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MIND MOVEMENT CHANNELS (Manowaha Srotas)

The manowaha srotas system is a controversial theory currently receiving attention from Ayurvedic scholars. Translated as “mind movement channels” (Garg, 1996), this theoretical system claims that consciousness pervades every cell of the body through the medium of a subtle channel system, governed by the mind. These channels carry prana and form a network affecting all aspects of emotional and physical health. “Prana is the active principle within marman, with the potential to influence emotional and physical health” (Thatte, interview, 5/10/98). The relationship between the mind, body and soul are referred to as “the tripod of life” in the text Charaka Samhita (trans Trikamji, 1981) and the “mind movement channels” (manowaha srotas) are believed to be the key to the communication of all channel systems (srotas) within the human body. This Ayurvedic model of the subtle movements of prana, which originate from mental and emotional states, resembles the Chinese idea of a qi network of energy channels and the traditional Chinese idea that the mind and emotions play a major role in the physical health of the individual (Neijing Su Wen, Ch 39, trans Lu, 1978).

The classical texts concerning the “mind movement channels” become highly technical within the paradigm of Ayurvedic theory. However, several points were found to be within the parameters of this research:

All channels (srotas) in the human body are divided into two types, visible and invisible.

  • The visible srotas include arteries, veins and any structure which carries substances.
  • The “mind movement channels” (manowaha srotas) are invisible. According to contemporary Ayurvedic sources, they include the impulses that are conducted along afferent and efferent nerve fibres and are believed to support consciousness (Garg, interview, 6/10/98).
  • The invisible manowaha srotas can utilise the visible srotas, such as the intestinal tract, as the need may be, according to time of day and season (Manickavasagam, 1993).
  • Arterial blood in the human body constitutes one extra marman (dhamani marman) because of its association with the heart and its potential vitiation by the doshas. Therefore the total Ayurvedic marman count can be estimated at 108 (trans Thatte, 1994).
  • The heart is the “seat” of consciousness because it forms the centre of the manowaha srotas (Bhela Sharira 7.3 and Charaka Nidana 7:4, trans Manohara, personal communication, 10/3/00).
  • The heart is affected by pathogenesis when the “mind channels” are disturbed, and the power of thinking becomes deranged as blood (dhamani marman) is vitiated by the doshas (Bhela Chikitsa 8.10)

According to interview data, Ayurvedic texts explain three important features of the relationship between the “mind movement channels” and “the tripod of life” (mind, body and soul) as follows:

  1. The mind (manas) and the intellect (chitta) are associated with consciousness and are energetically placed in the heart region (Charaka Sharira 7.8; Susruta Sharira 4.34). The heart is therefore believed to be the “seat of consciousness”.
  2. The cognitive mind is associated with sense organs in the head region and is located between the head and the palate (Bhela Samhita Chikitsa 8.2)
  3. The mind is connected with the movement of all body parts and the bodily manifestation of consciousness: “The mind has channels to move to the seat of the senses” (Charaka Vimana 5.7)

Unlike Chinese medicine, Ayurveda does not treat consciousness through the heart channels, but rather, through the mind. The text Charaka Samhita places importance on the employment of nasal medication (nasya) for mental/emotional disturbances, however there is no specific medication recommended for “disturbed consciousness of the heart” (hrdayashuddhi) (Manohara, private communication, 7/3/00). Chinese acupuncture, on the other hand, has effective protocols for the treatment of mental (Shen) disturbances, using the heart and pericardium channels, as well as calming the emotional states which relate to other organs that can disturb the Shen

The practitioner and historian, Manohara, paraphrased the commentary by Chakrapani on the classical text Charaka Chikitsa 9.5:

It is not so clear what the text means by “manovahasrotas”. It could mean the ten blood channels (dhamanis) arising from the heart, or the entire body as such. Elsewhere, he [Chakrapani] admits his inability to speak on such topics, probably because he did not practice Yoga (Charaka Vimana 5.8). Yet, in another place, he states that consciousness is all pervading, both inside and outside the body. Spirit (consciousness) is described not in terms of its presence, but only in terms of degrees of manifestation. In its purest aspect, it manifests in the heart when the mind is stilled. It manifests as intelligence through the mind in the head, and as awareness in different degrees in other parts of the body. (Manohara, personal communication, 10/3/00).

Ayurvedic practitioners believe that the mind is an important instrument in manifesting consciousness, while the heart (hridaya) is said to be the seat of consciousness and the ultimate recipient of vitiated doshas: “Thought, the origin of mind, is located in the heart” (Bhela Chikitsa l8.3, trans Manohara, private communication, 6/3/00).

The Chinese metaphor for the heart, the “Emperor of the kingdom”, is elucidated in the classical text, the Huang Di Neijing Suwen: “The heart is the monarch from whom the spirits are derived” (trans Lu, 1978, p 57). The Huang Di Neijing Lingshu Chapter 8, refers to the heart network channels as xin xi:

[Xin xi] is all the connections and networks of animation by which the heart is linked to the whole body, and especially used for the direct influence of the heart as the master on the very inner part of the vitality in the other zang [solid organ]. It is a kind of organisation of the mental, psychological and spiritual life (Larre and Rochat de la Vallee; 1995, p 131).

These classical Indian and Chinese images of the heart as a “house” and “ruler” of consciousness reflect a common view. The Ayurvedic idea of the “mind movement channels” (manowaha srotas) and the Chinese model of the “heart channels” (xin xi) recognise a life force, that of prana and qi respectively, which is believed to circulate and support life functions. The early texts of Ayurveda reflect the view that ten heart channels (dharmani) originate in the heart (Manohara, personal communication, 3/3/00). This idea is consistent with the Ma Wang Di manuscripts (186 BC), reportedly the oldest extant texts of Chinese medicine, in which it is said “the meridians all originate independently from the heart, instead of being an interconnected system for the circulation of qi” (Denmei, 1990, p 112). It is therefore assumed that the heart, prana circulation and the marman have an intimate relationship which resembles the Chinese idea of the heart, qi and jingluo (channel network) or the xin xi (heart channels). Certainly, the Indian concept of spirit (atma) is comparable to the Chinese idea of “divine spirit” (Shen) as “the guarantor of the unity of a person’s existence” (Larre and Rochat de la Vallee, 1995, p 174).