A.K.A Elizabeth Harper, Copyright 2004
Permission is hereby explicitly granted to distribute this without charge except to cover direct expenses of distribution, through any media, so long as this document is distributed in full, with credit given to the author.
|This writing attempts to explain how vital forces can be balanced and utilized in furtherance of recovery from any past trauma, to attain physical, mental, and spiritual healing and wholeness in the future, as well as to maintain those. It is to identify what pranas are out of balance, and seek restoration of balance, to enable fulfillment of the individuals’ dharma in this life.|
|Prana is a
Sanskrit word with numerous meanings. The common definition of it
is "life". It means far more than that! It means "breath" and
"vital force". Literally everything has some amount of
Prana. Some things have more than others. As an extreme
example, a human being clearly has more "life" or "vital force"
than does a rock. Yet, even within a certain category of entities,
some individuals have more than others. Some get more or less
Prana over time. A goal of this writing is to allow one to
increase the amount of Prana he or she has, as well as to
put everything in balance.
Traditionally, there are five of these "vital breaths". They are Prana, Apana, Samana, Udana, and Vyana. These five must be in correct balance, other wise dis-ease will occur within the spirit, mind, or body. A goal is to help us put ourselves at ease and allow us to attain wholeness along with our healing. One who is at ease will be much more effective in accomplishing any goal than one who is riddled with self doubt or self loathing.
First I will discuss how these got out of balance for someone who has been abused. As Vicki Peterson states in her "Healing Winds of Vata" article, "Abuse can literally scare the breath out of survivors." This is true both at the time when the trauma originally occurs as well as memories of the incident, dreams concerning the incident, or even present events that remind us of the trauma in some way. Among all of that, it is not difficult to see how and why the winds are frightened out of us on a continual basis, keeping these breaths out of balance.
The first breath is Prana. It is the "upward moving" air current. It governs our neck, the cervical area of the spine, our throat, our mouths, our vocal apparatus, the respiratory system, and movements of our upper digestive systems. The seat of Prana is the heart. It is no wonder that when we are frightened, a term used is "my heart skipped a beat". Most victims of abuse are taught by the abuser or abusers NOT to talk about the abuse. Many were threatened with more severe bodily harm or even death if anyone were told. Often the abuser would grab the victims' throats or hush the victims by putting their hand over their mouths, or in other ways stop respiration and speech or crying. Afterward, the victims did it to themselves by restraining themselves from talking about the abuse, or even by becoming quiet and reserved, and limiting all forms of speech. It is of little wonder that sometimes this becomes manifest in upset stomachs, or in more severe cases gastric reflux or ulcers.
There are non-Yogic means of restoring Prana. Ways that can help include crying, screaming, yelling, or singing. With the first three, it is helpful to ensure privacy and solitude while doing them. People who yelled and screamed at us were no doubt trying to achieve wholeness themselves unsatisfactorily, and only succeeding in perpetrating more harm and adding to their karmic debt. Singing you may do in private or you may wish to do in front of others.
Various forms of Pranayama, or breath control, or deliberate breathing can restore Prana. The simplest Pranayama is to lie down comfortably, and watch the inhales and exhales, and to keep them steady. By steady I mean to always be inhaling or exhaling. If the breath is held between these two, one is not breathing and Prana is stopped. If intrusive memories invade our minds, it helps to envision the memory being exhaled.
Another thing that at least I did years ago with these hurts and feelings concerning them was to hold them in. First I told myself, "It's not that bad. It's worse than this in most families." As such, I felt I had no right to complain about it, even to myself, at least consciously. So, it blocked the Apana.
The second Prana is Apana is the downward-moving air current of Prana. Apana governs the lumbar region of the spine, excretion, the organs of generation, the lower portion of the digestive system. The seat of the Apana is the anus. One function of Apana is to eliminate those things we have which are not good for us or no longer useful for us to keep. Dysfunctions of Apana may manifest as pain in the lower back, difficulty with excretory functions, sexual dysfunction of any type, difficulties with the organs of regeneration, difficulties with procreation, or diseases or malfunctioning of the colon or anus. Sexual abuse of some types may even directly cause some of these diseases or cause malfunctioning of some of these organs. Non-physical manifestations may cause us to hang on to everything we encounter, physically, mentally, or emotionally. It also leads to compulsions and obsessions.
