|Year : 2017 | Volume
| Issue : 2 | Page : 29-34
Sukshma sareera (Astral Body) beyond our comprehension
Division of Yoga and Life Sciences, S-VYASA University, Bengaluru, Karnataka, India
|Date of Web Publication
Dr. Sanjib Patra
SVYASA Yoga University, Eknath Bhavan, Gavipuram Circle, K. G. Nagar, Bengaluru - 560 019, Karnataka
Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None
Sukshma sareera is subtle and cannot be seen to our naked eyes. The structure of Pranamya (astral sheath) Manomaya kosha (mental sheath) and Vijnanamaya Kosha (wisdom) constitute Sukshma sareera. It is functional and can be understood as survival and feeling of pleasure and pain, hibernation, running away from danger, anticipating before the occurrence of an accident, bodily resistance against harsh environment, etc. In this theoretical article, we shall be discussing the structure and function of Pranamaya kosha which is a key structure of our Sukshma sareera.
Keywords: Anatomy, physiology, subtle body
|How to cite this article:
Patra S. Sukshma sareera (Astral Body) beyond our comprehension. Int J Yoga - Philosop Psychol Parapsychol 2017;5:29-34
Sukshma sareera is subtle, psychological, or functional body. For higher animalsm, it is psyche or mental body for the soul. Subtle or astral body is where lives mind and intellect. Pranamaya, Manomaya, and Vijnanamaya kosha constitute the astral body. Sukshma sareera contains has mainly Pranamaya kosha, movement of the Prana directing our physical and mental activities. This movement happens through nadis or pranic channels, which are the best conductors of energy controlled by the Six chakras. Vital sheath is a subtler sheath when compared to Annamaya kosha. This is composed of vital energy. As long as this vital energy exists in the organisms, life continues. This sheath is responsible for our physiological functions, namely, breathing, digestion, metabolism, circulation, endocrinal secretions, transmission of nerve impulses, and muscle twitch.
The subtle body surrounds the Sthula Sareera (physical body) as an aura of energy. The nadis (subtle energy channels) exist in this subtle medium through a fine merger into the physical medium. This is the “vital body” and the preliminary reflection of the physical body. It comes into existence before the physical body and it fully fades out and dies when the physical body disappears and disintegrates. A yogi hears through astral ears and sees through astral eyes. Thus, he can hear sounds from distant lands; he can see objects in distant localities. This is called extrasensory perception and in other words the ability to anticipate.
When a person dies, his or her gross body (Sthula Sareera) is burnt. The soul cannot quit the gross body without a vehicle and this vehicle is the astral or subtle body. Not only this is the vehicle for our soul but also acts as a fuel for our mind as it gets agitated. More fueling of Prana makes the mind restless and agitated.
Pranic energy is in constant motion throughout life. It is not only in human beings, animals, herbs, or trees but also in oceans and mountains, minerals, and bacteria. Even the tiniest part of an atom has Prana. This Prana is both visible and invisible. Visible Prana is manifested before on existence. Wherever there is prana, there is movement, growth, change, and activity and where there is no Prana there is no activity. When we die, the body dissipates because it has become completely bereft of Prana.
Prana is one of the key competent of our total composition and be dealt with in yoga. If the Pranas is agitated or there is a pranic imbalance, there is imbalance everywhere. To understand Prana we need to know about positive and negative atoms. The Prana is found in the atmosphere in the form of positive and negative ions, which keep on bouncing, migrating, and reintegrating. There is a need to create.
Structure and function of Pranamaya kosha
The Pranamaya Kosha is the sheath filledwith Prana. The word Prana is comprehended by a common man as “the embodiment of life,” which is true without a shadow of doubt. One of the major Upanishads, the Prashnopanis had illuminates on Prana by mentioning, that this Sanskrit word is a combination of two roots-“Pra” and “Na” where Pra means preexisting force and Na says that it moves incessantly. Hence, it is that unseen and dynamic force which helps the physical body to advance in life by rejuvenating each and every cell. Its presence directly confirms the existence of life in the body of flesh and bones. Prana is that motivation which keeps alive the urge to live and not to leave. The only difference between Shava (A dead body) and a person lying in Shavasana is the habitation of this life force in the latter. Now, let us try to understand prana in a possible scientific manner with an example of childbirth. Although the medical science has reached to a point where external fertilization has been made possible, there is no way that the science can give a life to that fertilized egg in laboratory. Without mother's womb, prana will not manifest itself.
