in contrast to popular beliefs. As we generally observe by relaxation we often mean lying on a couch, having a cup of coffee or a drink or reading our favorite author or genre. All these are simply sensory diversions that change the direction in which our sense organs are engaged. They have very less to do with actual relaxation that occurs only when we are aware and unattached; in this reference it’s better to say un-indulged.
The matrix of Tension
Action, in general, leads to tension. This is natural physics. Two forces operating simultaneously at the same time will create tension. As we go through doing small and big things in life with body, mind or heart, we produce tension. And that tension operates on us. Whatever we do as part of routine, from eating to sleeping, to walking to running to catching a train to managing projects at work, each activity results in tension. These tensions are stored at several planes of our personality.
These accumulated tensions manifest in several form via our psyche. Imbalances, disorders and conflicts within an individual or societies or nations.
Yoga straightforwardly identifies these tensions at the source of suffering. We are not aware of them directly and only see their symptoms. This condition is known as Klesha in Yoga and they are the root of all human problems. Avidya or ignorance is where they all are rooted. This ignorance is the realm of our personalities about which we are not really aware of.
We can categorize three basic types of tension:
Yoga Nidra is an effective method of achieving physical, emotional and mental rest and release. It’s a systematic tool of transiting between different states of consciousness. This has got powerful and profound impacts on the overall personality. We are able to let go of stored tensions, burn sanskaras or to say break older habitual conditioning in order to have a fresh and conscious experience overall. It also increases the receptivity of mind and thus enhances learning and gaining knowledge.
Creativity and Sankalp
Also it allows for a creative expression of our mind as it get free from fears, phobias and several neurosis. This helps in concentrating the energy of mind and giving it a channeled expression. Opting for a resolution or Sankalp, during the practise provides for that channeling of the energy. This Sankalp is a very positive and virtuous idea that you might be aspired towards having as a part of you. It is chosen and repeated constantly each time you practise until it is realized.
Our brain emits different types of wave patterns while we drift from one state of mind to the other. Mapping these waves through specific instruments has been a milestone in the studies conducted in several places. This has made more and more scientific brains interested and attracted towards exploring and researching the probable implications of Yoga Nidra as a tool to overcome several issues that modern civilization is struggling with.
The table below shows a scientific explanatory values for the states of consciousness and the values for brain waves emitted in each of these states. Also mentioned is the correlated field of experiencing with each state.
State of consciousness
Sensory awareness, external knowledge
Border line between awake and sleep
Deep relaxation, conscious dreaming
(4 – 7 cps)
Release of emotions, fears and desires
Awakening of instincts and primitive drives
The popular format of Yoga Nidra was designed by Shri Swami Satyananda Saraswti, the founder of one of the most authentic and popular institution of yoga study in our times called Bihar School of Yoga. He was a realized yogi who reformed many concepts and principles of yoga so as to be understood by the modern mind easily.
For more information on the technique and practise of yoga nidra, we will soon publish another post with further details.
Mudra means ‘gesture of hands which comprises of the four fingers and a thumb’. The four fingers and the thumb represent the five cardinal elements viz. fire, water, ether, earth and air. They form variegated poses or mudras by mingling with each other.
Every finger represents a particular element and when they combine with others they form different mudras. There are umpteen numbers of mudras and each mudra has a different effect on our body.
Our body is also composed of the five cardinal elements and therefore when we join any finger with the thumb or any two or more than two fingers with the thumb they form different mudras owing to the salutary effect of various mudras on our body and its prophylactic disposition. Hatha Yoga uses it extensively for curing and alleviating various ailment, infirmities and malady.
Mudras play a vital role in awakening the ‘Kundalini’ which means abeyant primal feminine energy believed to lie coiled at the base of the spine. It is believed that a female goddess or dormant serpent lies inside the human body in winded or coiled form. The real purpose of any mudra is to awaken the latent energy for attaining the eternal bliss and enlightenment. A Sanskrit adage caps it all about the importance of Mudras.
“Nasti mudra samam kinchit siddhidam kshitimandale” which means there is nothing in this world like mudras for conferring upon us the real success in our spiritual journey.
Real success in our journey of spiritual illumination comes with persistent Endeavor and dogged perseverance conscientiously. “Rome was not built in a day” this adage/say speaks volumes about the importance of persistence, perseverance and unflagging Endeavor for reaching the acme of perfection.
The Chinese proverb aptly says, “A journey of thousand miles begins with a step” which means here that ultimate goal of self illumination or self realization can be ultimately reached by practicing the general postures and specialized mudras or gestures in a conscientious manner.
Mudras are thus a stepping stone for erecting a grand edifice of spiritual illumination. It is a pivot around which our success in spiritual awakening revolves.