The third Prana is Samana. Samana balances Prana and Apana. It governs the thoracic region of the spine, excretion of digestive juices. Its purpose is to discriminate between that which is needed and things which are not good for us or no longer useful. It governs the small intestines. The seat of Samana is the region of the navel. Dysfunctions of Samana could be manifest with thorasic region back problems, problems with the digestive organs or their secretions, it distinguishes between friend and enemy. It is very important for trust as well as feeling safe or unsafe in any given environment. Trauma and abuse victims never really can feel safe, and survivors have trouble ascertaining safety in any new situation. Continued difficulties resulting from Samana imbalance would be difficulties in making choices between things which are needed and things which are bad for us or no longer useful. It's a manifestation of it to be someone who hordes everything as well as someone who continually makes poor choices of friends. Both show a lack of discrimination.
The fourth Prana is Udana. Udana controls the swallowing of foods, and taking an individual to sleep. Udana is seated in the throat. It's region is above the larynx, and it controls all functions which take place in the skull – whether conscious or unconscious. Udana is also the psychic force that keeps our spirit in our bodies, and also releases the astral body from the physical body at the time of death. Dysfunctions of Udana could be manifest through any dysfunction of the larynx, sinus problems, sleep disorders, any and all mental disorders including depression, cognitive and memory disorders, and problems using one's intelligence or intellectual abilities. Other manifestations could be manifest either through dissociating inappropriately or feeling "trapped" inside the body and unable to access the astral body. At or near the time of death, this could also manifest as either the spirit leaving the body before death or in having the spirit "trapped" and unable to move on. This could be one reason for the manifestation of ghosts.
The fifth Prana is Vyana. Vyana performs the circulation of blood, controls the voluntary and involuntary movements of the muscles, joints, bones, and surrounding anatomical structures, as well as to keep the body in an erect position by generating unconscious reflexes in the back. Vyana is all pervading and moves throughout the body. As Vyana has no identifiable seat, it is difficult to name it as the problem or even a problem. Possible manifestations of Vyana being out of balance would be a generalized feeling of being unwell, physically, mentally, or spiritually. Anything they try to accomplish is likely to produce little or no results. It is quite likely such a person would be labeled as having hypochondria, and brushed off with that. It could manifest itself more concretely with problems involving circulation, muscle spasms, problems of the joints, problems with the skeletal structure or problems with one's posture. Certainly, it can be various combinations of these.
It is easy to see the effect of having the Pranas out of balance. Quite simply, everything can go awry. Balancing all of these is certainly no easy feat! Of course, if the balance has manifested itself as a physical ailment of some type, it cannot be ignored. Control of the problem must be immediate in many cases. Consult an appropriate physician for control of the problem for as long as it exists. Likewise, if it manifests itself as a mental ailment, seek appropriate treatment for that disorder for its duration. If it manifests as a spiritual problem, seek a person knowledgeable in your own spiritual path for guidance. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika has a few directions for this. In 1:48, it says, "Assuming the Padmasana posture and having placed the palms one upon another, fix the chin firmly upon the breast and contemplating upon Brahman, frequently contract the anus and raise the Apana upward. By a similar contraction of the throat, force the Prana downwards. By this he attains unequalled knowledge through the favor of Kundalini (which is roused by this process)." These instructions are for one who has the Pranas (approximately) in balance, or at least equally out of balance. For one who has an insufficiency or excess of one or the other, more or all of the time should be spent in forcing the Prana either up or down. The recommended posture for this exercise is Padmasana, or full lotus position. I do not recommend this posture, or the other posture directions in this writing. Any posture will do, so long as the mind is focused on the divine, the Self, or wholeness and goodness.
Unfortunately, there are not similarly direct instructions for balancing the other Pranas. This is partly because as the list progresses, these Pranas become more and more subtle. The Samkhya Karika tells us both that self-knowledge allows the self to become at ease, standing apart as a spectator, and through knowledge there is freedom, and through knowledge one releases themselves for the sake of the Self.