With the advancements in biotechnology such as cloning, scientists are trying their best to replicate the DNA. But that has not given any output in terms of a giant success out of laboratory. This is because the vital molecules such as DNA are functional only in the proximity of prana and thus fail to serve their functions majority of the times even in the laboratory where they cannot harness the cosmic prana without the presence of physical body. The body has been gifted with a system which can utilize the cosmic prana available everywhere.
The Taittiriya Upanishad talks about the nature of human existence (T.U; ch3; pp 2-6). According to it, the entire human existence spreads above the conventional domain of perception. It can be understood in the form of five sheaths known as “Pancha koshas” where each kosha is a manifestation of the cosmic energy having different degrees of freedom.
Anatomy of Pranamaya kosha
The science of Swara yoga describes the pranic body or pranamaya kosha as an electromagnetic field that surrounds and takes the shape of physical body spreading outward just like an aura of a candle flame. The way our heart keeps the blood moving throughout the body by its pumping action, Chakras in pranamaya kosha store and provide the prana to different body organs. The effective circulation and perfusion of tissues and cells with blood are ensured through the healthy blood vessels. Similarly, the pranic channels called Nadis distribute the prana to core body parts reviving them to function efficiently. The other important elements of this kosha are Granthis, Pancha-pranas, and Upa-pranas.
Chakra in Sanskrit means a Wheel. In pranamaya kosha, chakras are perceived as whirling energy centres. They are not physical entities and hence are invisible to our eyes. However, there is a mention about visibility of chakras through clairvoyance in the spiritual practice of Pranic healing. Chakras are the energy centers or energy reserves which store the prana. At specific points in pranamaya kosha along the spine, there are seven such major energy centres. The presence of many minor chakras has also been described by many spiritual practices. The formation of a chakra is due to the convergence of all nadis at specific points in pranamaya kosha.
Some anatomists correlate the seven chakras with nerve plexuses which are branching networks of intersecting nerves that are composed of both afferent and efferent fibers. The others are of the opinion that chakras are associated with the functionalities of endocrine glands. Thus, in both the cases, they can be called as “biological transducers” which is very much in tune with the modern science that says the energy and matter are interconvertible. They absorb the prana and distribute it to the different parts of the physical body. Hence, they are responsible for energizing the organs and core parts of annamaya kosha.
The seven chakras from the base of the spine to crown of the head are named as follows: the lowest chakra is called Mooladhara, then moving up along the spine are Svadhisthana, Manipura, Anahata, Vishuddhi; the sixth centre Ajna is located at the eyebrow center, and Sahasrara resides above the crown of the head. The scriptures say that the yogis saw these chakras and described them as lotus flowers with different numbers of petals., They vibrate with varying frequencies and thus seen as a light having different colors depending on the frequency of vibration. The chakras at lower levels vibrate with lesser frequencies than the higher chakras in throat and head and their over activity can create grosser awareness. The purification and activation of higher chakras can lead to increased deeper awareness. Hence, they are said to be connected with the process of human evolution.
The lowermost energy center is Mooladhara. It is a red lotus with four petals and is located at the base of the spine near to the coccygeal plexus. All the basic urges of a human take birth from here. Hence, physiologically, also it is correlated with excretory and reproductive functions and respective glands. It is also called as the action center.
The second chakra is Svadhisthana which is two fingers above the Mooladhara in the sacral plexus. It has six petals having orange color. It influences the gonads. It is responsible for creativity and sense of ego. Hence, it is called as Svadisthana which means a place where the sense of individuality is created.
The next chakra behind the navel is called as Manipura. It is associated with solar plexus and represented symbolically as yellow lotus having ten petals. It expresses the “digestive fire” which also gets depicted by the color of the chakra. The energy from this chakra is utilized mainly for digestion, absorption, and assimilation of food. It is also associated with adrenal glands which play a vital role in providing the extra energy during stress. The awareness is still oriented toward gross things such as sensualities, ambition, and negative emotions such as greed and jealousy.
