Lesson #1: We Live in Two Worlds

We Live in Two Worlds
by Gary Gran, CYT, DAy.

    Have you ever noticed the  connection between your inner world and your outer world?  Yoga tells us that we live in two worlds, and that the inner world is more vast than the outer world! Ayurveda, the science of the life-force, says everything that exists in the outer world has a counterpart in the inner world.
    So what are we to make of these statements? If each of us lives in two worlds. . . perhaps one of those worlds is the Internet? No, that’s not exactly what the yoga tradition is telling us, but maybe we are living a big portion of our life in virtual reality! The first point is that many of us tend to pour most of our life-force, and sometimes our entire identities, into different areas of the outer world. Perhaps I love the Internet, and you spend most of your time socializing. Or perhaps you prefer spending time with family, and I am a work-a-holic. We say “I am a scientist”, or “I am a mother,“ or “I am a Democrat.” We tend to identify with our outer roles and preoccupations. The yoga tradition says where our mind goes our life-force goes.
    In ayurveda, we study three different orientations of the life-force,  known as the three doshas, vata, pitta, and kapha. Each dosha is said to represent the combination of an active element and a supporting element. The active elements for vata, pitta, and kapha are air, fire, and water respectively. The supporting elements are space, water, and earth. We can study the elements in the outer world of nature in order to gain insight into our inner world and our health.
    For example, ayurveda calls air the wind. You cannot see it  directly but you can observe its effects. We can see leaves moving in the wind. Ayurveda tells us that wind represents the principles of movement and changeability. It’s not hard to see that the wind often changes direction and speed. We can also feel the wind touching our skin. Ayurveda says that air represents the sense of touch. Air is also considered to be light as opposed to heavy. Being light, air tends to move upwards and disperse in all directions. Air is also seen to be drying. We can see puddles of water quickly drying up on a windy day.
    When we apply these observations to an individual, we call them an air type, known as vata. Vata types exhibit a lot of movement and changeability. Their mind and therefore their life-force are constantly moving out to experience new things. They can be very talkative, like the wind rustling the leaves. There is a restless movement or spending of the life-force out to the external world followed by tiredness.  There is  changeability in personal habits, energy level, and interests. They can have trouble gaining weight. The can be ungrounded. Ayurveda says the energy of the body moves up to the mind and out through the senses, in a real sense, leaving the body.
    Vatas can be very sensitive in a touchy way. They are thin-skinned.  Perhaps they observe no clear boundary “between” the inner world and the outer world. The wind passes freely through both. The result can be a disorganized or unstable outer world and a disorganized and unstable inner world, as if they had left the window wide open during the storm!  As we shall see, a most interesting question is where is the dividing line ‘between” the inner and outer worlds? It is possible a vata has no dividing line.
    Our best advice to them is to slow down, learn to regulate the life-force, the prana, through slow, deep, even breathing, and periodically “close the window”, that is, withdraw or “rest” the senses, practicing deep relaxation. In addition, applying warm oil to the skin can create or strenghthen the boundary between the inner and the outer worlds. Remember that air represents dryness, the sense of touch, thin skin, and lightness. This can result in very sensitive nerves close to the surface of the body. Warm oil soothes and protects the nerves, relieves dryness, and gives a feeling of protection and groundedness.   
    Next, vatas needs to clean up and organize the clutter around them and set a reasonable schedule. As they succeed in organizing their outer affairs, their inner life will also become more centered and grounded. This represents the application of opposites. If air tends to move up and disperse, the strategy is to center and ground.
    Let’s consider kapha, which is a combination of water and earth. In nature, we can see water coming down in the form of rain, flowing downstream in a river, and collecting together in a lake or an ocean. Ayurveda tells us that water is heavy and tends to move downward. Also, water is said to be held or supported by earth.  In nature, we can also see water pushing or wearing against its boundaries such as the bank of a river or the shores of the lake.  Too much water can wash out the structure of earth. Water then merges with the washed out particles of earth. As the water fills with earth it can become too thick and stagnant like mud or muck.
    If we now consider a kapha person, one who has plenty of water and earth, we note the quality of heaviness in the form of weight.  Weight collects in the body, literally weighing a person downwards, and it then tends to push out to the sides filling out the physique. Too much weight can actually break down the structure of the body.
    We see that kaphas tend to collect familiar things and hold on to them, creating attachments. This is said to be like water collecting particles of earth. Be careful not to become stagnant!  If water becomes too thick and heavy with attachments it becomes harder and harder to move. 
    Kapha’s attachments tend towards familiar things like food, personal possessions, and, above all home, family, and tradition.  Kaphas often becoming totally identified with their role in the family. I understand this trait to be related to water as the holder of memory. Here we see the memories and traditions of the family held together like the particles of earth being held in water.
    Earth is said to create or represent boundaries. Kaphas tend to draw a strong boundary between “ours” and “theirs”.  Thus the outward world is that which is outside the family or the family role and is largely ignored, and the so-called inner world becomes family life and tradition.
