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Samkhya is one of the oldest orthodox schools of Hindu Philosophy.

Dating back to approximately 350 C.E., it predates Buddhism.

Samkhya translates as “empirical.”  It does not believe that anything is created or destroyed.

It states that the soul and matter are two distinct properties,  Purusha (spirit) and Prakriti (matter). Everything in the universe is made up of these two properties.

Samkhya believes the soul lives on, even when the body dies.

It also states that self-awareness and self-knowledge are the path to liberation. They come from within and not from external factors. 

Samkhya can be traced to the Rig Veda, the Upanishads, and The Bhagavad Gita.

Of the six Hindu schools of philosophy, Samkhya is the most widely recognized for its method of scientific inquiry. 

Keep reading to learn about Samkhya and the factors contributing to this rich and multifaceted philosophy. 

About Samkhya Philosophy 

Maharishi Kapila is the founder of Samkhya; however, because none of his writings survived, he is not well known.

It is said that Kapila lived around 500 C.E. and that Siddhartha studied his work before becoming enlightened and establishing Buddhism. 

Samkhya is dualistic in that it attributes the two properties as spirit and body, whereas Western dualism supports the split between the body and mind. 

The fundamental principles of Samkhya are: 

  • Dualistic nature between spirit (consciousness) Purusha and matter (nature) Prakriti.
  • The soul and material body are unique entities in all living things, from the individual to the cosmos.
  • Purusha (spirit/consciousness) is all-pervasive, eternal, unchanging, awareness, and masculine. 
  • Prakriti (matter/nature) constantly changes and consists of the three gunas. It is feminine. 
  • The three gunas are Rajas (passion, fire, action), Tamas (inertia, earth, darkness), and Sattva (truth, light, harmony). 
  • Prakriti attracts Purusha. Once Purusha directs the focus (consciousness) on Prakriti (nature), the Buddhi (spiritual awareness) is born. 
  • The mind is composed of the Manas (sense), ahamkara (ego), and Buddhi (consciousness). 
  • When we take in information, it goes through the Manas (senses), and the ahamkara determines if it’s dangerous or safe. Then, the Buddhi analyzes it. 

The Gunas

The Gunas express the three modes of energy present in all things.

Sattva – neutral | Rajas – positive | Tamas – negative 
Each guna expresses wildly diverse properties. The context, past experiences, and conditioning play a role in determining which guna is strongest and where we need to add/take away to create balance. 
All patterns of energy move through cycles.

What is working in one moment may not be relevant in the next. This is the energy exchange within the gunas; they consistently cycle and move. It is a constant dance.

Learn About the Gunas.

The Chakras

The chakras are a system designed to connect the physical with the subtle energy patterns and programming we experience within and all around us.

Though they cannot be perceived on a physical level, the chakras affect the body’s major systems, including the skeletal, muscular, circulatory, respiratory, glandular, endocrine, reproductive, digestive, nervous, immune, lymphatic, excretory, and integumentary. 

The chakras influence and inspire how we breathe, think, behave, feel, act, and value. 

Based on their location in the body, the chakras hold unique characteristics and properties that allow us to identify blockages, imbalances, disease, and excess.

Your Guide to the 7 Chakras and How to Harmonize the Flow of Energy.

The Koshas

The koshas are similar to the chakras because they are gateways to better understand ourselves. 

By working with the koshas through identifying what they are, you may bring more awareness to the unseen, subtle realm within. 

Each kosha represents a specific layer of our being and may help us shift our attention from the obvious physical realm to the intuitive, bliss-body realm where divine consciousness resides. 

By focusing on the different layers of our existence, we have the capacity to create more ease, balance, bliss, joy, and compassion in our lives. 

In the yoga practice, we are constantly working to attune our focus to create more space and harmony for ourselves and, ultimately, those around us.

Exploration of the 5 Yoga Koshas of Vedantic Philosophy

The Vayus

The vayus represent how prana moves through the body. 

Vayu translates as wind or that which flows.

