The Sāmkhya Philosophy
There are six major philosophical views in India. Think of it as an object, which can be viewed in six different ways. The ancient Indians believed 'Knowledge' and 'Life' can be seen in six different perspectives.
One of these, the Sāṃkhya Philosophy, translates as “Theory of Numbers or Enumeration” and speaks of the subtle principle of energies that govern the universe and all the living entities. Sāṃkhya philosophy regards the universe as consisting of two realities; puruṣa (spirit, consciousness) and prakṛti (the material world, nature, matter, physical and psychological character). One way to look at the concept of puruṣa and prakṛtii is to view this as Shiva (puruṣa) and Shakti (prakṛti).
Creation of the universe originates within the divine love between puruṣa and prakṛti, or Śhiva and Shakti and their desire to manifest that love.
The Sāṃkhya philosophy is different to the Vedanta. Or more simply, different to the philosophy of the Bhagavat Gītā. In the Gītā (God's Song), there is only ONE powerful "personality" (the source of all creation). In the Sāṃkhya philosophy, there are TWO powerful "personalities". They are referred to as puruṣa and prakṛti (Śhiva and his divine Shakti). Puruṣa is a formless, genderless consciousness. Prakṛti is physical matter and energy. It is hypothetical because they both exist, but for the sake of explanation, one cannot survive without the other. They both complete each other. Śhiva cannot exist or function without his goddess. She breathes life into him. His consciousness glances over her and also injects her with life. They ignite creation through their union.
Yoga philosophy tells us that we have puruṣa and prakṛti within us and that their union is the goal of a yogi. Puruṣa or Śhiva is explained in simple terms as being our consciousness, awareness, intelligence etc. Our prakṛti, or Shakti, is our dormant energy that ignites our bodies. This Shakti is imagined as being a coiled up serpent that sits at the base of our spine. Shakti will uncoil herself and rise up like a snake that will unwind itself and dart towards Shiva, piercing the six chakras or the whirls of spiritual energy situated in the spinal column. Once Shakti touches the chakras, they will bloom like lotus flowers until "she" eventually unites with Śhiva, resulting in the illumination that is sought after by devoted yogic practitioners.
If there was an in-balance in the cosmos between Śhiva and Shakti, we would all be lost in darkness as existence would lose its equilibrium. Similarly, if we fail to balance the Śhiva and Shakti within us, we fall away into the darkness of consciousness. That is consciousness without life. When the two come together, we are balanced and can attain a higher dimension of life.
How do we transfer that to Western terminology?
Lets view Śhiva as our brain and Shakti as our physical bodies. What we strive for in yoga is "neuromuscular efficiency". Neuromuscular efficiency is the ability of the body's nerves to effectively send messages to the body’s muscles. Neuromuscular efficiency can only be obtained by having the appropriate alignment of the muscles, bones and nervous system. If we improve the awareness of our body and its link to the nervous system, we become much more efficient in everyday life, resulting in optimum physical health.
The concept of puruṣa and prakṛti within our own bodies appears confusing at first and sounds like "fluffy" yoga spiel. However when transferred into Western terminology, it makes perfect sense. The brain and nervous system or our puruṣa, needs to work effectively and in balance with our bodies and our physical energy, or our prakṛti, in order to achieve optimum physical and emotional health.
The Sāṃkhya Philosophy - Nandalal Sinha
"Samkhya", American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition (2011)
Mike Burley (2012), Classical Samkhya and Yoga - An Indian Metaphysics of Experience, Routledge,