Friday, June 24, 2011

Untying the knots of our being: Matthew Sweeney on the granthi, bandhas, and the practice

I spent yesterday evening and part of this morning reading Matthew Sweeney's exposition of the three granthi (knots) in our being, and the relation of these granthi to the bandhas. Since his exposition is still fresh in my mind, I thought I'll share it here, along with a little commentary here and there by yours truly :-) And yes, I did say yesterday that I was going to share his views about female sexual issues. I have not forgotten that; all is coming :-)

The three granthi, or knots, relate to the body, emotion and mind respectively. They are:

1. Brahma granthi: This granthi is situated at the muladhara chakra and also governs the svadisthana chakra. This granthi deals with the most solid nature of our being, "bodily issues as basic physical health, genetic history, physical liveliness, sexuality, pro-creation and the kapha dosa. It is concerned with the deepest desires and instincts." (Sweeney, page 27).

2. Visnu granthi: This granthi is situated in the heart or anahata chakra, and governs the manipuraka chakra also. This granthi "deals with both caring for the self and caring for others." In this way, it combines the functions of both the manipuraka and anahata chakras: The manipuraka chakra deals with survival on a personal level: "food, digestion, work, nourishing the self and the pitta dosha." The anahata chakra, on the other hand, deals with "caring, relationship, connection and community." (Sweeney, page 27). In short, the Visnu granthi governs and regulates both the survival of the self, and the peaceful co-existence of this self in community with others. 

3. Siva granthi: This granthi is situated at the third eye or ajna chakra, and also governs the throat or visuddha chakra. This granthi "deals with both thought and speech; the mind and its activities." It is connected with the vata dosa. Sweeney notes that issues with this granthi are commonly manifested in "[a]n overactive or underactive intellect, disconnection from the physical body, becoming emotionally numb, continuous talking, or inability to communicate." (Sweeney, page 27) [Nobel: Yikes! This sounds disturbingly like me...]

If you are not familiar with the chakras and their locations, this picture might be helpful:

[Image taken from here]

In most human beings, each of these granthi has varying levels of disturbance, "from illness, to addictions, to mild pain and anxiety" (hence "knot"). One is able to untie these knots when one is fully conscious of the granthi, when one has accepted and integrated the polarities in one's life. (Sweeney, page 27).
I guess you are probably thinking: Where does our practice come into the picture? According to Sweeney, the tristhana (asana, breathing and drishti) can be seen as aids to help us untie the granthi:
"The postures begin to purify the lower granthi (body), ujjayi breathing begins to purify the middle granthi (nervous system or emotion) and the withdrawal of the senses inherent in the dristi begins to purify the upper granthi (mind). From the perspective of the breath the inhalation brings life to the hidden areas of the body, blind spots and tensions stemming from the granthi. The exhalation releases tension, calming the mind. As the breath purifies, tensions release, the mind calms and the granthi begin to dissolve.

The three bandha are inextricably linked with the three granthi. As Sri T. Krisnamacharya once said, the bandha are not something you do, but a blockage to be removed. In other words, the granthi and the bandha are aspects of the same trio and the term lock or knot is synonymous. The term bandha on one level means the physical contraction of a specific part of the body to re-direct energy. That is, by holding the asana in a centred way, the physical knots of the body untie. On a deeper level the bandha energy only becomes unlocked when the granthi are untied. It is stressed that awareness is crucial, that at this level the bandha are almost entirely psychological rather than physiological. That is, the physical practice of the bandha is very much secondary to self awareness and self acceptance and in some cases may hinder them.

The contraction of the mula bandha is not a physical contraction at all. It is the raising of energy and awareness through the muladhara chakra into the susumna nadi. In terms of the granthi this seems to imply the purification of the body, which certainly helps. More importantly, it is complete acceptance of the body as it is. This may appear paradoxical at first, but one condition does not prevent the other. It is acceptance that promotes true purification rather than the other way around." (Sweeney, page 28)

As I was reading these paragraphs, I was struck by a realization. We may speak of "purifying the body/nervous system", or "untying knots". Such a way of speaking implies that certain things (purification of the mind/body, untying of knots) happen as a direct result of our efforts. But this is not true. The practice, strictly speaking, doesn't do anything. It puts us in a place where we can see ourselves for what we truly are. When we see ourselves for what we truly are, the knots will untie themselves, and true lasting change becomes possible. Sweeney continues:

"True change is made possible when you are in contact with what is, when you realise what you are. It does not occur when you try to become something you are not. This is delusion. With the latter there can only be a constant war between the desire for what you should be and what you are. This is one of the more troubling truths that most yoga practitioners have to deal with. No amount of asana or pranayama or meditation practice will make you a better person or hasten your development. Nothing will. For there is nothing better than being what you are, right now. This is the only way the bandha are truly activated and the knots untied.

The practice can only bring you into yourself if it is done with awareness. Awareness is the only key ingredient, all other processes are secondary. Awareness must involve some kind of contact with what is, or it is illusory. The practice helps to maintain this contact with reality. It is important not to slide into the path of least resistance or to avoid what is difficult....

Complete acceptance is not tamasic or withdrawn and apathetic. Neither is it rajasic, that is actively seeking to purify the body or mind. It is sattvic, the balanced state beyond duality. Transcendence also indicates surrender to a higher principle, or God. No matter what difficulty, disease or problem arises, the multiple layers of its existence should be understood and embraced. The difficulty has a benefit, somehow, a purpose for that time and place. Disease becomes transformed and absorbed into the greater quality of gratefulness. Acceptance brings with it a degree of purification but the disease may still remain. Everybody grows old and dies. By accessing the timeless here and now, the ageing process is slowed and the individual remains forever young at heart...

The idea that asana practice will eventually bring about a perfect state of health is problematic. Asana practice may make you stronger or more flexible, but in some areas it might not. Some change will always be there, but the form that change takes is beyond your control. To keep hoping that the future will bring perfection or even a moment of happiness is a problem which only self acceptance can resolve." (Sweeney, pages 28-29)

I can say more, but I really think Sweeney has said what needs to be said very succinctly, and anything else I can add will probably be quite redundant. So I'll leave you here. Have fun, and may the Force be with you :-)



  1. How nice of you to write this post Nobel.I'll be reading it several times. Lots of very important & timely info for me at least. Thanks for taking the time..

  2. My pleasure, sereneflavor. I'm happy that you find this useful to you. I'm actually doing this for myself too; I always find that I remember things better after summarizing it :-)

  3. Thanks for this piece Nobel! It's very helpful reminder. It's not as if I accomplish a particularly challenging asana, my hardships are done forever and I will attain ultimate happiness. I will be briefly ecstatic for a few minutes, and then it's onto working on the next pose. So's life and all the goals we work towards. However, the journey of working towards a goal can be a happy one.

  4. Yes, Yyogini. I think we need a lot of reminders that the joy of the practice is in the process, and not in any final destination :-)

  5. Nobel,

    You have certainly clear confusion on Three Granthi.

    You did supported my view , which was in shaking stage.

    Thank you Nobel

  6. Nobel,

    Your reply matches teaching of OSHO

  7. Greetings Nobel
    I was quite confused with the term Brahma granthi being knot and it has to be removed, etc. Question lingering in mind was 'HOW?" and also there was a confusion about how bandhas help remove the knots since Brahma granthi is symbolical term.

    After reading this article of your's, mind is approching clarity although not in totality. Lot more enquiry need to be done on my "knot" experience. Thank you

    Didn't Sri Krishnamacharya say that Brahma Granthi is not at muladhara but it is at solar plexus region?