Ayurveda and yoga are based on the principle of the five cardinal elements. These five elements are referred to as Panchmahabhuts in Ayurveda or the tatvas in Yoga. ‘Panch’ means five and ‘Mahabhuts’ and ‘Tatvas’ are Sanskrit words which means ‘element’ or ‘reality’.
Introduction to Panch Tatvas
Panch means five and tatvas mean elements. Panchtatva connotes the five elements i.e. Ether (Akash), Wind (Vayu), Fire (Agni), Water (Jal) and Earth (Prithvi). These five elements form the warp and woof of the entire cosmos.
They are the bedrock or underpinning of the mundane material world. All the animate and non animate entities are composed of the five cardinal elements.
Every single object and being in the cosmos embodies a diverse spectrum and fusion of five elements giving it an unparalleled entity. The five cardinal/principal elements are present in varying proportions and different composition. They are not detected in pure form. All the substances of versatile and kaleidoscopic nature possess variegated admixture of different elements.
The panchtatvas symbolizes the physical qualities, energetic properties and biological functions related to the given element. The density of the fire cardinal elements is in the following order-
Earth> Water> Fire> Air> sky> Space
The five cardinal elements are a part and parcel of the all encompassing cosmic consciousness. Ether/Sky/Space is the most subtle element amongst all the five elements and has its inception from the consciousness itself, even though less etherent than consciousness or spirit.
Akin to it, air has its roots in ether and is less subtle and pervasive than it. Fire originates from air and is denser than air. Water has its inception from fire and is denser than fire. Earth has its origin from water and is the densest of the five elements.
Every animate and inanimate being is made up of atoms and the five tatvas can be explained with the example of an atom.
Akash (space component) is the space which the elementary particles like protons occupy as well as the space in which the electrons revolve.
Vayu (air component) represents the force of movement of the electrons around the nucleus.
Agni (fire component) represents the latent (hidden) energy in an atom as well as the release energy when the atom is broken down.
Jal (water component) gives the force of cohesion that allows the protons, neutrons and electrons to remain attracted towards each other.
Prithvi (Earth component) contributes the solid portion of the atom (i.e. the electrons, protons and neutrons).
THE FIVE CARDINAL ELEMENTS IN CONTEXT OF HEALTH
Our body is made up of the five cardinal elements and so is everything that we consume. All the natural substances like foods, herbs, minerals, sunlight, air and water are of the same constitution as our own framework. Consequently our body can avail them in a harmonious manner. The panchtatva concept can be applied to sustain health and augment healing. In a sound body, the five cardinal elements are maintained in a particular proportion. When the state of the body is not in tune with the nature and natural surroundings, the body will try to maintain its balance by omitting redundant elements and impel others.
All the malfunctions of the body are revealed as a result of the disharmony in the equilibrium of the body’s components. Besides the five cardinal elements and humans consists of eleven indriyas. The indriyas comprises of the five sense organs (ears, skin, eyes, tongue and nose) and the five organs of action (vocal cords, hands, feet, genitals and anus) and the mind. The senses are the subtle elements designated as tanmatras. The five cardinal elements become more evident in the functioning of the five senses (hearing, touch, sight, taste and smell). Each sense organ is unique and associated with a particular quality (e.g. our eyes see, ears hear, nose smell tongue tastes and skin senses). The five cardinal elements function with the five sense organs permitting us to comprehend the physical world through the senses. Since we perceive reality by these five sense organs they are referred to as jnanendriyas from the word jyana means ‘knowledge’ in Sanskrit. Each of the five cardinal elements is also related to a primary organ of action permitting the body to respond to the input of the five senses. These five organs are named as karmendriyas from the Sanskrit word meaning ‘Action’.
The five lower chakras- Muladhar, Svndhistana, Manipura, Anahata and Vishuddha are synchronized to the energy flow of the five elements and thus also have a relation with the tanmatra and indriyas associated with each other.
The first element or mahabhuta is space/ether (Akash).
Its role in existence is space-
It is related to the sense of hearing or sound (shabd). It corresponds to the ear as jnanendriya and vocals/ mouth as the karmendriya. It is associated with vishudda chakra. The second mahabhuta is Air/wind (pawan/vayu) its role in existence is movement. It is related to the sense of touch (sparsh). It corresponds to skin as jnanedriya and hands as karmendriya. It is related to Anahata Chakra.
