Mind, Wind, and Heart: Tibetan Notions of Wind in Mental Health and Illness


This presentation explores how Tibetan Buddhist and medical notions of the relationship between heart, wind and mind come together to explain the (dys)functioning of the mind, and how this is understood to lead to various forms of ‘mental illness’ through incorrect Tantric practice and other factors including an individual’s behaviors and/or emotional states. I use examples from interview material with lay Tibetans and Tibetan Buddhist and Sowa Rigpa medical specialists, alongside some material from Tibetan medical texts, to explore the causes, symptoms, and treatments of various forms of ‘wind illness’ in Tibetan perspective.

Questions for reflection

How can we understand the relationship between mind, heart, and ‘wind’ in Tibetan understanding?

To what extent can we see the channels of the Tibetan medical and religious systems as equivalent to biomedical notions of the body?

Why is the ‘life-holding wind’ so integral to mental health in Tibetan medical perspective?

Why is the ‘central channel’ so integral to Tantric Buddhist practice?

How can we understand the relationship between ‘karmic’ wind and ‘wisdom’ wind?

Further reading

Deane, Susannah. 2019. “rLung, mind, and mental health: the notion of “wind” in Tibetan conceptions of mind and mental illness.” Journal of Religion and Health no. 58 (3):708-724.

Dorjee, Pema, with Janet Jones and Terence Moore. 2005. The spiritual medicine of Tibet: heal your spirit, heal yourself. London: Watkins Publishing.

Epstein, Mark, and Sonam Topgay. 1982. “Mind and mental disorders in Tibetan medicine.” ReVision: A Journal of Consciousness and Change no. 9 (1):67-79.

Marek, Todd P., and Charles Jamyang Oliphant. 2017. “Treating disorders of the subtle winds in Tibetan Buddhism.” In Buddhism and Medicine: An Anthology of Premodern Sources, edited by C. Salguero Pierce, 418-424. New York and Chichester: Columbia University Press.

Norbu, Chogyal Namkhai. 2008. Yantra Yoga: The Tibetan Yoga of Movement. Translated by Andrew Lukianowicz. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion Publications.

Samuel, Geoffrey. 2019. “Unbalanced Flows in the Subtle Body: Tibetan Understandings of Psychiatric Illness and How to Deal With It.” Journal of Religion and Health No. 58 (3):770-794.

Yangönpa, Gyalwa. 2015. Secret map of the body: visions of the human energy structure. Translated by Elio Guarisco. Arcidosso (GR): Shang Shung Publications.

Susannah Deane is an Honorary Research Fellow in the Department of Religion and Theology at University of Bristol. Her research focuses on Tibetan perspectives on mental health, illness, and healing, exploring the overlapping realms of religion and medicine in Tibetan contexts, and cross-cultural approaches to mind and mental health. Her first book, Tibetan medicine, Buddhism, and psychiatry: mental health and healing in a Tibetan exile community, based on her PhD research, was published in 2018. Susannah’s current research, funded by a recent British Academy Postdoctoral Research Fellowship, focuses on Tibetan notions of ‘madness’, and how these are informed by both medical and religious concepts of mind-body structure and (dys)functioning in contemporary and historical context.