This all sounds good, but what does it mean? For one thing it means that knowledge is the way out? Knowledge of what though? Clearly, it is not just knowledge of every specific detail of the trauma or every specific incident. It is valuable to know from where the damage comes, but it is useless for finding a way out. Indeed, one way that many survivors of any trauma attempt to solve the issue is by somehow recreating the incidents in some way as to allow themselves to feel under control of it, and hoping that they will no longer see the original incident as abusive or traumatic. Not only is that bound to fail, it may even create further abuse or trauma. That's the last thing any survivor needs or can use. It's another problem with Samana, or the lack of discrimination between that which is needed and that which is not helpful, useful and has become detrimental.
This knowledge needs to be of present conditions as well as future goals and desires. It is the ability to objectively see and assess the current situation, decide why or how it is undesirable, setting a goal or vision of how the person would like it to be, and finding and selecting a path to meet that goal. For instance, a person who was abused by an alcoholic parent may find that as an adult he or she chooses alcoholic partners and other friends. These significant others and so-called friends continue to abuse the person as an adult. It is familiar to the person to love someone with an alcohol abuse problem, so it should not be surprising that the person gravitates to the familiar. Also, it is possible or even likely that they continue to have these types of relationships as adults to create an illusion of control over the situation. More than that, there is always the dream that the person will somehow change and it will all be better this time. This is precisely why victims of spousal abuse will leave their abuser only to return to them on empty promises and beliefs that the abuser has changed. Clearly, an abuser can change! This change certainly requires a lot of time, soul-searching, and probably therapy from a qualified psychotherapist to take place. However, with nothing having changed, it is unlikely that anything has changed! The victim returns, only to repeat the cycle of abuse over and over. This is all because of lack of knowledge of assessing the current situation and setting a reasonable path to attain that goal. Assuming the victim would like to stay in a relationship with the abuser, but have it become a loving relationship without abuse, a reasonable path should be selected. Perhaps such a path would be to have the abuser enroll in a program for abusers who wish to change as well as couples and individual psychotherapy. Evaluate in a year. In the mean time, all contact would occur in a safe, supervised environment of some type. In this way, the abuser could really change as well as the dynamics of the relationship so as to allow a new relationship to form that no longer has abuse of one of the parties as a component. This is where knowledge would come in. Clearly it is not sufficient to know all about the abuse, or when and how it happens. If that were the case, it would be sufficient to avoid doing things which set the abuser off. Many victims of spousal abuse have tried using that form of knowledge, failed miserably, and paid sometimes with their lives. This could be similarly applied to any sort of trauma from the past. It does not have to be recreated in the present or in the future!
Problems with the mental aspects of Udana also require knowledge. One typical way Udana can become out of balance, often in conjunction with Vyana becoming out of balance is through verbal abuse. Gandhi said that long after broken bones heal, the harm inflicted by harsh words goes on forever. Indeed, he was right! Long after those inflicting the verbal abuse are gone away, their hurtful words are replayed over and over. As such, our minds are telling us the same things our abusers did, and we even send the problem from our mind all throughout our bodies, minds, hearts, and souls.
In this case, knowledge and understanding may also help. We can look at the person who verbally or emotionally abused us and ask ourselves just why it is that we choose to believe that person rather than believe anything else that seems to say the opposite? Is this what the Self says is true? Or, we can look into the reasons why the person said what they did. Was that person stressed, overburdened, or perhaps mentally ill himself or herself? It is almost certain that person was also a victim or survivor of verbal abuse, and that is how they knew to communicate. There can be any number of reasons, but it most likely had nothing to do with the victim! It becomes a matter of discrimination between truth and falsehood.