The third mahabhuta is fire (Agni/Tejas). Its role in existence is energy. It is related to the sense of sight (Rupa). It corresponds to the eyes as jyanendriya and feet as karmendriya. It is related to Manipur chakra. The fourth mahabhuta is water (jal/apas). Its role in existence is the force of attraction. It is related with the sense of taste (rasa). It corresponds to the tongue as jnanendriya and grnitals as karmendriya. It is associated with Swadhisthana chakra. The fifth mahabhuta is Earth (prithvi/ bhumi). Its role in existence is solidity. It is related with the sense of smell (gandha). It corresponds to the nose as jnanendriya and anus as the karmendriya. It is associated with Muladhara chakra.
Bhakti means uninterrupted, unremitting and perennial flow of unalloyed love, devotion and adoration for one’s chosen Ideal (Ishtam) (The GODHEAD).
Yoga means the communion of the microcosm (atma/soul) with the macrocosm (Paramatma/supreme soul) divine consciousness or simply the commingling of Atma with Paramatma. Bhakti yoga connotes the path of deep, intense and extreme love devotion and adoration for any definite SAGUNA form of one’s chosen Ideal/Godhead.
There are multifarious and variegated ways of reaching the ultimate reality. Karma Yoga, jnana Yoga, Raj Yoga and Bhakti Yoga are four cardinal modes of self actualization/self realization.
Bhakti Yoga is hailed as the easiest and best way to reach the absolute reality/ Providence. It requires complete surrendering of one’s own self at the altar of one’s chosen, Ideal/Ishtam. The five cardinal enemies of one’s self viz anger, delusion, envy, pride and lust have to be relinquished in to for suffusing oneself with the emotions of love, devotion and adoration.
Bhakti Yoga is the acme/apotheosis of intense love and sublimity. As the crystals of sugar get dissolved in water and lose its identity completely so is the Bhakta who completely gives up his pride, ego, hatred, ill will and self identity for one’s chosen ideal.
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Kabir, Meera, Tulsidas, Raidas, Valmiki, Surdas, Narada and Shandilya are some of the pioneers and trailblazers of Bhakti Yoga.
They all were completely overwhelmed and suffused all over by the intense yearning, deep love, absolute devotion and consummate adoration for their chosen ideal/Ishtam/Godhead.
Love is the most noble and sublime of all virtues. A man sans love is akin to a fish sans water, a bird sans feathers and a plant sans flowers.
Bhakti yoga is the easiest, sublime and perhaps the best way of realizing one’s true self for commingling with the divinity while living in this perishable and mortal world.
Yoga is considered a slow paced form of exercise and not everyone who wants to tread on HIIT form of exercises would choose yoga as their primary source of losing sweat. But if you believe the experts at Jeevmoksha Yoga Gurukul in Rishikesh, these three exercises will make you sweat as hard as intensity training.
1. Downward Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
It may seem simple at first, but when combined with few changes, it becomes one of the hardest pose you will ever try your hands on.
You have to engage your arms and legs, and push into the mat with your widespread finger tips while nudging your heels to keep them as close to the ground as possible.
Downward Dog - Downward Facing Dog Yoga Pose - YouTube
2. Boat Pose (Navasana)
Boat pose looks extremely easy to someone who isn’t performing it. To someone who is, he may not be in his easiest form. Shivering legs, crying abs.This pose will test your will to its wit’s end.
Utkatasana or Chair Pose, Yoga - YouTube
3. Handstand (Adho Mukha Vrksasana)
Nope Nope Nope! Not for the faint harted. This pose make a second pass like an eternity, that too if you are able to perform it. But hey! The sweat drops on your yoga mat will definitely make you proud after your practice.
So go ahead and give it the best you got.
Yoga for Beginners - How To Do A Yoga Handstand Safely. Advanced & Complete Beginners Yoga - YouTube
Trataka or yogic practice of concentrated gazing is an ancient hatha yoga exercise used for all round development of our body, mind and soul. The meaning of word trataka is ‘’to look fixedly’’ or ‘’to stare pointedly’’. The concept of trataka is defined clearly by some yogis and old yoga texts like hatha yoga pradipika. This is how hatha yoga pradipika defines it:
“Nireekshaennischaladrsâ sukshmalakshya samâhita
Asrusampâtaparyantam âchâryaisrtâtakam smrtam”
Being calm, a practitioner should gaze steadily at a small mark (a small thing), till eyes are filled with tears. This is called trataka by the âchâryas.
It comes under one of the shatkarmas or shatkriyas—six purification techniques in hatha yoga designed to make the body strong and healthy. It is an extremely powerful technique which helps us to cure and improve all eye disorders, removes laziness and controlling our mind.it actually aids in directing the nervous system in a definite direction and also increases our energy level.it quietens all our mental faculties and helps in attaining complete concentration and peace of mind.
Types of Trataka
Conventionally there are three kinds of trataka that can be practiced: Antar trataka, Madhya trataka and Bahya trataka.
