This is a post written in collaboration with Adi Amar and Yoga Today—an Elephant partner. We’re honored to work with anyone this dedicated to offering authentic, informed yoga practice for our improved well-being. ~ Ed.
If you’ve ever practiced yoga or even been for a massage, you’ve probably heard some version of this saying.
It basically means that we store our trauma—emotional, psychological, as well as physical—in our bodies.
Most of us know, on some level, that our physical, mental, and emotional health are closely intertwined. We talk about feeling something “in our gut,” or when we are moved or upset, about having “a lump in our throat.”
If you’ve ever experienced strong emotions like joy, anger, grief, or love, you’ll know they manifest unmistakably on a physical level. But what about the stuff we aren’t as aware of, or that we actively choose to numb?
From a yogic perspective, we all hold onto habitual patterns and trauma that manifest as “knots” in our bodies, and become more and more tightly bound and layered as we repeat these unconscious patterns over time, almost like energetic scar tissue.
In yoga, these psycho-spiritual knots are known as the granthis.
The granthis are housed along the central nerve channel within our body. This channel is known as Shushumna Nadi, which translates to a hollow reed. It runs through the central axis of our body and is where energy either flows freely, or is blocked by the accumulation of our life stories, attachments, rejections, fears, and conditioning.
Each granthi represents an obstruction where we may feel stuck physically, but underneath the physical congestion is a strong attachment to emotional bondage and unconscious patterning.
Have you ever thought you dealt with an issue only to find yourself in a full blown explosion when triggered? You thought the issue was resolved, but under the right circumstance the unresolved difficulty reappeared and took over. If we don’t get to know our blind spots, if we push away that which is uncomfortable, difficult and unfamiliar, we continue to stay in a cycle of emotional bondage that keeps us blind under the veils of our excuses, justifications, misperceptions, confusion, and attachment.
And we are pretty skillful at evading our issues.
While perhaps not every disease and ailment has an emotional or psychological root cause, it’s worth diving a little deeper into these knots if we want to improve our overall well-being and live in a state of greater integration and alignment.
Otherwise known as a state of yoga.
Yoga (or union) is what happens when we are aligned with the innate light and spaciousness within us that is beyond these layers of our personality and habitual patterns. Most of us have had a taste of this state, even if just briefly, but most of us are also not sure how to access this magical place, and begin to live from it more in day to day life.
Imagine the wheels of the chakras freely spinning when our inner life is balanced and harmonious. When we start operating from the unconscious faculties of our minds, misperceptions, and strong identifications with the ever-changing world we clog the chakras with energetic mud and we get stuck in unnecessary suffering.
But if we can begin to unravel, on a physical level, these knots we have gathered through the course of our life, we can start to create more space within the body itself, and in turn, within the heart and mind.
There are three main granthis in the body:
1. Brahma Granthi, housed in the lower two chakras and corresponds with the lower belly, pelvis, legs and feet:
Representing our basic survival needs for food, water, shelter, this area also embodies our most important survival need: our hunger for love and connection. When this area is in balance we feel as though we are part of the tribe, and that we are interconnected. When we feel stuck here, we have strong attachments to physical pleasures, material objects, and excessive selfishness.
Situations in which we have felt unsafe or emotional, physical, or sexual abuse that has built walls of protection all influence this area. This particular psycho-spiritual knot presents as a strong attachment to material things and a need to experience pleasure through unhealthy artifices. To resolve it, we must let go of our defense mechanisms, practice gratitude, foster healthy relationships, and recognize that we can exercise freedom of choice.
2. Vishnu Granthi, housed in the the third and fourth chakras and corresponds with the abdominals, chest, and shoulders:
Embodying the areas of sustenance, preservation, and maintenance and representing how we value ourselves, this area is about our will and power, the courage to take risks and embrace challenges. The abdominal region also houses our digestive “brain,” which produces 70 percent of the serotonin (happy hormone) in our body. It is the gateway to our inner voice and our gut awareness as well as our spiritual “heart,” where we not only open to give love and compassion, but also to receive them.