As Eleanor Roosevelt said, "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." She was quite right. Yet, verbal abuse victims and survivors do this routinely! The reason for that is that years of abuse, particularly starting at an early age and from people someone trusts to take care of them in all ways, the child has no choice but to internalize it. Hey, for a baby or a young child, "Mother" is Goddess! She provides our every need, or fails to. We are completely dependent upon her and others for care. We simply could not take care of ourselves! Anything we were told by these caregivers after we were capable of understanding, or even before just by the tone of voice. Even a tiny infant can tell a harsh word from a soft, loving one.
There was no choice as an infant or young child, or even as a teenager with years of abuse behind us, and still dependent upon those who inflicted the abuse. As adults though, we can consciously make another choice. We can use knowledge to understand why we have this message, who gave it to us, why they gave it and under what circumstances, and go from there. It is still possible to effectively complete our dharma, even with a slow, inert start.
With any sort of harsh words, criticism, or verbal abuse there is a single item of self defense that often helps. That is to honestly ask ourselves if there is any truth to what this person is saying? In many cases, there is not one shred of truth behind it. If that is the case, shrug it off. Whatever said was much more about the speaker than it was the person to whom it was said.
What if there is some truth to it? The first thing to ask is whether or not it is something you want to change. Everyone is different, and different people have different personality traits that they value and some they abhor. There may be a huge value difference between the speaker and the person to whom the harsh words are being told. If you're being "accused" of something in yourself or part of your personality you value, leave it go. You may wish to re-evaluate how close you want this person in your life if values clash significantly on a regular basis, or are over issues that you consider major. Perhaps it is something you don't really like about yourself. Can you change it? If you cannot change it, or if the changes would be worse than the particular trait in question, it's like having someone chastise you for your eye color. You can't really change your eye color. You could wear colored contacts. You may not want to, or you may not be able to. Nonetheless, it's not a personal failing of any type. It's part of what defines "you". Perhaps you need to find a way to make peace with whatever it is and accept it for what it is, and work around any limitations it causes you. Many of these differences not only create limitations but the have their advantages. Consider those too. Also, consider how you could make better use of the trait. If personal and societal acceptance of individuals could not be changed so as to allow for acceptance of differences, darker-skinned people would still be searching for the perfect skin-lightening cream, and people like Hitler would be considered wise in their declaration that "the Aryan race" is superior to any other. That is utter nonsense! Everyone is dear to Siva for who and what they are. An injury to anyone or anything is an injury to Him. This includes an injury to yourself too! You are Him.
Some changes can be a LOT of work. In that case, the question becomes one of are you willing to make the change? What would be the advantage and what would be the disadvantage? From there, make the decision.
Alternatively, the criticism may be over something you are trying to change, and the complaint is that the change has not been instantaneous. The question then becomes one of how are you trying, and are you making the change in the quickest and most advantageous way that it is realistic? The issue or problem almost certainly did not just appear overnight, and neither is it going to go away overnight. If they wish something beyond your capabilities, they are either venting their own frustrations, or they really are being cruel to you.
One problem is that sometimes it is difficult to tell whether there is any truth to it or not. The person might be venting their own issues, or it might truly be something you need to change or work toward changing or controlling. Especially if the person is close, it is possible they see something that you don't see, and no one else has been both close enough to you to see or has some sort of knowledge to identify. I've personally brushed something off someone had told me that later turned out to be absolutely true, but no one else had noticed or talked about. It is often useful to check the accusation out with someone else who knows you well, if there even is such a person who is capable of it. Everyone makes mistakes in deciding which category it's in.
Perfectionism, or intolerance of one's own mistakes or failures is another trait particularly of adults who were abused as children. When a person realizes they've made a mistake, they either cannot and will not acknowledge the mistake, much less try to correct it. Other people, when they realize they've made a mistake, will tell themselves all of the things they were told as children about how worthless and what a failure they are or are sure to be. This is quite counterproductive! If you are feeling how bad of a human being you are for making the mistake, you are unlikely to be able to effectively correct it. It will be your own karma at stake if you fail to fulfill your dharma.