Antar trataka : this is done with closed eyes and we have to imagine that we are gazing in the midpoint of our two eyebrows(bhrumadhya dhrishti),or heart,navel or any other internal organ.
Madhya trataka:in this exercise still gaze is fixed on centre of the eye(bhrumadhya)or tip of the nose(nasagra)or any nearby object made of any material.it can be practised with aum written in paper, or concentric circles having a black dot in its middle, or a single black dot with open eyes.
Bahya Trataka : It is performed by fixing our gaze on an distant object like rising sun, moon or a bright planet.
Practice of Trataka
The practice of trataka is done by gazing at a fixed point or object without blinking the eyes. The main objective is to bring the mind into focus, and control its wavering tendencies thus making it single pointed and arising the inner vision. All the thoughts and powers of mind are directed into an unbroken flow.it should be a smooth and easy process without any stress. After achieving this state the hidden potential and powers of mind are awakened naturally.
Technique of Trataka
The practice of trataka is done by sitting on ground in padmasana(lotus posture), ardha padmasana or sukhasana(comfortable sitting posture) keeping the spine and the back straight. A cow’s ghee lamp is placed at the same level of your eyes at a distance of one metre. Now keeping the mind relaxed one should look at the bright portion of the flame without blinking, till the tears start coming out of your eyes. This is the last phase of trataka. After doing this the eyes should be closed for a while and the practitioner should relax and sit quietly for 3-5 minutes and then slowly open his eyes. The exercise can be repeated 2 to 3 times. It is advised that after performing trataka one should wash his eyes and face with water. The time period of trataka from the beginning till the rolling down of tears differs from person to person.it also depends on the mental condition of the individual. The duration of trataka in normal individuals is generally 3-5 minutes and some people can extended the practice to longer periods.
Benefits of doing Trataka
Hatha yoga states that if one does trataka on a regular basis,it helps in curing all types of eye related problems and overcoming laziness. Regular practice of trataka assists in the practice of shambhavi mudra which finally leads to a state of dharana(contemplation).the practitioner gets a great vision and intuitive insight.
According to Gherand Samhita a yogic text trataka helps in training and guiding the nervous system in a particular direction. It also aids in reducing and curing all kinds of mental tensions.it leads to a state of peacefulness and calmness. The sleep pattern is corrected within a small time with the practice of trataka. It’s curing and improving tendency depends upon the mental and physical state of a person. It also assists in arising hypnotic powers and sixth sense if practiced regularly. Trataka acts as a means of advancement between physically oriented exercises and mental exercises which finally lead to higher awakening.it acts as a vital link between hatha yoga and raja yoga. Conventionally it comes under hatha yoga but it may also be considered as a part of raja yoga.
Physiology of Trataka
Trataka is really helping in removing all kinds of neural disorders and blockages and it also assists an individual in gaining deep concentration and meditation. The practice of trataka is very conducive in gaining control on our parasympathetic nervous system, lowering of heart rate and respiration rate.it also increases the amplitude of plthysmogram(vasodilation). It increases the peripheral blood circulation of our body.it aids in gaining complete mastery of our mind by eliminating all the emotional disturbances. All kinds of anxieties are removed by doing trataka regularly. Practicing trataka quietens our mental faculties and relaxes our mind by producing well modulated chain of alpha frequency. It is a process of purification.it acts as a catharsis or cleansing by eliminating all our repressed and suppressed emotions and desires from the subconscious level. The practioner of trataka experiences great relaxation and state of calmness and peace at both physical and mental level.
Avoid using candle or other lamps for doing trataka. Always use cow’s ghee lamp for practicing trataka for best results. Do not practice trataka on a flickering flame. Hypersensative persons should do trataka after doing shavasana. Emotionally and mentally disturbed people should do trataka only after practicing the basic postures (asanas) and processes (kriyas), never rub your eyes after doing trataka. Do not strain your eyes too much and do it as per your capacity. Do not read anything or watch television after doing trataka.
Pancha Kosha is a Sanskrit term made up of two words Pancha and Kosha. Pancha means ‘’five’’, and Kosha means ‘’sheath’’or ‘’layer’’.The concept of Pancha Kosha or five cardinal layers or sheaths was elucidated in many sacred Ancient Hindu texts like Taittiriya Upanishad, Vivekacudamani and Panchadasi. According to the Yoga Philosophy there are are five cardinal layers or sheaths that surround the human soul named Pancha Kosha. Pancha kosha or the five cardinal sheaths are five different layers of our human growth and evolution. The Yogic Philosophy of the five cardinal sheaths believes that that every human being is endowed with certain physical and psychological features that work together in a holistic manner. The five cardinal sheath system considers these different facets as various layers of subjective experience. These sheaths have a wide spectrum starting from the closely packed physical body and evolving gradually to more subtle and sublime levels of emotions, mind and finally the spirit is the last stage of evolution. The Upanishads state that our very essence or prakriti comprises of five different extensions .our perishable body (the abode of our imperishable and immortal soul) unfolds into more ethereal layers of energy surrounding our spiritual core. All living beings contain five distinct energy layers or sheaths called pancha kosha that encompass our soul. Every kosha resonates at different speed and they communicate and go beyond each other spanning from earthly to metaphysical planes of existence.