The main obstacle here is compassion. Not only the possible lack of it, but also the strong need to be overly compassionate to the point that we strip others of their own crises or opportunities for growth. To untie this knot we must explore our own desire to preserve our attachments, aversions, and the walls of ego. We must surrender and let go of our love for power and rather cultivate the power of love.
“The secret of life is to treat everyone as though they have a broken heart.” ~ Rama Jyoti Vernon
The untethered light within shines through the cracks around our hearts. With tolerance, patience, trust, and courage, we embrace our broken hearts and sit in the restlessness of our discomfort, only to lean ever closer to the tender, soft spot within.
Our light then slowly begins to shine through and widen the cracks in our hearts. If we allow life’s betrayals, struggles, and challenges to close us off from life, our protection mechanisms will build walls of self preservation today, which will only become walls of self imprisonment tomorrow.
3. Rudra Granthi, located in the throat, third eye and crown region of the fifth, sixth, and seventh chakras.
Felt in the center of the brain, base of skull, neck, and throat, this area is linked to the master glands in the body that regulate our mood, and the central nervous system. The main issues that arise here are our strong attachments to our prejudices, opinions, beliefs, thoughts, and everything that we think we know.
We get stuck in a perspective where the mind is rigid as a rock and we fix ourselves and others into our strong points of view. Fear underlies this and creates fundamentalist ways of thinking which result in “them vs. us” and “this vs. that” thinking. This creates separation and conflict, and ultimately makes our lives smaller, less curious and more rigid.
To untie this knot we must tear down the constructs of our opinions, beliefs, biases, and begin to notice how they
limit us. When we get stuck in one point of view, or one way of being or even practising from a yogic perspective, we can sorely miss the point of life and the teachings. We must remember that it is the experience that is key, not the means.
We endlessly release what we think we know and our addiction to our way of thinking. We identify with nothing and acknowledge that we do not know, that there is always more to learn, and we grow more curious becoming constant seekers. Our ability to forgive, apologize, and take responsibility for our part in any given situation paves a path for
release and healing to occur.
The granthis are difficult to untie.
These barriers to internal freedom lock us into our confused understanding of reality and attachment to the material world. They prevent the life force from flowing freely and stop us from seeing clearly.
No amount of physical manipulation, body work, or massage will release them. Only through reintegrating our body-mind can we realign with our inner truth and release these strong knots.
We gather all information about the world around us through our senses and download it into our being as an impression. These impressions become the software from which we unconsciously operate. When we take personal responsibility for our knee jerk reactions and recognize how we function from these unconscious patterns, reactions, and behaviors we further recognize that we have the power to write conscious software and take charge of our internal life and energies.
When we learn how to take charge of our inner landscape, we can start constructively shaping our relationship with self, others, and the world around us. We also begin to realize the difference between the things we have the power to transform and change, and that which is beyond our control.
The first step on the path is discriminating awareness: our ability to see the difference between the patterns and attachments we’ve become identified with and the unchanging truth of what we are, that which exists beyond the layers of our personality.
The father of yoga as we know it, Patanjali states that we must first bring the force of habit to the visible field of our
consciousness, and then we can tease apart the cords that bind us, unravel our tendencies and begin to live with a greater sense of freedom and flow.
Remember as you peel back the layers of the self and as you discover parts of your being that have been filed away, that any apparent struggle is part of the process and is actually a rights of passage to grow and discover something new about yourself.
No realized being awakened without struggle. Not Jesus, the Dalai Lama, Mother Theresa, or Gandhi.
They all weathered life circumstances that were extremely challenging. Life is not happening to us, life
is happening for us; therefore, never give up and always let go.
This journey is never-ending and takes a skillful balance between consistent effort and radical release. There is no end point, there is no period, there is no destination, there is no perfection. Rather, the process is an endless journey toward the discovery and remembrance of the untethered self, that which we have always known, but simply forgotten.
Please join us in this powerful series and take the first step toward untying the knots that bind you.
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Author & Series Instructor: Adi Amar
Brand Content Editor: Khara-Jade Warren