American Institute of Vedic Studies

Yogic Neuroscience: Developing the Soma of the Brain and Beyond

Soma is part of a vast cosmic symbolism in Vedic thought. It cannot be reduced to a single plant as some scholars have proposed. For every Agni or form of the cosmic fire there is a corresponding Soma, water or nectar. In the human being we have access to special powers of Agni or higher perception and special powers of Soma or states of samadhi. The ultimate Soma is Ananda or the bliss of pure consciousness.

The brain can secrete powerful chemicals that can bring about extraordinary changes in body and mind. While drugs can be used to substitute for these, the brain’s own chemical functioning can be transformed directly through cultivating a higher awareness and deeper prana. For this to occur the mind must become silent and the brain merely serve to reflect it. This can connect brain function to the subtle body and chakra system.

The brain’s secretions can be influenced by special foods, herbs, impressions, breathing exercises, mantras, meditation, and the whole range of Yoga and Ayurveda practices, working through nature rather than outside of it. Cultivating the ecology of the brain at a yogic level is central to health and well-being for the twenty-first century and its continuing high tech developments. It aids in psychological immunity and resistance to stress overall.

 


Soma, the Nectar of Pure Consciousness

 

What if the brain could secrete a fluid that could renew, rejuvenate, and revitalize body and mind  – aiding a higher evolution of human awareness into a unitary consciousness of Self and universe?

Ancient Vedic teachings record the existence of a substance substance called Soma, which is a power of bliss and deeper perception hidden deep within us. Soma is called rasa or the essence and Amrita or the immortal nectar. While botanical or herbal Somas did exist and are mentioned in Vedic texts, it is clear from a detailed examination of the Vedic teachings, that the main Soma is an internal Soma, which can flow from a higher consciousness and affectthe brain and nervous system, brought about through Yoga practices of pranayama, mantra and meditation. There are higher Somas beyond the body and beyond the mind.

Yoga similarly speaks of the amrita or nectar that arises from Yoga practice and samadhi, the yogic state of unitary awareness, which creates an internal flow of bliss and wellbeing, moving through the nadis or channels of the subtle body and nervous system.

In yogic thought, the thousand-petal lotus of the head – the chakra that corresponds to the brain at physical level – is called Soma, meaning also the Moon. The lotus of the head is the place of Moon, as the heart relates to the Sun or Surya, and the lower chakras to Agni or Fire.

Soma refers to the Moon to the Moon as symbolic of the light of cool, calm self-awareness, the peaceful silent mind like a high mountain lake. The brain is referred to symbolically as the Moon owing to the extensive fluids that it contains. Yet the physical brain is but the outer manifestation of a higher power of awareness that is still not yet fully evolved in human beings today.

 


Soma and Tarpak Kapha: Yoga and Ayurveda Insights

 

Today with an increasing psychological malaise in our society and the limbic dysfunction in the brain, we need a new approach to improving brain function. The many available designer drugs, and antidepressants in particular, can alter our moods. But they can possess side effects and breed dependency and addiction. A natural and yogic alternative can be very helpful.

Ayurvedic medicine notes that there is a substance called Tarpak Kapha, the prime subform of Kapha dosha, the biological water humor, which is responsible for the lubrication of the nervous system and the brain. Soma as the power of wellbeing and contentment relates to Tarpak Kapha at a physical level. Tarpak Kapha in the Ayurvedic system in turn relates to Ojas, the subtle essence of Kapha that is the essence of all the seven bodily tissues, particularly the reproductive fluid. Ojas is the ultimate resort of strength from both nutrition and our congenital vitality connected to our deeper Somas. Ojas is the basis of physical and psychological immunity and resistance to disease and disturbance. Tarpak Kapha relates through Ojas to Soma as the ultimate rejuvenative power of body and mind.

Yogic neuroscience aims at understanding and developing the Soma of the brain and the head chakra or thousand-petal lotus, through improving Tarpak Kapha and OJas. There are many tools and teachings about this in Ayurvedic, Yogic and Tantric thought. These begin with special Ayurvedic rejuvenative herbs for the mind like brahmi, manduka parni, shankha pushpi, calamus, sandalwood, tulsi, ashwagandha, amalaki and shilajit, among many others, in special preparations like Brahma Rasayana.

Yogic methods include cooling and calming forms of meditation, Soma-promoting mantras and pranayamas, deep relaxed pratyahara and Yoga nidra, and cooling and calming sustained asanas. Silent deep meditation leading to the state of Samadhi, in which the Ananda of Soma flows, i is the key. I have examined these aspects of Soma in my book: Soma in Yoga and Ayurveda: the Power of Rejuvenation and Immortality (David Frawley, Lotus Press 2012).

A simple way to begin is the Soma mantra for the mind – Om Shreem Somaya Namah! The Soma mantra for Prana is simply So’ham and is another foundation practice.

Unless we learn to access the Ananda of higher consciousness, our culture may become more addicted to drugs both recreational and medicinal, as well as excessive media stimulation. Our information technology can irritate our nervous system further. Depression and agitation can increase in our society. Yoga and Ayurveda show us the way to counter this, but we must do the work in our own daily lives, starting with our own sadhana.

 

Vamadeva Shastri

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