The human soul is encompassed by five cardinal layers or sheaths of arishadvarga(the six cardinal internal foes within us) namely, annamaya kosha(food sheath), pranamaya kosha(vital air sheath),manomaya kosha(mind sheath), vigyanmaya kosha(intellect sheath) and anandmaya kosha(bliss sheath). Besides these five layers there are two more layers of human existence named chitta kosha(spiritual wisdom) and sat kosha(the ultimate state of commingling with GOD).
The arishadvarga(ari means enemy, shad means six and varga means classes)are the six enemies of the mind namely kama(lust or desire), krodha(anger or hatred), lobha(greed), moh(illusionary emotional bondage), mada(ego or pride) and matsarya(envy or jealousy). They act as a covering or veil between the human soul and the cosmic soul. The human soul has to overcome these to become one with the universal consciousness. The complete development of all the seven sheaths is indispensable for the complete evolution of the human soul.
Annamaya kosha is the outermost cardinal layer or sheath. It is also known as the food sheath because it is nurtured by the food.it is the unrefined physical body preserved and aided by the intake of food.it incorporates all the five organs of perception(sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch) and the five organs of action(prehension, locomotion, articulation, excretion, procreation). This kosha has the most compact and slow rotational frequency.it cannot survive without the other koshas.it is the most susceptible of all the koshas and reveal any deficiencies on the other koshas. Our overall personality (physique and traits) in past, present and future births are all dependent on annamaya kosha.it is the bodily understanding of the divinity. It is regarded an enclosure of flesh and blood in terms of spirituality. Complete cleansing, perfection and expansion of annamaya kosha is done by the techniques like upavas(fasting), yogasanas(physical postures of yoga), tatvasuddhi(inner purification)and tapascharya(practice of austerity).Western or Allopathic medicines affect and make an impact on this kosha. It acts only at the physical level.
Pranamaya kosha(vital air sheath) or the energy sheath is the vital life strength that permeates our body. It is the subtle sheath of cosmic energy that penetrates and surround our physical body. It comprises of the breath and the five pranas, namely prana, apana, udana, samana and vyana. All these five pranas are responsible for various functions of the physical body and they are indispensable for our life.all our body movements and mental thoughts are dependent on it. The prana flows in the circulatory, lymphatic and nervous systems. The pranic current flows between the physical body and the various sheaths through the nadis(astral tubes). Prana is in the form of mental, vital, psychic and spiritual energy. Even though this sheath is subtle, it is quite similar to the physical body. Acupunture, reiki and magneto-therapy have a profound impact on this kosha. Homeopathic pattern of medicine in moderate potency also affects this kosha.
Manomaya kosha or the mental energy sheath is more extensive and powerful than the pranamaya kosha. It comprises of all our thoughts, feelings, mind and passions.’manas’ means mind. The mind and all the five sense organs (eyes, ears, nose, tongue and skin) comprise of the manomaya kosha. It is also known as monkey mind which jumps on from one thought to another. It is through this glass lens that we feel the outer world and all our likes and dislikes are felt by the five senses. We experience all kinds of pleasures and pains in our life by our mind which affects us in both positive and negative manner accordingly. It is the root cause of all diversity. Our bondage and liberation is all related to the mind. The manomaya kosha is the instinct that accepts all the sensory instructions, interprets them as good or bad and yearns always for the good. It is key to human subsistence. Many modes of therapies like aroma therapy, music therapy, colour therapy, placebo therapy and shamanism acts on this kosha. Homeopathic medicines in higher potencies also influence this kosha.
Vijnanamaya kosha or the intellect sheath consists of vijnana or intellect the special ability to discriminate, determine and reason.it is associated with the organs of perception. It is changeable, insentient, limited and evanescent. ’Vijnana’ means subtle knowledge or wisdom. We attain intuitive knowledge and higher stages of deep consciousness in this kosha. Accordingly the higher mind orients itself towards the soul, trying to find the truth, and search for the eternal core of consciousness. In this sheath the basic awareness of the body and mind is lost, and realisation of higher mind is established. We are able to know, decide, judge and discriminate everything rationally due to our higher consciousness a part of this vijnanamaya kosha. A large part of this kosha lies in the domain of unconscious and it is a storehouse of all the information. Vijnanamaya kosha connects the conscious mind, higher mind and the universal mind by the network of nadis or nerve currents. Psychotherapy and practices like dharana(mental focus on an object), and dhyana(meditation on the divine) are inner disciplines that affect and make a deep impact on vijnanamaya kosha.
