Ayurveda provides us with a very elegant and insightful perspective on the mind and the art of fostering its health—a thriving state of mental, emotional, and even spiritual well-being. With this goal in mind, Ayurveda offers several practical and powerfully useful tools for balancing common disturbances of the mental and emotional realm.
The mind is the maker of our reality.
The mind is incredibly influential and has a direct and potent impact on our overall health and well-being, making the mind’s channel genuinely worthy of our care and attention.
We can think of the mind of our computer’s hard drive, the believes the program of our computer, the senses of the feeders and the form of our reality, the projection of this incredible divine tool.
Ultimately, our focused efforts to support the mind’s channel can’t help but ripple out to positively impact every cell, tissue, and subtle pathway throughout our mind-body ecology.
Ayurveda and mind channels
According to Ayurveda, substances and energies move throughout the body via distinct channels —physical and energetic—known as srotamsi. Remarkably, one of the primary channels named in the Ayurvedic tradition is the mind’s channel, known in Sanskrit as mano vaha srotas.
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 serve to orient us to its prominent locations in the body, illuminate important influences upon it, and inform our approach when it comes time to restore balance.
In general, each channel’s root 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—very likely the brain. Now, consider this: according to Ayurveda, mano vaha stortas is rooted—not in the brain—but in the heart.
It is also located in the ten great vessels, but we’ll get to that in a moment. As soon as we begin to explore the mind’s channel system, Ayurveda asks us to get out of our heads and 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 significant 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.
The Ten Great Vessels
The mind is also rooted in the ten great vessels (an essential 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, the three that are considered most influential are the solar, lunar, and central channels—ida, pingala, and sushumna.
These nadis, or subtle energy channels, travel from the base of the spine to the crown of the head, intersecting at each of the seven chakras, and carrying the flow of prana, or life force. These subtle channels establish an essential 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 most profoundly activated, cleansed, and balanced pathways. This is why pranayama so powerfully supports our psycho-spiritual health.
As we can see, mano vaha srotas extends far beyond the brain’s boundaries and the rational mind. As we continue to explore the Ayurvedic map of the mind, this channel’s immense field of influence only expands further.
The Pathway of the Mind
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 and undeniable relationship between the mind and our overall health and vitality.
And this field of influence travels in both directions. In other words, while the mind certainly influences physical matter, our physical health also affects our state of mind. In this way, our every experience can either support or disturb our overall state of balance—in both the body and the mind.
Doorways to the Mind
The mind’s channel system also has several vital openings (mukhas) to the body’s exterior. 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, ears, nose, tongue, and skin.
When it comes to our mental and psycho-spiritual health, the sense organs—as well as the sensory input they receive daily—play a significant role.
For better or worse, we tend to align 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 that energetic pattern—and begin to anticipate its recurrence.
On the other hand, if loving, inspiring relationships routinely surround us, 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 disturbing news broadcast can cause a noticeable shift in the mind’s tendencies. Others are less sensitive and may not notice much of a change when exposed to the same sensory input.
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 mind channel, the quality of our sensory input is a vitally important consideration.
Another important doorway to the mind is found in the marmani—a set of precise energy points on the skin’s surface connected to deeper, more subtle energetic pathways throughout the body.
Each marma point offers a powerful access point for shifting the energy within the mind channel, and working with these points can be an effective means of restoring balance to mano vaha srotas.
The mind and the 3 Gunas – Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas
Ayurveda names three maha gunas (universal attributes or qualities of consciousness)—sattva, rajas, and tamas—that are especially pertinent to this conversation. Though these qualities are very subtle, they are present in our food, experiences, and overall consciousness state.
Together, sattva, rajas, and tamas are said to give rise to all phenomena in nature, and they have a profound influence on the subtle body and the mind.
- Sattva engenders equilibrium, clarity, light, intelligence, compassion, insight, and wisdom.
- Rajas ignite kinetic energy, movement, passion, and the ability to act.
- Tamas is responsible for inertia, darkness, heaviness, slowness, sleep, and decay.
Throughout our lives, there is a natural place for all three of these energies. For example, tamas supports restful sleep, rajas engenders decisiveness and excitement in our lives, and sattva promotes clarity of mind.
But when it comes to our evolving psycho-spiritual health, the Vedic sciences reflect a clear preference for sattva, because it is directly aligned with the qualities of liberation and enlightenment. Conversely, most mental imbalances can be attributed to an imbalance in rajas or tamas—usually excess in one or both of these energies.
