Caring for our Senses
Agni is a Sanskrit word that means ‘fire’ and is often used to refer to digestive strength. Mental agni is our capacity to process (digest) information and emotions—our life experience. When agni is strong at this level, we comprehend what we experience and this yields understanding and wisdom. Just as when the physical body has a backlog of undigested food we feel heavy and sluggish, so, too the mental body can get full and heavy when we don’t take time to digest our life experience. When we routinely take in more than we can digest and assimilate mentally, we weaken our agni, and thereby our whole system.
This mental/emotional backlog results in a kind of toxicity–‘ama’–which clogs the mental pathways. When mental agni is impaired, our thinking becomes cloudy, our memory, faulty, our capacity to make meaning of our lives is weakened and we may experience insomnia, depression and anxiety.
Most of us know but don’t often consider the impact of the tens of thousands of sense impressions we ingest daily—some of them may be healing—but many of them are not. Additionally, we lead lives that are quite busy and full and so there is simply not enough space to process of all of those impressions/experiences. Its no wonder we often feel overwhelmed and exhausted. Our mental agni is overloaded. The simple act of allowing more space between activities–or saying “no” to “one more thing”on the to-do list–or turning off the radio on the commute home and allowing for some quiet time—is life changing. Meditation, or the art of sitting or lying with awareness of what is, is another way to cleanse the mind and reconnect to the ground of Being.
Take a moment now. Begin by paying attention to your breath—feel the sensation of the breath moving in through your nostrils and into your lungs, and then moving out again. Notice the sensation of your bottom on the chair, your feet on the floor, and observe sensation in your body. Notice any thoughts that arise. Do not think about your thoughts, just notice with awareness. Close your eyes for a while and continue.
According to yoga and ayurveda, the mental body—manovahasrotas—the mind-carrying channels—is seated in the heart and the sensory pathways with outlets at our sense organs—ears, skin, eyes, tongue and nose and the mind itself—and at the marmani (yogic acupuncture points). Learning to care for our senses and feed them “positive” impressions while limiting “negative” is a way we support and heal our mental body and bring peace into our lives—sattva. Just as we protect the delicate sensory apparatus of a newborn, we can become more aware of the effects of the world on our senses and incorporate simple practices to care for and protect these vital links to the outer world.
In the next few newsletters, I will offer some ways to care for each of the sense organs. Pick one or two practices and work them into your morning or evening routine and notice the effects. We’ll start this month with the ears.
How to Take Care (Love up) your Ears:
–Sitting with eyes closed, become aware of the sounds around you—off in the distance, nearby, and within you. Practice relaxing and opening your ears to the sounds.
–Rub your hands together and then cup your warm palms over your ears. Do this several times in the morning and at the end of the day.
–After bathing, insert your clean pinky finger into some warm sesame oil or coconut oil and lubricate the inside of your ear canal. Massage your outer ears with your fingers, pull on the outer lobes in all directions. (More advanced students can fill their ears with warm oil once a week, insert cotton, and leave in for 20 minutes before changing sides—heaven! When colds and flus are going around, you can use garlic oil for an antibacterial effect (available at local health food stores). NEVER fill your ears with oil with an active ear infection or during menses.
–Get in the habit of covering your ears with a warm hat or scarf when outdoors in the cold.
–Regularly, spend some time in Nature, listening to Natural sounds that please you.
–Listen to music that you enjoy and that soothes your sense of hearing.
–Listen to the silence, especially in the early morning.
Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti–Peace, Peace, Peace.
With Love and Care, Shannon