Anandamaya kosha or the bliss sheath is the innermost kosha that lies closest to the soul.it is the innermost sheath that veil the supreme soul from the individual soul. It is connected with unconscious or superconscious mind. It is associated with the state of dreamless state or Samadhi. The anandamaya kosha is the most subtle and sublime sheath of human existence amongst all the five sheaths. It is the highest level of vibration in this life. It means a sheath of eternal joy. It consists of ananda or bliss. Bliss or eternal joy is not connected with body or mind. This sheath is a combination of all the three divine attributes of the soul, namely sat (truthfulness and eternalness) chit (alive and conscious nature which differentiates the living with the non-living) and anand(ceaseless joy). This sheath unfolds fully during deep sleep, whereas in the dreaming and wakeful states it acts partially only. The anandamaya sheath is a mirror image of the atma or the soul which is bliss absolute.it is a state of mukti or liberation. Very few people have been able to reach this kosha, like some saints and realised souls. This is when we reach Samadhi. Complete development of all the seven sheaths is indispensable for our absolute spiritual evolution.
Pancha Kosha is not confined to humans only rather it is present in all the higher forms of animals but not so much refined and advanced as in humans. The five cardinal sheaths act as a manual and a guide to understand our psychological and spiritual evolution in a better manner. The five cardinal sheaths are vital for our existence on the earthly plane. We cannot survive without them. In order to prevail over and dissociate ourselves from these five cardinal sheaths we need to attain a very higher level of mental purification and sublimity. When all the impurities and darkness covering our soul are dispelled away and we finally reach the end of our life, the celestial body also vanishes and our soul’s flash of light merges with the cosmic radiance.
All our actions, memories and feelings are accumulated in the five cardinal sheaths. They act as a barrier between the independent soul and all-embracing divinity. Moksha or salvation from all earthly bondages is the final destination of the soul. It is a means to liberate the human soul from the limitations of the five cardinal sheaths. The complete denial of our personal ego and giving up our desires sets the soul free from all the attachments of the five cardinal sheaths leads to the final emancipation of the spirit.
Yoga Practices for Spinal Disc Herniation. Continuing with our series on back problems, in this article we will try to shed some light on another major setback to the spine, commonly known as bulging disc or herniated disc in the lumbar region. We will also take a look at the application of yoga practices for spinal disc herniation.
Spine is crucial part of human body, connecting brain with the rest of the body. It sets up a line of communication to and from the brain, delivering messages in the form of electrical impulses travelling at different speed and frequencies to let the brain talk to our body. This is achieved with the help of very sophisticated structures called Nerves. Nerves form a complex network as they travel through the distance to each and every tissue. They work as excitatory and inhibitory channels allowing any function to occur or to stop. These nerves branch out from Spinal cord, which is seen as an extension of brain, as it’s made up of the same tissues as of brain. It runs vertically through the Vertebral column, which is an arrangement of vertebrae stacked on top of each other and total 33 in number. Here the spine fans out in pairs at each intersection of the vertebral bodies through specially created holes called vertebral foramen. There are in total 31 pairs of spinal nerves branching out from spinal cord and supplying to different parts of the body in upper and lower extremities as well as the viscera.
In between these vertebras a soft cushion like structure is provided in order to ensure comfort in movements and a safe passage for nerve roots branching out from there. As shown in the picture, the disc acts like a buffer, absorbing shocks and thereby preventing damage to the spine. It also provides for flexibility of the movement to the vertebral column, giving it a wide range of motion from forward, backwards and sideways.
This disc is engineered by an arrangement of connective tissue on the outskirts, which form a shell. It is connected with the vertebrae on top and bottom as a fibro cartilaginous joint. It is called Annulus Fibrosus. This annulus provides for slight movement in the spine. It also acts as a ligament holding the vertebrae together. In side this shell there is the inner core called Pulposus Nucleus. This is a jelly like substance which is mainly water (mucoprotein gel or proteoglycan) with some loose collagen fibers. This pulposus is responsible for withstanding the forces of compression and weight being put on our spine constantly in almost all the postures we move into.
Any damage to this disc results in herniation of the exterior casing and as a result, the fluid inside is dispersed on the external surface of the vertebrae. When this happens, this fluid might interfere with adjacent nerves while irritating them. At the same time, as the spacing between two vertebrae is lessened due to the fluid moving out of its casing, they are tend to come more closer to each other which is termed as compression. This compression then might become another reason to irritate the corresponding nerve branching outward from between them.
