Ever since the Greek doctor and philosopher Galen described the pineal gland in the second century, scientists pondered the point of this little organ in the middle of the brain. The pineal gland’s Latin name, glandula pinealis, comes from its resemblance to a small pine cone. The 17th century philosopher Renee Descartes speculated that the pineal gland was the seat of the soul. Some yogis claim it as the site of the third eye or crown chakra.
While yogis and philosophers muse over the metaphysical aspects of the pineal gland, medical researchers have identified its physical purpose in the body. This small endocrine organ is responsible for transforming the neurotransmitter serotonin into melatonin. That makes the pineal gland a night owl; while the level of melatonin is almost undetectable in your blood during the day, it rises sharply when the sun sets.
Yoga and Chakras
Chakras, or wheels of energy located in various parts of the body, are an important part of yoga philosophy. Seven main chakras run along the spine, starting at the base and ending at or just above the top of the head in the crown chakras. These energy centers are metaphysical rather than physical – they won’t show up in X-rays. Yogis associate the pineal gland with the top two of these seven chakras – either the third eye or the crown chakra. While some yogis have speculated that doing yoga could affect seratonin and melatonin levels in the pineal gland, no conclusive research exists. The biggest connection between yoga and the pineal gland is in yoga philosophy around chakras.
Pineal as Third Eye
While the lowest chakras correlate to primitive instincts such as sex and survival, the higher chakras are more refined and spiritual. The third eye, known in Sanskrit as ajna chakra, is thought to be a seat of spiritual and material integration. This integration allows people to clearly see the big picture. Just as the pineal gland is in the center of the brain, providing a sort of crossroads between different parts, in yoga philosophy the third eye is where the two main energy channels of the body meet. The pineal gland shares similarities with a real eye. It contains retinal cells and is the only other organ in the body, besides the eyes, that can perceive light.
PIneal and the Crown Chakra
Psychiatrist Eric Leskowitz has hypothesized that ancient yogis were talking about the pineal gland when they described the crown chakra. Both are constructs for how people relate to the cosmos, he said in a paper published in the journal "Medical Hypotheses." Known in Sanskrit as sahasrara, or thousand-petaled lotus, the crown chakra is considered the place where individuals meet the divine consciousness. This allegedly leads to wisdom, bliss and spiritual connection.
- Yoga Journal: Lighten Up
- Elephant Journal: The Pineal Gland: Pinnacle of Yoga
- Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Descartes and the Pineal Gland
- Colorado State University: Pathophysiology of the Endocrine System: The Pineal Gland and Melatonin
- Eastern Body, Western Mind: Psychology and the Chakra System; Anodea Judith