Above Manipura in the proximity of cardiac plexus lies Anahata which is symbolized by greenish-pale blue colored lotus with 12 petals. Physiologically, it is connected with respiration, heart, and thymus gland. From this level, the awareness starts becoming subtler and positive emotions such as love, compassion are felt predominantly if the chakra is highly activated and purified. It is described as the seat of individual soul or Jivatma.
The fifth chakra lies in the middle of the throat near the cervical plexus and is called as Vishuddhi which means a great purifier. The legend says that, with the purifying power of this chakra, Lord Shiva was able to destroy the strong poison.
It impacts the functioning of thyroid and parathyroid glands and tonsils; it regulates the speech. This chakra looks like a bluish purple lotus with sixteen petals. Its activation can help a person to gain mastery over his emotions.
The Ajna chakra has two silvery gray petals. It is associated with medulla oblongata, pituitary, and pineal glands. Activated Ajna chakra clasps the pituitary and increases the activity of pineal gland. Pineal gland empowers the mind to explore the subtler areas of it like telepathy and intuition. The chakras give command to the lower energy centres. It is responsible for concentration of mind and strong willpower.
The highest center is at the crown region called as Sahasrara. It is a violet-coloured thousand petalled chakra which is said to be associated with sulci and gyri of cerebral cortex. The chakra influences the functions of pituitary gland. It is a center where the divine energy enters the body.
The rate of vibration in each chakra, storage of prana, and purity of chakra influence the physical and mental health and the progress on spiritual path. Hence, it is very important to first purify the chakras before awakening the kundalini shakti.
Through the process of inhalation, the pranic energy enters the pranamaya kosha and is directed into the chakras through the vast network of channels called as Nadis.
The word Nadi has its origin from Sanskrit root Nada which means to flow; hence, nadis can be understood as subtle flows of vibrations. They are fine, wire-like structures invisible to eyes. The Prashnopanishad has mentioned their number as high as 72,000 (Chapter 3 verse 6). Each and every nadi is important but from functional point of view there are three vital nadis known as Ida, Pingala, and Sushumna. These three originate at the base of the spine from Mooladhara chakra. The Sushumna travels straight up piercing other four main chakras along the spine and merges in Ajna chakra. Ida originates from left and goes spirally up intersecting main chakras to meet Sushumna at Ajna chakra at the left side. Pingala originates from the right side and follows the same pattern in upward direction as of Ida but in opposite fashion.
According to Swara yoga, Ida represents mental force whereas Pingala regulates the continuously moving Prana Shakti. Through Sushumna, Kundalini shakti rises up.
The channel of Ida is connected with the left nostril. This nadi is said to be anabolic in nature, and associated with parasympathetic nervous system. Hence, all the vital, internal processes such as digestion, absorption, assimilation, hormonal secretions, rhythmic transmission of nerve impulses, circulation, and immune functions are regulated through the channel of Ida nadi. According to Swara yoga, left nostril breathing stimulates the Ida pathway.
Philosophically, Ida is more active at night time. It brings relaxation in the muscles, reduces the metabolic rate, and hence said to be of cooling nature. Ida can unfold the powers of subconscious mind.
Pingala corresponds to right nostril. It stimulates the metabolism and heats up the body. Hence, it is said to be of catabolic nature. It is activated mainly in the daytime and corresponds to sympathetic nervous system which regulates flight-fight response. Hence, Pingala is of energizing nature. Yogis used to manipulate this force through right nostril breathing. Pingala pathway represents the active mode of mind.
Swara Yoga mentions the contralateral relation between nostrils and hemispheres of the brain which means Ida correspondence to the right hemisphere and Pingala to the left. However, the recent research findings are somewhat inconclusive. Samantaray et al. could not establish a strong relation between nostrils and hemispheres of the brain through their study. However, Shirley Telles et al. found that the right nostril yoga breathing facilitates the activity of contralateral (left) hemisphere. Hence, as per the modern science, this effect as ambiguous and indecisive.
From spiritual point of view, Sushumna is the most vital nadi. It can unravel the mysteries of unconscious mind when prana starts flowing through it.
Normally, Sushumna is in dormant state and no prana can flow through it for longer period of time unless it is awakened through deeper and higher practices. The dormancy of Sushumna is due to the impurities of nadis and chakras. The Hatha yoga Pradipika describes these impurities as the waste and residue of sensuous living and desires. The aim of higher spiritual practices is to first purify the nadis and chakras to ensure free flow in Sushumna.