Stages of Disc Herniation
This is a very difficult condition on part of the patient as it might lead one into intense pain and even immobility sometimes. There is huge amount of stress on psycho physiological level with decreased confidence and efficiency. Person feel restricted in common day to day action. Sitting becomes difficult, getting up from sitting becomes difficult, walking, climbing stairs, driving, cycling, and doing chores and almost all range of activities induce pain. In extreme conditions a complete bed rest is recommended unless the inflammation subsides and pain reduces. Even after that, there are very strong chances of the pain recurring on the slightest of disturbance of anatomical structures in the affected area.
What makes Spinal Disc Prone to Injuries
The causes for a lumbar disc bulging can be multiple, but we can count on certain factors which are responsible for it.
The foremost point to remember is that the discs have a very limited supply of blood for their nourishment and waste disposal. As both the portions of disc are avascular, which means they don’t have blood vessels directly supplying them, they depend almost entirely on the end plates of the vertebrae to supply them. At the time of birth the pulposus is hydrated nicely, but as we age, the water starts drying up. For exchange between the disc and vertebral end plate to happen properly, it has been observed that movement in the particular segment of spine is extremely essential. To put simply, the disc sucks the nutrition when we provide proper movement to the spine. As per the vertebral physiology, there are certain factors responsible for the nutrition to take place effectively. First of them is the arrangement of connective tissue fibers. The fibrous structures around the spine work efficiently under a particular amount of load. They are designed like that. That is why movement and weight bearing is equally important for them to stay healthy.
Secondly, the endplates of the vertebrae to which the discs are connected, need to maintain sufficient thickness in order to effectively allow the capillaries to transfuse between the two structures. This is made possible only when they are exposed to particular amount of loads which is neither too much nor too less.
Thirdly the blood vessels themselves should be in a healthy state.
Fourthly the composition of proteoglycan in the disc must be maintained in order to ensure the proper absorption hydration within the disc. This is also achieved when disc undergo the permissible amount of load.
Studies have shown that spinal disc can retain their normal character and well being, if we intelligently choose to put them under a constant workout with the desired quantity of weight along with the movements executed in the right direction.
Any movements that put excessive weight on the spine and are channelized in the wrong directions can induce structural as well as compositional deterioration.
As we know that the muscles in the lower back are very well complimented by the muscles in the abdominal region. Hence if the abdominal area shows any significant weakness, the additional load over the spinal muscles leads to deterioration in the disc due to overload. That is why it is often seen that a sedentary lifestyle comes out to be a common reason for lower back issues. Disc rupture in particular.
The diagnosis is usually prescribed at the onset of pain in the region. Radiological tests include
MRI scans : Magnetic resonance Imaging
CT scans: Computer Tomographic scans
Physical examination might also be considered by the examiner to determine the condition. It includes
Muscle Strength Test : The examiner will test the strength of certain muscles in legs and feet to see for any signs of a pinched nerve.
Knee Jerk : Tapping the patellar tendon just under the bone. If there is any compression in the nerve, there will be very less or no reflex in the knee.
Raised Leg Test : The doctor will test you by raising your right leg up towards the head in a lying position. If there is any compression at the nerve root, there will be a pain near the back of the leg.
Apart from these there are a variety of other tests which can be used by the doctor to reach to a conclusion along with the above mentioned radiological scans.
How Yoga Works Here
One of the most common methods recommended and used in such disorders is Traction. But this term must not be confused with stretching. Traction employs the force acting in two opposite directions, thereby pulling apart two vertebrae from each other with a particular weight load. Clinically, tractioning is performed mechanically with the help of machines. Studies have revealed traction can be useful for rearrangement of pulposus if done carefully. But when the disc is sequestered, i.e. when the fluid pieced out on the outer surface, traction is not helpful.
Yogasanas are a natural method of tractioning the spine without using any external mechanical device. Body is worked against the force of gravity pulling it away from the same. There are plenty of asanas, which if done carefully with expert guidance, can actually prove to be helpful in relieving off the pain and also ensuring the recuperation of the disc. Also they reinforce the vertebral ligaments and muscles which are crucial to spinal health. Along with that pranayama also helps in realigning the energy pathways for healing to take place as well by establishing harmony at the level of mechanoreceptors in the spine to speed up the process of repair and regeneration.
We are compiling some of the techniques which can be used. However the practitioner must remember that the load on the spine must be carefully controlled. Also range of movement should also be regulated so as to not aggrevate the condition. Deep flexion and extensions must be avoided. They should be replaced with gentle and supported movements which are at least halfway to the range.