It's part of "black and white thinking". One either thinks they or someone or something else is all good, or they switch to thinking it's all bad. Very few things are completely one or the other. Almost everyone and everything has some good and some bad components. If you make a mistake, you just prove that you are human. One can even make the whole problem worse. When criticized and feeling bad, it is often tempting to pass the whole thing on to someone else. If someone verbally abused you, it may be tempting to abuse someone or something else. The abuse may not be the same kind. It can remain verbal abuse as it gets passed on, including mental and emotional abuse. Or, it can change forms. It can include physical or sexual abuse of this other person or thing. If so tempted, please DON'T. Do what you need to do to avoid it! Get away from any potential victims, call a hotline, see a therapist on an emergency basis, or do whatever is necessary! If you are an abuse survivor who also comes to see themselves as a perpetrator of abuse, the whole issue of survival gets harder. The karmic consequences of abusing an innocent person are enormous! It's a lot easier to keep telling yourself what a horrible excuse for a human being you are when you can point to a time when you abused someone or something else. You will have to pay for your actions later, in some way. It doesn't have to be a direct repayment to a person you injured, or even to anyone who is hurt in the same or any way.
An acceptable alternative is to get an inanimate object that you can take out these frustrations upon. Hitting a plastic bean-bag chair with an old tennis racket works wonders! So do punching bags at the gym. In fact, any sort of strenuous physical exercise will tend to create an acceptable outlet for these feelings. If you just need to yell and scream, do it in a car by yourself, with the windows closed while driving. Or, go to a remote location and do it. Another possibility is to go to a sporting event and yell good things or bad things at or about the participants. Or, you may be able to modify the need to verbalize it. Singing helps many people.
Regardless of what you do, do not keep the imbalance to Udana that has been put into your head. Especially, do not keep it long enough for the toxin to become systemic and create another imbalance in Vyana. Ever hear the term that something was said, and it is just "eating away at" someone? Udana has just turned into a Vyana imbalance. From there, all sorts of physical ailments arise. You don't want to do that to yourself.
Just talking about Vyana imbalances, now, it's a matter of knowing the mental problems and their limitations, as well as identifying any possible benefits of such abnormality. For instance, one with memory problems could learn to make lists and reminders of things that are important to remember or do. One with bipolarity could learn to make use of the high energy that comes with hypomania to accomplish a particular goal. While using the hypomania, they could make choices to diminish the level of hypomania such as sleeping at regular times, rather than the very tempting reverse of that which would increase the levels of hypomania. Also, one could use this knowledge to realize that goals and ideas one has while hypomanic are not realistic and to put off making important decisions. Another point of knowledge would be the hypomanic propensity to spend money, and either put off any major expenditures or to decide in advance what the spending limit is on any particular day. Want a shopping spree? Okay! You can buy anything you want to buy for $5. Take a $5 bill, go to the store or mall, and spend or squander it any way you choose. Leave the credit cards at home and have fun.
At the same time, the person would realize that depression is another fact, and could work with that. It's time to take it easy, take care of oneself, rest the body, mind, and spirit. Be gentle with yourself. There is no benefit in performing austerities that further damage your body or mind. Torturing yourself, especially realizing that the divine is within you, is not allowed. However, if depressed, regular sleep patterns are also important. Excessive sleep can exasperate depression, causing it to worsen or lead to suicidal ideation. Even if someone becomes suicidal, one can use the knowledge that they are severely depressed to know that the problems they perceive are not real, they are not permanent, and find another solution to the problem. This is a matter to be seen through the eyes of Pursha, or Pure Consciousness, and discriminate between reality and maya. The person can, and most likely should, seek help from a qualified professional especially if the idea is more than fleeting. It's a matter of knowledge of where these ideas and thoughts come from. Depression may also result from an imbalance in Vyana, with or without the imbalance in Udana. Depressions may result from the physical problems from a Vyana imbalance, or the physical problems may result from the depression caused by an Udana imbalance. One way that can happen is for the problems with Udana to cause the person to not take adequate care of himself or herself, thus causing major physical problems. Stress itself may also cause the systemic physical problems, or lead to an imbalance of Vyana.
Similarly, other obsessions, compulsions, or desires to do things can be evaluated and a decision reached whether or how to act upon these desires. What is there a drive to do? One has to be introspective enough to find the knowledge of where this desire comes, its probable consequences, and discrimination of whether those consequences, both mundane and karmic, are wanted or are not wanted. From there, make a rational decision accordingly on whether not to proceed with the action.