If both the energies of Ida and Pingala are united then the most powerful force called Kundalini shakti can be awakened. It is said that Kundalini shakti is a tremendous energy lying dormant at the base of the spine in pranic body. From the base of the Sushumna, it reaches to the Sahasrara leading to the eternal and infinite existence. Hence, purification process is of great importance.
The awakening of kundalini shakti should always be done under the Guru's guidance as the energy has immense power and wrong practices is done in pursuit of Kundalini awakening can lead to various physical and psychological syndromes.
There are three other nadis that lie within the core of Sushumna. When Sushumna starts flowing, these nadis namely Vajra, Chitra, and Brahma from outside to inside of the inner walls of Sushumna also get stimulated.Brahma nadi is the subtlest of all three.
According to Shiva Swarodaya, other important nadis are Gandhari, Hastijihva, Poosha, Yashaswini, Alambusha, Kuhu, and Shankhini connected to various other parts of the body (Verse 37).
The yogis used to believe that dominance of Ida, Pingala, or Sushumna pathway has their effects on different activities. It is mentioned in Shiva Swarodaya that all creative, dynamic, and hard tasks to be done when the solar principle, i.e., Pingala nadi is active (Verse 61) while the calm and peaceful practices such as yoga sadhana should be practiced when the lunar nadi, i.e., Ida flow is dominant (Verse 60). The sensual pleasures and liberation practices should be undertaken when Sushumna is flowing (Verse 61).
The Kundalini shakti is protected at three main points along the Sushumna by knots of energy. These knots are known as Granthis. Main granthis are Brahma, Vishnu, and Rudra.
Brahma granthi is located above Mooladhara while Vishnu and Rudra are present above Anahata and Ajna, respectively.
All granthis ensure safe and systematic awakening of kundalini shakti. Hence, each granthi has a spiritual significance. When the lowermost granthi breaks, the self-esteem and arrogance are left behind. By piercing Vishnu granthi mastery is obtained over emotions and by crossing the Rudra granthi inner wisdom is experienced in the form of bliss.
Pancha-pranas and Upa-pranas
The Prashnopanishad explains how the chief Prana functions through its five divisions - Prana, Apana, Samana, Udana, and Vyana collectively known as “Panchapranas” (T.U.;Ch3;Vs 5-6). The most powerful - Prana stays in thoracic region moving from left to right. It stimulates the function of respiration and absorbs the prana vayu.
The downward action of Apana which is present below the navel in pelvic region eliminates the waste and air through urinary, excretory, and reproductive systems.
In between Apana and Prana, in the upper abdominal region is the area of digestion, assimilation, and absorption which is under the control of Samana. It helps in assimilation and conservation of Prana. Philosophically, it is considered to be equalizing the Prana and Apana. Thus, yogis devised a practice of breath retention to develop Samana. The practice of Kumbhaka unites the Prana and Apana with Samana by reversing their natural directions of flow which increases the Samana. The blockages and disharmony in pranamaya kosha is reflected first in digestive system. Thus, Samana has been given the utmost importance in yogic theory since the efficient digestion is very much essential for sound mental and physical health.
The fourth is Udana which is located in the throat and facial region. All upward movements such as vomiting, belching, coughing, sneezing, hiccupping, all facial expressions, and thinking are due to this upward force.
The Vyana moves spirally around the entire body to coordinate the immune, nervous, and circulatory functions.
These five pranas give rise to five Upapranas– Kurma, Krikala, Devadatta, Naga, and Dhananjaya which take care of small body functions. Kurma controls the blinking of eyelids by which it also prevents the dust particles from entering the eyes. A good amount of sound sleep is necessary to maintain the normal functioning of Kurma. Krikala stimulates the hunger, thirst, and sneezing. Devadatta is responsible for sound sleep and induces yawning. Naga initiates belching, hiccupping, and vomiting reflex, thus removes the gases in digestive system. Dhananjaya influences the function of entire body mainly of heart.
