Cravings : A modern view and an ancient one

All pleasure in the brain is associated with the release of one chemical called the dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter associated with a cluster of nerve cells under the cerebral cortex. This region is called the brain's pleasure center - nucleus accumbens. Soft touch, sweet taste, gentle music, eye catching sight, fantasies - all these get felt as pleasure in this region. The release of the dopamine in this part of the brain is what causes one to "like" something. Through studies on addiction, scientists have established the difference within the brain between "liking" something and "craving" something. Neuro scientists now are able to understand how brain circuitry switches from "liking" to "craving".

The chemical Dopamine, also plays a role in learning and memory. Glutamate yet another brain chemical is closed connected with dopamine. Interaction between these two chemicals forms the foundation for the brain's system of reward-related learning. Evolution process has tied one's survival instincts to this reward-related learning system. Excess simulation of this system overloads it. Repeated overload causes a person to "crave" the associated pleasure experience because of the following two actions. Parts of the brain circuitry, tries to compensate for the high levels of dopamine making the experience less pleasant. However, the Glutamate related circuitry, built up due to repeated experiences, tricks the brain into thinking that the experience is crucial for survival. Scientists have gained these insights through studying the brain of addiction patients where the phenomenon is severe.

Yogic tradition lists five aspects of sufferings that move one away from a state of relaxed alertness. In this state of relaxed alertness a person finds decision making to be a breeze and connecting with others to be effortless. One of the five negative behavior patterns is "craving" which the yogic tradition characterizes as a restlessness that doesn't get quenched even after achieving the objective. Yoga theory recognizes the role of memory in keeping the cravings alive, just as scientists do. It highlights the importance of taking care of this memory element through specific practices related to recognizing one's higher self. Recognition of one's higher self leads one to a state of bliss. Scientists have appropriately named the bliss neurochemical as "Anandamide" after "Ananda" or "bliss". Practice of Yoga postures, Pranayama and Meditation constantly reverse "craving" circuitry without much mental effort.