Trikonasana with a support of brick : Use a brick to place by the side of front leg and rest the arm on it while bringing the trunk in partial flexion. Important : Make sure that the spine itself do not flex laterally. It is the trunk that needs to be moved from its base in the pelvis.( See figure 1).
If seems difficult to do, you can also rest against the wall to evenly distribute the body weight. (See figure 2)
It must however be remembered that the legs must be strongly attached to the floor and trunk must be pulled altogether away from the legs, thus bringing about the traction of the vertebrae. The effectiveness of the asanas depends upon how intelligently one can use gravity in relation to the body as well the specific part of the body that in intended to be worked upon. Stay in this position for 1 minute at least on each side. Repeat twice or as per the requirement.
Parsvkonasana with support of a brick : Similar to above parsvkonasana also acts as a strong tractioning asana. Please refer to the picture below to see how to place brick. The alignment of shoulder and arm resting must be correct. Also the leg which is at the back should be hooked strongly into the ground to act against the pull exerted on the trunk. (See figure 3).
Again it must be remembered that the trunk as a whole should be pulled. It needs some engagement of your Vigyanmay kosha, the intellect, on how to engage the entire length of the spinal column. Stay in this position for 1 minute at least on each side.
Adhomukha swanasana with wall : This indeed is a convenient asana to prevent extra load from the disc and giving them a chance to heal and rejuvenate. It must however be done with assistance while somebody is there to support you in and out of the asana. To do this, a belt must be tied to a bar or on a hook on the wall, at the height of your pelvic rim. Place the belt across the pelvis, on top of the groins. Gradually shifting the weight on the belt, place your arms in front raising the buttocks upwards. If needed, the heels can be attached to the wall for support.(See figure 4 & 5).
The distance between the legs must be well observed, the arms must be extended as much as possible. Neck must be in a relaxed position. The attachment of the belt to the wall acts as the other side of the load pulling the legs in the opposite direction to that of the trunk and bringing about the traction due to the effect of gravity. Stay in this position for 1 to 3 minutes.
Shashankasanamodification : Another effective method for tractioning is a variation of classical Shashankasana or Rabbit pose. Sitting in vajrasana place two bricks in front of you approximately 3 feet away from the knees. Now very gently bending forward, try and reach for the brick and place your palms on top of them. Now inhaling, raise the pelvis up from the heels and start gripping the bricks with your hands. Then exhaling, gently push the pelvis down towards heels while maintaining the grip on the bricks. (see figure 6).This action helps in stretching the spine between sacral and thoracic region. Stay in this position for 2 to 3 minutes. Repeat twice.
Shalabhasana : This asanas helps in strengthening and toning the structures around the spine. It particularly works on reinforcing the ligaments and contracting the erector spine. Also it helps in reinstating the harmony in the sensory apparatus situated all along the lower section of the spine.
To do it, lie down flat in a prone position with hands closer to the body and legs together. Palms must be facing to the floor.Now inhaling hold the breath and raise the right leg slowly up from the floor to a comfortable height. The movements must be slower. Hold the position and continue to breathe naturally. Then exhaling bring the leg into original position. Repeat on the other leg. (See figure 7)At least 8 to 10 rounds can be performed at one time.
When the leg is raised up, it must be kept stiff like staff in order to keep all the muscles engaged and activate the muscle chain the lower region of the body.
Sphinx position : Can be used as a restorative pose to relax the muscles and ligaments of the lower back and let them get rid of the stress accumulated.
To do this, lie down in prone position and place your hands straight up on the floor.Inhaling raise the head up and bending the elbows, place them just perpendicular to the shoulder, bringing the upper arm in a vertical position to the floor.Keep the lower back, buttocks and legs loose and relaxed. (See figure 8)Breathe naturally and stay in this for 1 to 3 minutes.
This posture can be performed whenever it feels necessary to rest and relax.
Following a holistic approach towards the problem involves the practice of pranayam as they are crucial in strengthening the pranic connections and nervous pathways.
Nadi Shodhan pranayama for 10 minutes every day is very beneficial in handling stress and managing painful condition. In addition it also helps in redefining the brain and body communication towards a more positive side. To get details on nadi shodhan refer to our article here.
It must be remembered that yoga is more a preventive medicine. The practices and techniques mentioned in the classical system of Hatha and Raj yoga helps us to stay away from any Dukha (diseases). Prevention of dukha depends upon Ek Tattwa Abhyas (continuous practice in particular direction). But at the same time, these practices also prove to have remarkable curative effects if performed under guidance while all the fundamental rules are followed.
The purpose of this article is to provide insight and assistance in understanding the problem. If you have any such problem persisting, we recommend consulting an experienced teacher before commencing any yoga routine for yourselves.