Your THIRD EYE May Need a Contact Lens. Learn the Scientific Basis for this Mystical Reference.
WARNING: My inner nerd may have surfaced in this article so be prepared for a longer read.
I think your third eye just winked at me for writing this article ;)
If you've ever been to my yoga class, you know that I always begin with a guided 5 minute meditation. I then watch as some students happily embrace a few moments of zen whereas others are almost terrified to sit in stillness for what seems like an eternity.
When I first began my yoga practice, I would roll my eyes to the thought of meditation, setting intentions, third eye awareness, or anything I considered "yoga gobbledy goop". As my practice grew, I started to dismiss preconceived notions and I started to pay attention. Pay attention to what, exactly? Well that's the tricky part. Really, it is just learning to pay attention in general. This is what we refer to, in yoga, as building awareness.
This so-called awareness is said to come from the Third Eye Chakra (the 6th chakra). I am here today to tell you that there is much more scientific basis to it's powers than you once may have thought.
When we spend those short 5 minutes meditating, we hone in on our awareness so we can utilize that focus throughout the rest of the class. We also cultivate the ability to use the yoga to find a deeper understanding of the body and eventually the self. There is a big misunderstanding that during guided meditation you are supposed to mentally "check out" and that couldn't be farther than the truth; we are specifically training our mind to become more focused. But in this post, I want to focus (no pun intended) on the third eye and how it may be the very thing that can help you not only deepen your yoga practice but actually bring awareness to many aspects of your entire life.
So with that, I am going to touch on a very basic understanding of where this reference comes from and the scientific support for why you shouldn't write it off as just yoga mumbo jumbo.
On a side note: I have spent the majority of my professional career in the medical field selling orthopedic implants (craniomaxillofacial) used in facial trauma and in Neurosurgery. I have always considered myself to be a skeptic when it comes to ideas that cannot be proven with science. In fact, many times, my guided meditation skips a lot of the yogic talk and focuses more on the science behind the different parts of our spine. During my time spent in the operating room with many neurosurgeons, I learned just how complex the human brain can be. It is truly our body's computer system and is so intricate that we still do not understand a large portion of it's capabilities. If you don't believe me, read The Brain that Changes itself by Norman Doidge, MD. It completely changed my perspective of many diseases and how the brain can learn to rewire itself.
So I want to talk about 3 things in this article: 1.what the third eye means in Eastern practice, 2. the evolutionary and scientific support of the third eye, and 3. how to begin begin to incorporate it into your daily practice.
1. What the Third Eye?
In Yogic Philosophy and Eastern teachings, the “Third Eye” (ajna chakra in Sanskrit) is said to be the sixth chakra known as the seat of concealed wisdom.
The third eye is symbolized by a lotus flower with two petals, and is depicted as deep blue in color. It is also known as the seat of intuitive wisdom, of clairvoyance, of subtle information and spiritual or occult power. The famous French philosopher Rene Descarte believed the Third Eye was the point where the mind and body met and so he coined it the “seat of the soul”. During my meditation practice I simply describe it as the seat of all consciousness in yoga practice. During our time on earth, we tend to seek many things that we already know. Bringing awareness to this area allows us to learn to trust our own instinct, our 6th sense per say.
So, if you're not really "into" the idea that we have a mysterious eye with super powers, here's what modern science has to say about it...
Ok so here is where it starts getting really nerdy!...
2. What does modern science say about the Third Eye?
- We actually have a physical Third Eye. The Third Eye is located at the Pineal Gland -a small but critical endocrine gland that regulates many hormones and cycles within our bodies. It is located behind the frontal bone (forehead bone) towards the center of the brain.
- It a leftover piece of our evolution as mankind. Scientific evidence supports that this organ was nature's first eye in vertebrates and mankind. Many reptiles and animals who have not changed much in the evolutionary process still have a third eye that is a vestigial eye (meaning it is still used for sight). So what does this mean to us? Well, believe it or not, our third eye has leftover retinal cells -the same cells we use in our eyes for sight.
- The Third Eye has a big part in our overall physical and emotional function.
- It regulates the Circadian Rhythm -the light/dark cycle of sunlight and darkness that is critically important to our mental and physical health. It regulates patterns of rest and waking, timely production of hormones, and circulatory patterns within our bodies.
- The key hormone it regulates by detecting light/dark patterns is Melatonin-which is extremely important to our survival, sexuality, and psychological senses due to it triggering other critical organ and hormonal processes.
- The Pineal Gland (Third Eye) through Melatonin production, affects the feel-good hormone in the brain, Serotonin. Serotonin is only found in very small amounts in the brain and low serotonin levels are a classic symptom of Depression and sleep disorders.
- Schizophrenic and Bi-Polar sufferers have low Serotonins or fluctuating levels of the same hormone and our physchological health is very much influenced by these hormones.
Modern Technology is Allowing us to Visualize the Benefit
Modern science has been able to support the effectiveness of meditation. Brain scans done with PET imaging equipment show that when a person meditates there is a lot of activity triggered in the medial prefrontal cortex. The medial prefrontal cortex lies in the same general area of the “third eye” of Eastern literature. Brain research informs us that people who meditate often actually physically evolve their brain structures with changes that promote higher consciousness. This part of the brain plays a calming role over the emotional part of the brain. This part of the brain also has been found to regulate the production of the stress hormone known as cortisol. It also regulates the generalization of fear which is why meditation helps with anxiety and trauma to lower arousal in the brain.
Neuroimaging or brain scans have confirmed that meditators actually shrink the part of the brain that initiates fear. This is speculated as being the vehicle by which Siddhis and spiritual people can alter their own bodily functions such as heart rate, blood flow, pain thresholds etc when you see them demonstrating unusual “tricks” that appear painful or which would signal injury or death in the rest of us.
Not only do we shrink the part of the brain that causes fear (amygdala), but we also grow the part of the brain that controls memory (the Hippocampus). So our brain actually is rewired to remain calm and peaceful. How about that for some superpowers? I wish I could grow and shirk other areas of my body too ;).
In short, meditation has been shown to have a calming effect on the Bodymind system and promotes a relaxed feel-good state. Immune system repair of the body needs such a state to exist for healing to happen.
3. So now that you're sold on the importance of nurturing this intricate part of the brain, how can you incorporate this into your daily practice? Well I thought you would never ask....
- Third Eye Meditation: Sit in the lotus pose or crossed-legged. Keep your spine straight. Close your eyes. Inhale and exhale deeply three times. Now concentrate on the middle of your forehead around the area which is a few centimeters above the middle of your eyes. Keep your eyes closed and draw both of your eyes towards this center point of 3rd eye. Imean just look upwards with your eyes closed . Focus your closed eyes at20-25 degrees above just at the center of the forehead (at the place of third eye.) You will feel a slight strain of the eyes and this is normal. As you are able to concentrate for longer periods like this, for some people, your thoughts will stop completely, for other, you will feel as if you can physically see your thoughts. It is important to come out of this mediation gently and remain still for several more moments bringing our focus back to your surroundings. Enjoy your for found zen!
Third Eye Opening Yoga Postures
Child's pose (third eye pressing into floor)
Downward Facing Dog
Half Forward Fold -Ardha Uttanasana
Now that you know the benefits of nurturing your Third Eye, go wake it up and give it a good tune-up. Pretty soon you'll be seeing 20/20!