All of this is putting limits on yourself, and reasonably deciding where those limits serve to maximize reaching one's goals. Deciding these limits, of course, is for each individual to decide within the scope of his or her ethics.
Vyana is the most nebulous of all five of these Pranas. It is all pervasive. Seek holistic approaches to addressing the problems that arise. If there are definitive problems with the circulatory or muscular/skeletal structures, seek appropriate treatments for those problems for as long as they exist.
There are suggestions from Samkhya to balance these Pranas. These are listed as the Yamas and Niyamas, or abstentions and observances. The Yamas, or abstentions, are listed as:
The Niyamas, observances, paraphrased, are listed as:
The Yamas, or restrictions, paraphrased, are listed as:
Rephrasing these so that they make sense for any given individual could be quite a challenge. Yet, it is worthwhile. You do not have to adhere to my ethics nor do I have to adhere to yours. That is as it should be. These are extremely individualized! To discover your own takes much discernment and interaction with the Self. These must be a list of things which you value and see as worthwhile to do. Some time spent in discerning what should or should not be done is invaluable. For many people, discussing these matters with another on the same or similar spiritual paths could be very helpful. It's partly a matter of defining your ethics and committing to adhere to them. It is refraining from feeling guilty when you should not. It's an avoidance of shame, which is feeling that you are something wrong, as opposed to having done something wrong. If you can honestly say you have not violated your own ethics and are still feeling bad, you are feeling shame. Shame is counterproductive to fulfillment of your dharma. Seek the Self and Siva for guidance on the matter.
Another way of looking at this is through 3 of the Koshas, or sheaths as defined by Samkhya. Looking through any of these sheaths will allow one to get the view of Purusa on the matter it governs. Pranamaya is the sheath of the physical layer. Are the perceived physical ailments a matter for a physician, or a matter of the vital breaths being out of balance? If you know that, you can treat it accordingly! If Vyana is out of balance, it will not help to run from doctor to doctor, trying any number of medications, and being labeled a hypochondriac! If the problem is within Samana, a person may not be able to distinguish if it is physical, mental, emotional, with a vital breath, if it's a personal failing, or what. The best answer here is to look through the eyes of the Self and see what It objectively sees. Purusha is a universal observer; It does not act. You're going to have to do the "legwork" yourself. Same with Manomaya, the sheath of the emotions. Are these perceived problems in some way attached to an emotion? Or, conversely, do you have some emotional need to keep them? Is the problem itself an emotion? Again, see it for what it is, and act accordingly. Jnanamaya is the sheath of knowledge. What do you know, what should you know, and how does that put itself together? Are you acting on "knowledge" that falsely came from an emotion? One that came from a memory and the original premises were faulty or no longer apply? What happened, and how should you best proceed? Again, this is a use for Samana, or for Purusha if Samana is not to be trusted.
Understanding what is wrong, and putting the wrongs right, will allow you to maximize physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health. Happiness goes along with that.
Once you have seen through all of these Koshas, the 5th and final kosha is Anandamaya – the sheath of Bliss. Here, you identify with Purusa, the Self, and Siva! It is undifferentiated and permanent! You retain discrimination among what is causing what, and how to correct the problem. Often, knowledge, both mundane and spiritual, is the key to the problem being corrected. For further information on Koshas, see the discussion on the Samkhya page.
Living according to your own ethics, and treating yourself, other beings, your Lord Siva gently and with due respect is the key here. Everything is Siva; however you are treating anyone or anything is how you are treating Him. It's about consistent direction for yourself, and to always work and move the same direction and toward the same goals. It's about being faithful to your own beliefs and not acting in a manner that offends you. It's about ensuring your own contentment, as well as helping others to achieve their own contentment in their own ways. It's beyond living with an eye on karmic consequences. It is creating for yourself a situation in which the karmic good is what appears to be the most enjoyable.
Live well. Enjoy your life. If you don't, no one else will.