It encompasses the energetic force required to move in a specific direction to control and enhance the body and its functions. 

The Pancha Pramas are the five main vayus of focus, though the ancient yogis noted 49 unique vayus in the human body. 

The five main vayus are:

  • Apana Vayu – downward motion – Earth
  • Vyana Vayu – circulation – Water 
  • Samana Vayu – assimilation – Fire   
  • Prana Vayu – crystallization – Air 
  • Udana Vayu – upward motion – Ether

► Your Guide to the 5 Vayus and the Vital Energies of Yoga.

The Five Great Elements

The Five Great Elements are known as the Pancha Bhuta. 

Pancha means ‘five,’ and Bhuta means ‘material element’ and expresses the necessary components that give birth to the cosmos.

The first three elements are material: earth, water, and fire. They are easier to identify as they are part of the material realm.

The last two elements, air and ether, are more nuanced.

As we progress from the first to the fifth element, from the gross to the subtle, we shift from the ego ‘i’ identity to collective consciousness.

Each element has its own characteristics:

  • Earth: grounding, slow, stabilizing, boundaries, firm, container.
  • Water: fluid, adaptable, creative, flowing, cooling, soothing. 
  • Fire: hot, strong, transformative, mutable, passionate, destructive. 
  • Air: mobile, subtle, gentle, life-sustaining, dry, cold, vital. 
  • Ether: omnipresent, light, expansion, dreaminess, imaginative. 

Express the Power of the 5 Great Elements with Yoga and Meditation.

The Bandhas

Bandha translates from Sanskrit as ‘lock’ or ‘seal.’ 

Physically, the bandhas support our physical and physiological well-being. Energetically, the bandhas assist in directing Prana (energy) in the body. 

The bandhas work against gravity to draw the Prana (energy) upwards around the surrounding tissues. 

The three main bandhas discussed in yoga are:

  1. Mula Bandha – pelvic floor muscles
  2. Uddiyana Bandha – diaphragm muscles
  3. Jalandhara Bandha – throat muscles 

 

Other bandhas in the body, such as Hasta Bandha (hands) and Pada Bandha (foot), are used to prevent injury and bring awareness to that location of the body. 

Understanding how each bandha is used and why we work with them in yoga is one way to bring awareness to the physical and subtle properties.

5 Key Yoga Anatomy Insights on Bandhas, Breath, and Posture.

Mantras

A mantra is a powerful tool to focus your mind and attention on a specific word or phrase. Chanting mantras helps you release positive energies into the universe.

Sanskrit is the oldest language of India. It considers how vibration affects the body, so the sounds drawn together are placed in a specific way to activate a particular sensation.

The mantras can be seen as medicine as they engage the body on a cellular level. 

The sounds affect the energetic body, the Pranic body; they are a medicinal language that connects us to the vital body on an unconscious level. Sound affects us; it is divine speech and a way to express the human spirit. 

Mantras may decrease stress and anxiety and calm the mind and body.

Mantras are shown to slow down the sympathetic nervous system into the parasympathetic nervous system—meaning your body moves from fight or flight mode into rest and digest mode, where you feel more calm and creative.

10 Powerful and Simple Mantras to Encourage Change 

Mudras

A mudra can be used as a ceremonial symbol and clear energy pathways.

When the pathways are clear, we have more energy and clarity. In yoga, we call the energetic channels Nadis. The Nadis of the body carry the Prana (life force, vitality). 

Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism feature the use of mudras through symbolic iconography.

Yoga and meditation include mudras to move the Prana and generate a specific sensation or outcome.

Anjali mudra is one of the more common gestures in yoga and meditation. It involves bringing the palms together in prayer at the center of the heart space.

Anjali means ‘to offer’ and symbolizes the merger of the right and left hemispheres.

It is the convergence of the poles and is performed to honor where we are in the present moment as a salute. With palms pressed together and fingertips pointing upwards, Anjali mudra is often performed at the beginning or end of a yoga class.

Your Guide to Using Yoga Mudras.