Ayurvedic Guide to Mindfulness and Meditation
The mind is the most complex and a controversial organ for scientists from beginning of time. The features and definitions of this organ have been debated for centuries. Despite this, the importance of the mind is undeniable. Mind is defined in the English dictionary as “the part of a person that thinks, reasons, feels and remembers.” But, is the mind physical organ or energetic? Does consciousness come from mind or does it empower the mind?
In this article, we will discuss the Ayurvedic Model of the mind and its application in modern clinical terms.
Origin of Mind:
Vedic philosophy has described the origin of the mind as part of the origin of the Universe. Therefore, the mind is intricately interactive with the Universe. It is capable of accessing the subtle energies and intelligence that permeates throughout of Universe. So, to understand the origin of the mind let us review the Vedic origin story.
The adjacent figure outlines the Samkhya philosophy of Universal manifestation that was first realized by Sage-scientists, Rishi Kapila. It describes the origin of the Universe as the union of the Masculine (Purusha) and Feminine (Prakriti) to give birth to Universal Consiousness, called Mahad.
As we observe the Universe through the eyes of modern sciences like physics, chemistry, etc., we realize that all of the material Universe is governed by Natural energetic laws. These laws are considered evidence of an underlying scientific consciousness that can be observed and interpreted by the human mind. So, Mahad is described as the pure consciousness that expresses itself through the Universe.
Mahad evolves through the filter of individuality or ego, called Ahamkar. Mahad is differentiated into three qualities (Guna) of consciousness:1
- Sattva – Purity, clarity, wisdom, faith, insight, love, compassion, serenity, etc.
- Rajas – actions, emotions, motivation, passion, egoism, restlessness, etc.
- Tamas – rigidity, inertia, obstruction, laziness, ignorance, confusion, etc.
The Mahad, Universal Conciousness, is the basis of all sciences and functions of the Universe. Human lives and all activity on Earth is also subject to expression of Mahad. The mind is the means for this expression.
According the Samkhya, Sattva (purity, clarity, wisdom, faith, etc.) gives birth to the sensory organs and the motor organs, as well as the mind. Relative to physical organs and their functions, the mind is described as the “Sarv-endriya-para” or the master of all indriyas (sensory and motor organs).2 The Sattvic origin of the mind indicates that a healthy and optimally functioning mind expresses the qualities of Sattva – clarity, wisdom, insight, faith, etc. On the other hand, the mind is adversely affected by aggravation of Rajas – attachment, passion, etc. or aggravation of Tamas – ignorance, inertia, etc.
Ayurveda prescribes many practices and therapies to shift the activity of mind towards Sattva. One of the most fundamental of these practices can be described through the lens of the science of Mindfulness…
Nature of the mind, as it is described in Ayurveda, gives us the basis of the science of meditative mindfulness.
We understand that the mind is affected by three qualities (gunas) of consciousness: Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas. Ayurveda goes on to describe the qualities of the Mind, itself.
Two qualities of the Mind:
- Ekatva: meaning “Mind is One”
- Anutva: meaning “Mind is Subtle”
Ekatva indicates the singularity of the mind. Sage Charaka describes that because of this singularity, the mind is limited to attaching to one object (Sensory or Motor) at a time. Though it may seem like we are multi-tasking, it is the ultra-fast activity of the brain allows the mind to move from one object-to-next. Ekatva guna (quality) implies that the mind works best when it is present. Therefore, presence of mind must be cultivated.
Anutva compares the mind to subtlety and minuteness of an atom… The atom-like minuteness denotes the ability of the mind to observe the minutest details. Simply put, when we are focused on one object, mind naturally begins observing and unpacking the information about that object in a very subtle manner. With prolonged focus, mind can become completely absorbed into this object. For example, one may become absorbed in a hobby or work, while losing track of their surrounding.
Anutva also implies the mind’s capacity to visualize and take mental journeys. One of the definitions of Mind in Ayurveda is “that which can visit a far-away land through imagination”.3 Imagination and visualization have been demonstrated as having positive effects on life-planning and attaining life-goals,5 as well as manifesting health benefits.6 Anutva, the observant and penetrative capacity of mind can be enhanced in combination with Ekatva, unbroken focus or concentration.
Thus, Meditation is an essential part of restoring the mind and optimizing its activity.
Meditation and Mindfulness:
The concepts of Ekatva (singularity) and Anutva (minuteness) are observed and studied through the clinical research and practice of Mindfulness. The concept of Ekatva can be translated as being present, focused on one object, thought, or action. The concept of Anutva can be translated as inference that leads to awareness and insight. Therefore, acting in “present moment awareness” is considered the optimal functional state of the mind.
The practice of mindfulness in life and in meditation helps to strengthen the mind’s activity within the confines of present moment awareness. Starting with the most basic levels, mindfulness practice shows benefit of strengthening all neurological subsystems that promote attention.7 Subjects experienced in meditation and those who are new to mindfulness practice were observed in this study. All those practicing mindfulness showed improvement in attentional tasks, indicating that practice of such mindful awareness “alters functioning of the dorsal attention system to improve voluntary response and input-level selection processes.” In other words, it improves impulse control, processing and decision-making. Additionally, people who were experienced had greater focus and more pronounced change in brain activity.
This experiment highlights two important factors:
- Conscious and intentional practice of mindfulness provides attentional benefits to both new and old practitioners… More importantly, directing consciousness towards practice of mindfulness has profound impact on how the brain functions.
- This demonstrates capacity of consciousness to change material/neurological activity.
- With practice, mindful awareness continues to grow and become more natural to the individual.
Mindfulness has also been applied to demonstrate many psychological and physical benefits. Here is a short list of those effects:
Anxiety and Depression
Health benefits of Stress reduction10:
Benefits for children:
All of these, and scores of other studies make a compelling case for applicability of mindfulness in daily living. In Ayurvedic terms, these studies also indicate that when mind functions within the confines of Ekatva (presence) and Anutva (awareness), it naturally moves towards the Sattva quality of conciousness — expressing purity, clarity, wisdom, faith, insight, love, compassion, serenity, etc.
Ayurvedic Support of Mindfulness:
Practice 20 mins every day
- Start by focusing on your breath; Inhalation and exhalation.
- with a soft focus on your breath, find a quiet space within you.
- Become fully present and aware of your breath within the silence.
- When your mind goes after a thought; notice that you have strayed from silence; then come back to silence.
Bacopa monnieri, also called Brahmi, is a name synonymous with cognitive support in Ayurvedic medicine. It is traditionally regarded as one of the most useful medhya rasayana, rejuvenators of the mind. It is given to young and old equally because it is non-toxic and wonderfully effective in promoting development and regeneration. In a clinical study on healthy elderly individuals; with average age of 62, Brahmi was given for 12 weeks and compared to effect of placebo.19 Group receiving Brahmi had significant improvement in attention, cognitive processing, and working memory. In a broader study of all randomized control trials on Bacopa, it was found that the herb can improve all parameters of the analytical frontal lobe of the brain20 – improvement was seen in 1) remembering number and picture, 2) 3D spatial orientation, 3) learning, 4) attention and concentration, 5) recall and memory, 6) decision making and more.
Bacopa has very unique and powerful healing effects on the brain. Review of laboratory experiments on nootropic activity of Brahmi confirm that administration can help in development, growth, and regeneration of neurons.21 In these studies, the number dendritic extentions for a neuron treated with Bacopa increased in dose dependent manner; they were observed to be more than double in some cases. Thus, Bacopa may also improve interconnectivity of the brain – making it more resilient to degeneration.
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