Another instrument known as “Acu-Graph” is an acupuncture device which measures and interprets the meridians associated with Chinese acupuncture. Chinese tradition also perceives these meridians as energy paths.
| Techniques to Channelize the Prana
Now that the relation between body and prana is quite clear, let us take a step ahead to appreciate the close connection between breath, prana, and the mind. The mind is nothing but the series of thoughts. The mind just like a monkey jumps from one thought to another continuously. It always considers the choices, it always compares between things, but it cannot decide anything on its own. This wavering nature of mind takes away large amounts of prana reducing the total pranic reserve of the body. The breathing process is directly connected with the central nervous system. One key complement of central nervous system called as hypothalamus, regulates the emotional responses. Thus, the speed of thoughts in mind and all emotional upsurges cause erratic breathing. Breathing is a direct process through which the prana gets absorbed, and the pattern of our breathing gives rise to pranic vibrations. Thus, incorrect practices of breathing create disharmony in pranamaya kosha and the state of mind also influences the pranic movement directly. Negative thoughts lower the prana whereas positive thoughts enhance the prana.
After realizing this intricate relation between breathing, mind, and prana, yogis devised powerful practices such as Pranayama, Mudras, and Bandhas to strengthen the Pranamaya kosha.
The word Pranayama can be understood as the combination of Prana and Ayama. Ayama means to extend. Thus, it is a systematic tool through which the Prana can be extended, regulated and controlled so that it reaches to the inactive areas of the brain and body, increasing the sensitivity and awareness. Harmonious pranic flow helps in gaining mastery over the mind which is subtler than Prana. It is true that Prana can be approached from either gates breath or mind, but it is much easier to go from grosser to subtler, from tangible to intangible. Since respiration is partially voluntary, it gives us a freedom to consciously regulate and correct it. The advantage is that the regulated breathing will impact the mind directly as well as increase the storage of Prana in the required manner. The close connection between breathing and mind might have been observed by everybody. The agitated mind causes shallow and fast breathing while by simply directing the awareness to air movement at the tip of the nostril, thoughts slowly dissolve, the speed in the mind reduces.
Hatha Yoga Pradipika mentions eight types of Pranayama practices - Suryabhedan, Ujjayi, Sitkari, Sheetali, Bhastrika, Bhramari, Moorcha, and Plavini (Ch2; Vs 44).
The Pranayamas can also be classified as heating, cooling, and balancing practices. Suryabhedan, Ujjayi, and Bhastrika are considered as heating practices as the body temperature rises due to high metabolic rate. Sheetali, Sitkari, and Chandrabhedan give rise to cooling sensation in body by reducing the metabolism and thus are said to be cooling practices. Nadi Shodhana or alternate nostril breathing balances both the nostrils, two faculties of autonomic nervous system, and pranic flow through Ida-Pingala.
All the Pranayamas have purifying effects on nadis which is very essential for higher spiritual practices and general health of a person.
The Prana is a dynamic force and it leaves the pranic body through nine gateways called as Nava-dwaras. They are identified as Psyche, i.e., mind, eyes, ears, nose, mouth, toes and fingers, skin, genitals, and anus. However, the large amount of Prana is lost mainly through unnecessary mental activity. Since Prana leaves the kosha, the pranic reserve experiences imbalances. Yogis derived some practices which can reduce the wastage of Prana increasing the pranic reserve and its effective harmonious channelization. These practices are known as Mudras. They are always practiced using one of the Karmendriyas or Gyanendriyas. Staying in a particular mudra for longer time prevents the loss of Prana from the respective karmendriya or gyanendriya.
Bandhas are said to be neuromuscular locks, and they are practiced using body cavities and retaining the breath. This creates a strong force inside the cavity, such as a cyclone. Such a tremendous energy can break open the granthis for the smooth flow of kundalini through Sushumna. This is the spiritual significance of practicing bandhas. The three bandhas are Moolabandha which concentrates on lower abdominal cavity, Uddiyana Bandha working on abdominal cavity and Jalandhar on thoracic cavity. With regular practice of bandhas, the normal direction of pancha-pranas can be changed to reduce the congestion and depletion in pranic body. In annamaya kosha, bandhas create a negative pressure inside the cavity which produces suction in the blood vessels, thereby enhancing the blood flow to the organs in the vicinity.
I acknowledge Ms. Rasika Dandekar for the cooperation while preparing this manuscript.
Financial support and sponsorship
Conflicts of interest
There are no conflicts of interest.
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