Ayurvedic Anatomy of Psychology
According to Ayurveda, we feel emotional impressions in the emotional heart. This is called sadaka pitta—the aspect of pitta that feels everything. These impressions are then transported to the brain through the carrying channels of prana vata—the emotional aspect of vata.
Emotional impressions felt by sadaka pitta are carried and written into the memory by prana vata. Memories, impressions, and emotional constrictions are held by tarpaka kapha—the emotional aspect of kapha.1
Memories are written onto the soft fatty myelin sheaths that surround neurons in white matter of the brain, thus giving rise to the name tarpaka, which means to retain or record. According to Ayurveda, tarpaka records every human experience, from blissful to traumatic. Even impressions from our ancestors are stored in our tarpaka kapha!1
Emotional Genetic Impressions
Studies confirm that we do carry genetic impressions from ancestors for at least three generations in our DNA.3 This aspect of tarpaka kapha, aka samskaras, are: Imprints or impressions left on the subconscious mind or passed on genetically from past experiences in this life or past lives, which impact, alter, and effect the mind, body, emotions, and life.
Research suggests that stressful behavior is passed through generations. Stressors alter gene expression without changing the DNA sequence. Scientists suggest if your grandparent lived through heavy stress, such as the Great Depression, certain genes may be turned on or off for generations, affecting the way you behave.2,3
Understanding how life’s fears, stressors, or inherited samskaras can affect the health and behavior of a family for generations is fundamental in the Ayurvedic roadmap of health. All these impressions are written on the film of tarpaka kapha—many of which are childhood stressors that can shape our reality for a lifetime.
Childhood-Based Unconscious Behaviors
One study suggests that up to 95% of the things we think, say, and do as adults come from impressions in the first six years of life!4 We call these unconscious behaviors because they are drawn from unconscious old samskaras or impressions.3 The cure, according to Ayurveda, is to become conscious. This requires cleaning and erasing unwanted and unproductive memories written into the impressionable film of tarpaka kapha.
Cleansing and erasing tarpaka kapha allows one to become more self-aware, leading to intentional action based on a deeper state of truth, rather than unconsciously reacting to old protective emotional patterns derived from childhood experiences.
On close inspection, the tools used in yoga and Ayurveda, such as asana, breathing, prayer, meditation, singing, chanting, nasya, and many more, are specifically designed to change the delicate imprint of old emotions on the myelin sheaths of tarpaka kapha. All the Vedic sciences (as are most religions) are designed to raise our vibration—to think higher, more selfless thoughts and care, love, and give fully to others.
Old emotions, however, can hold us back from living from this truth and sentence us to a more selfish life with deeper attachments to the material world. Impressions made on the myelin of tarpaka (white matter) are vibrational and can be erased with vibrational tools, as mentioned above.
It can be like erasing lines drawn in a sandbox by shaking or vibrating the sandbox until the lines are gone. The therapies below are designed to do just that—traditional vibrational therapies help us erase old emotional traumas that hold us back from living the truth—the love that waits inside all of us.
Learn more about Ayurvedic psychology here.
The Nourisher, Cleanser + Chief
Tarpaka is also responsible for nourishing the nervous system via cerebral spinal fluid (CSF), a form of lymphatic fluid found in the brain cavity and spinal column. CSF acts as nourishment to the central nervous system as well as a “washing fluid” for the brain and central nervous system that circulates from the tailbone to the ventricles of the brain, washing waste and toxins into systemic lymphatic channels.5,6
Only recently were these brain lymphatics, or glymphatics, discovered in Western medicine. When people sleep, special lymph channels in the brain, the glymphatic system, actually open up and drain dangerous neurotoxins into the CSF.8-11 During deep sleep, the glymphatic system removes about three pounds of toxins from the brain each year!5-7
Studies suggest it takes about 6-8 hours of sleep to complete the brain-drain-plumbing process, which is compelling evidence that getting the correct amount of sleep matters.8-11
Studies have also found that head trauma, along with mild unpredictable chronic stress, compromise glymphatic flow of brain waste. Compromised glymphatic flow has been linked to cognitive, memory, and mood-related concerns.5-7
Read my articles about brain lymphatic flow here.
Cleanse Tarpaka Kapha + Remove Old Unwanted Emotions
Tarpaka Kapha Nasal Cleanse
There is an ancient Ayurvedic technique called nasya, where herbalized oils are sniffed into the nasal mucosa. This technique was designed to cleanse brain lymphatics, called rasa, as well as brain ventricles and sinuses, called tarpaka.