The Mind and the Three Doshas
As we move toward understanding more specific imbalances and address them, the three doshas provide an essential context for our exploration.
Much like the three maha gunas, the three doshas each play a vital role in our overall health. When provoked, each tends to cause a specific range of imbalances that can manifest either in the physical body or in the more subtle realms.
As a result, Vata, pitta, and Kapha each have a particular flavour of influence on the mind, emotions, and overall consciousness. Each of them can either support or undermine our overall health—it all depends on whether they are in balance.
Vata and the Mind
Vata dosha, which governs the nervous system and the mind, is primarily made up of the air and ether elements. Not coincidentally, the mind is composed mainly of the air and ether elements, making it especially susceptible to Vata imbalances.
When in balance, Vata is generally associated with creativity, intuition, clairvoyance, the capacity to connect with the subtle realms, profound spiritual understanding, and a natural sense of expansiveness.
On the other hand, Vata imbalances typically manifest as a certain instability, agitation, or hypersensitivity in the mind and often involve excess rajas.
Aggravated Vata can cause rapid changes in mood, fear, anxiety, contraction, a sense of being scattered, a lack of direction, spaciness, ungroundedness, excessive speed in thoughts and words, and a sense of loneliness or isolation.
Excess Vata also tends to draw us out of our bodies and leave us feeling somewhat disassociated or disembodied, disturbing our sense of security and belonging to the material world.
Aggravations of Vata in mano vaha srotas are often the result of overexertion. The tendency to overworking, stress, trying to attend to too many things all at once, times of travel or transition, overstimulation (e.g., lights, crowds, technology, etc.), loud noises, loud music, stimulants such as nicotine, caffeine, and recreational drugs, and excessive exercise or sexual activity.
Vata can also be elevated in mind due to a Vata-provoking diet, which may include too many dry, light, and unrefined foods like raw vegetables, crackers, dried fruits, and the like.
Pitta and the Mind
Pitta dosha, which governs insight and intellect, is primarily made up of fire and water elements. Pitta is closely associated with the gray matter of the brain and has an essential connection with the mind as a whole.
Healthy pitta is generally associated with courage, confidence, willpower, intelligence, leadership, a sense of vision, acceptance, contentment, satisfaction, enthusiasm, cooperation, and the capacity to surrender.
But when pitta, which is closely related to several rajasic qualities, accumulates in excess, it tends to cause aggravation in the mind. For example—anger, irritability, frustration, impatience, resentment, envy, judgment, criticism, a rigid attachment to one’s personal beliefs, excessive ambition, and a ruthless desire for power.
Disturbances of pitta and rajas in mano vaha srotas are often caused by excess heat and upward moving energy in the body, imbalances in the liver, periods of intense focus or ambition, as well as a tendency to disregard the needs of one’s body in favour of achieving one’s goals.
Pitta can also be elevated in the mind due to a pitta-provoking diet, which may include too many hot, spicy, sour, oily, or fried foods.
Kapha and the Mind
Kapha dosha, which governs structure and lubrication in the body, is primarily made up of water and earth elements. Kapha is closely associated with the white matter of the brain and is strongly connected to our memory capacity.
Healthy Kapha is generally associated with love, compassion, patience, groundedness, loyalty, steadiness, endurance, and an overarching sense of ease in one’s life.
But as the densest of the doshas, Kapha can bring the heavy qualities of tamas to mind, causing lethargy, complacency, laziness, depression, stubbornness, attachment, greed, emotional possessiveness, and a tendency to hoard material possessions.
Aggravations of Kapha and tamas in mano vaha srotas are often caused by an overly sedentary lifestyle, a lack of stimulation or interest in one’s life, inadequate exercise, a slow digestive fire, and an excess of downward moving energy in the body.
A Kapha-provoking diet can also trigger excess Kapha in the mind—too many heavy, dense, or cold foods like cheese, ice cream, and fried foods.
Correcting Imbalances of the Mind
An Ayurvedic tradition is a holistic approach to health and healing. As such, disturbances of the mind must be understood from a broad perspective that includes our physical, mental, emotional, and even spiritual health. Generally, the suggestion of a change of diet, pranayama, meditation, and yoga is the ancients’ practice to increase the mental channels’ flow.
Restoring balance to the mind channel can involve a diverse array of therapeutic strategies. It is undoubtedly ideal to seek a trained Ayurvedic practitioner’s guidance to guide you in your journey.