In the last article, we learned that according to Ayurveda the human body-mind is comprised of a series of channels. Of all these channel systems (groups of channels that perform specific tasks), three permeate the entire being – the channels of nourishment (which feed the body), breath and prana, and the mind. These three permeating channel systems also root in the same place – the heart <3
As with any channel system, it is possible to get clogs in the pipes. In Ayurveda, we call the substance that clogs the pipes ama, which in English translates loosely to ‘metabolic waste’. Ama is actually un-digested material – undigested food, undigested emotions, undigested experiences. When we experience something on any level that we cannot digest, it leaves behind a residue. This residue is ama. As ama builds up, it inhibits the healthy flow through our channels and eventually clogs the pipes.
Ama is not the only way the flow through our channels gets impaired. Our pipes can get constricted from stress and fear, inflamed through anger, or obstructed with ama.
Through my Ayurvedic training I now see Yoga as a set of techniques that promotes healthy flow through our channels by reducing constriction, inflammation and obstruction (ama). Let’s explore some ways that Yoga helps to prevent and remove the gunk from our channel system:
1.Yama – the restraints: By practicing non-violence, honesty, non-coveting, celibacy (not only of the loins, but of all the sense organs!), and non-possessiveness we create a context where we reduce and eventually prevent our own actions from creating ama within the mind channels. We are training the mind by practicing restraint of the actions that tend to create the most ama. They say that prevention is the best medicine [Symbol]
2.Niyama – the observances: Here we deepen our consciousness of our own body-mind through self-care and self-inquiry practices. This limb increases our capacity to digest our experiences through self-knowledge and understanding. It also creates the opportunity to recognize when our channels are getting clogs (saucha & svadhyaya), and how to dissolve these (tapas).
3. Asana – cultivating stability and ease in our bodies: This limb uses postures and movement to work with and unclog the channels. It also teaches us how stability in any scenario allows for easefulness to be cultivated, and this combination creates the context for optimal flow through our channels. In a way, we could say that the opposite of sukha (good space, easefulness) is dukkha (negative space), which manifests in the channels as constriction, inflammation, or obstruction. Asana uses the body as the doorway to this work, and yet, because the body, breath and mind all root in the heart, it affects the entire being!
4.Pranayama – restraint, and when ready, expansion of the vital life energy: This limb uses breath as the doorway to promote flow through the channels. This one is super fascinating because the results can be almost immediate – after all, the more subtle the realm (prana) the stronger the influence on the obvious (body). We have pranayama that are relaxing to reduce constriction, cooling to reduce inflammation, and warming/melting to reduce obstruction. We definitely notice how the channel of breath affects the body and mind through their roots in the heart.
5.Pratyahara – sensory withdrawal: The mukha, or openings, of the channel of the mind includes the sense organs – eyes, ears, nostrils, and mouth. By inviting our attention inward and allowing the sense organs an opportunity to relax, the tendency towards over-stimulation is reduced, and therefore their function is improved through less constriction-inflamation-obstruction. I also believe this limb invites our inner sensory apparatus to awaken, which allows us to engage in a deeper self-knowing. All of these pieces set the context for better function through the channel of the mind, and therefore breath and body too.
6.Dharana, Dhyana, Samadhi – concentration, meditation and absorption: The refinement of the mind, and therefore its channels, continue as we move into the higher limbs of the path. As the mind refines, our ability to take care of the body (vehicle of nourishment) improves, and the flow of breath and prana is also affected.
Each of the eight limbs uses one of these channels systems as its main access point, and yet because the channels of nourishment (the body), breath & prana, and the mind all root in the heart, any doorway will affect the flow through all three of these all pervading channel systems. As a yoga teacher and practitioner I’m always asking the question, which doorway can I use to support this individual to greater health – is it the body, the breath, or the mind? And I recognize through my personal practice and working with others, that it doesn’t matter which doorway we use, it gets us into the heart, and the changes ripple outward through all the channels from there.
To integrate this idea further, explore the following:
Notice which limb you prefer to practice. This can give you insight into which doorway you prefer to use.
Try a new door! Focus on a different limb of practice for few weeks.
Om shanti & prema (peace & love),