The brain’s glymphatic system drains into two major locations: the lymphatic vessels in the neck and in the nasal sinuses.12
“In particular, extensions of the subarachnoid space that follow the olfactory tracts, cross the cribiform plate, and project into the nasal submucosa alongside olfactory nerves, have been shown to be responsible for 15–30% of the removal of CSF solute. There is a dense lymphatic network within the nasal submucosa that then drains this CSF and solute to the deep cervical lymph nodes. Up to 50% of (brain lymph) radioiodinated serum albumin (RISA) injected to the caudate nucleus drains via the olfactory-nasal submucosa.”13
I have used nasya techniques in my practice for 30 years and have witnessed how nasya supports mental clarity, memory, and flushing of old toxic emotions. Thousands of years ago, ancient Ayurvedic texts suggested that such brain congestion is directly linked to neurological and emotional concerns.
Remember, science has linked optimal glymphatic function to cognitive health, restful sleep, stable mood, and immunity.14-16
Nasya can be as simple as sniffing a few drops of sesame oil to lubricate the sinuses or it can be a much more elaborate Ayurvedic therapy directed at supporting healthy brain lymphatic drainage. I have detailed articles and videos on how to do this technique at home.
Tarpaka Kapha Sleep Cleanse
Science on the glymphatic system sees a significant increase in drainage during sleep that is more efficient when sleeping on one’s side.14 So make sure you get enough sleep on your side, and at the right time. It may be old-fashioned, but early to bed and early to rise has been linked to some emerging health benefits.
In one study, those who got to bed early and woke up early had healthier weight and lower body mass index than those who went to bed late and slept in.17
Download your free copy of The Ayurvedic Guide to the Best Sleep of Your Life.
Tarpaka Kapha Breathing Cleanse
Significant CSF flow or brain cleansing has been linked to deep breathing exercises. Studies show a specific boost in CSF flow during inspiration (inhalation), and even more during forced inspiration.18
Fight-or-flight stress is linked to reduced CSF flow, while parasympathetic activation is linked to boosted CSF flow, making nose-breathing exercise and yoga critical practices for better CSF and brain lymph flow.19
Yoga, nasal-breathing exercise, and meditation are all linked to better CSF flow, which means better brain drainage. In fact, my One-Minute Meditation (a breathing meditation) is a double boost of CSF flow, as it employs forced inspiration followed by meditation (for parasympathetic activity).
We RecommendOne-Minute Meditation
Kapalabhati (Skull-Cleansing) Pranayama
This breath is a specifically designed breathing technique to cleanse tarpaka kapha. Kapalabhati is derived from two words: kapala, which means skull, and bhati, which means to illuminate. Kapalabhati is designed to accelerate breath from the lower abdominals into the skull, supporting healthy toxin drainage from brain glymphatics.
Studies find kapalabhati produces emotional stability and improved stress-handling ability. Elevated parasympathetic activity is linked to better oxygenation of the brain and heart, while maintaining a low heart rate—thus the name kapalabhati or skull illuminating.20
Brahmari Pranayama “Humming Bee Breath”
In 1998, the Nobel Prize in Chemistry was given to researchers who discovered the “panacea molecule” effect of nitric oxide (NO).23
The greatest amount of NO in the body was found to be produced during nose breathing (and not produced during mouth breathing).24
In Ayurveda, there are many breathing exercises, or pranayama, that employ nose breathing for therapeutic effect. Based on the production of nitric oxide during nose breathing, it is reasonable to assume that much of the benefit can be ascribed to increased nitric oxide production.
Humming, as practiced during brahmari or “humming bee” pranayama, increases production of nitric oxide 15x compared to gentle nose breathing.25
Vibration during humming is not only known to increase NO production, but, according to Ayurveda, moves congested brain lymph from transverse and sagittal sinuses (called tarpaka kapha). Congestion here is linked to suppression of mental and emotional trauma. Brahmari is a tool to help break up mental ama in tarpaka kapha.
More Nose-Breathing Research
This research supports the predicted benefits of pranayama or yogic breathing exercises. Nose-breathing exercise research I did years ago (see Body, Mind, and Sport) saw a significant increase in meditative (alpha) brainwave activity during nose breathing versus mouth breathing.
Mouth breathing is linked to increased fight-or-flight sympathetic nervous system activity, while nose breathing is linked to increased parasympathetic nervous system activity, also known as the rest-repair-digest nervous system.21