    Our advice to kapha is two-fold. First, keep things moving, let go of objects, attachments, even your control of family members! Lighten up! Try something new without trying to make it into a possession, or part of your family. That is, see that things in the world can have their own identity and function without reference back to you. Remember that too much water, too much possessiveness, will tend to push out and test boundaries, gradually wearing down the resistance and trying to merge. Learn to respect healthy boundaries while opening yourself up to new possibilities.
    Secondly, clean out your basement!  As you clean your basement, you are cleaning your mind. This is like periodically dredging the sludge and silt out of the bottom of the river-way so ships can continue to pass.
    We observe fire and the light it provides in nature as being warm and intense. Fire is also fragile. In nature fire can be put out by all the other elements. Earth can smother fire. Water can drown it. Air can blow it out. Given the chance, however, fire will burn up or transform all things around it spreading into a great conflagration. Ayurveda says that fire moves upwards and spreads.
    Fire-type persons, known as pitta, are those who exhibit signs of heat and intensity. Physically we note tendencies to excessive heat and inflammation. Externally, pittas tend to join together in different causes. For them it becomes us vs them, not in a family sense as with kaphas, but in an ideological sense. Think of all the “isms” in the outer world: socialism, communism, militarism, feminism, environmentalism, to name a few. It takes a cause or an “ism” to get pitta’s inner fires really burning. Fire needs an outlet, a single direction to pour its life-force. If fire is blocked by the other elements, it is smothered. Given a cause, the fire-type moves with burning enthusiasm towards the goal, towards victory!
    In fact, fire-types often wonder why others don’t join in with their enthusiasm. It is no doubt because they don’t always stop to observe the needs of others. Pittas are competitive and oriented toward success, often pushing others to the side. “What do you mean, you don’t agree?” says the fire-type. “If you’re not with me, you are against me!”
    Our advice to fire-types is to moderate their views, to take other peoples’ needs and opinions into consideration. Granted this can be extremely frustrating for a pitta who is ready to take action. If they can manage, they will become excellent leaders of people and not blind fighters for a cause.
    A helpful image from nature is a campfire. It is safely contained within a circle of stones, which represents and protects other peoples’ interests. At the same time, it is not smothered, and is free to burn in one direction, upwards, radiating light and warmth that others can enjoy.
     Let’s review how we can learn from the outer world.
        ~We can take lessons from nature, like the lessons of air, water, and fire above.
        ~We can look at our surroundings, like the clutter in the room, to give us direction.
        ~We can observe the qualities of our relationships with others, remembering the old cliche, what bothers you most about others is really inside of yourself.
        ~We can look at our physical condition and general state of health to gather clues about our unconcious habits.      
    We begin to see that everything in the outer world has its counterpart in the inner world. If things go well at work, we feel good. If I receive criticism, I feel bad. We can see how the outer world affects our inner mood.  If we feel blocked by circumstances in the outer world, our inner fire suffers.
    The truth may be that most of our vitality is still locked up inside of us like the power in the nucleus of an atom. This power lies in the recesses of the subconcious mind. The yoga tradition says that our mind is conditioned, our energy is asleep, and it is time to wake up!
    If our life has fallen into a pattern like the vata-pitta-kapha scenarios we outlined above, we need to make some kind of shift. Usually our body acts like a messenger of the sub-conscious forces which lie within. If we are stuck in an unbalanced pattern, the body may become dysfunctional or ill in some way. Sometimes our inner conflicts manifest in some other aspect of our outer life like our relationships or our job. These are clear messages that we need to make a change!
    This is popularly known as the body-mind connection. In this scenario, the body is seen as part of the “outer” world! It reflects conditions of the “inner” mental world. When we become physically sick, we can look for the “inner” meaning. An illness can point to a variety of emotional, mental, attitudinal, or habitual conditions. Until the underlying “inner” cause is addressed, the manifesting “outer” condition will persist.  We often attack the messenger, which is the body, and refute the message, which are the bodily symptoms, by suppressing or countering the symptoms directly.
        Of course, sometimes it is not enough to make inner changes, for the process can work both ways. For example, someone who is tired all the time may need to change his or her job, or find a new hobby.  The fire is being smothered and needs a healthy outlet.
        For now, begin to examine your own life and your so-called external relationships.  See how you identify yourself by your external roles and how your inner life is easily affected by all the external ups and downs, gains and losses, praises and criticisms. Gradually you can learn not to let those ups and downs overly affect your inner life. The yoga tradition tells us that the true source of our strength and happiness lies within. As you develop your inner strength, you can truly become a citizen of both worlds, with a strong inner life supporting a strong outer life.
    In our next lesson, we’ll take a closer look at the inner world.











Gary Gran is a certified yoga teacher and ayurvedic practitioner who lives in Evanston, Illinois.  He is the co-director of the Evanston School of Yoga (847-869-7221) and Annapurna Holistic Services (847-733-1059).
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