Many years ago, while I was undertaking my studies to become a yoga instructor, we considered the fascinating subject of physiology from a yogic perspective. This poster-sized image I drew during those classes has come along with me through the years, occasionally making appearances at yoga classes to illustrate a point or two.
I kept hold of this poster because it reminds me of a love I have – the love of knowing that we are more than just the outer appearance of things. That there are magical depths and breadths to us that can be discovered throughout our lifetime. And that true health is also about so much more than the outer appearance.
My more recent studies in yoga therapy made me reconsider the image above as we looked at how health is intricately balanced through a number of different ‘layers’ or ‘sheaths’ of being – physical, energetic, mental, emotional, and spiritual. In yogic terms, this is called the ‘pancha-maya kosha’ of health (or five layers of our being).
The colourful bands surrounding the figure represent those layers of our being, which in fact are not discreet from each other, but intricately intermeshed and highly influenced by each other.
In modern times, the medical world is giving some credence to what the ancient yogis had already discovered as they developed ‘pancha-maya’ practices for optimising our health. Today we call it the ‘mind-body connection’. Some examples are the acknowledgement that our thinking patterns can greatly affect our emotional well-being, as well as physical ailments having a powerful effect on our thinking.
There is an old saying, “Pluck a flower, disturb a star”, and I think of this as I consider all the different aspects of our human system. Through understanding ourselves and how we work, we find the keys that lead to true, vibrant health which can be extended into great old age.
How can yoga help?
Within each of these layers of our being, there are approaches and practices that yoga has to offer to alleviate suffering, or to encourage the maintenance and building of general health across our whole system.
On the physical level, for instance, we have yoga poses (asanas) that can be used to address stiffness, soreness, suppleness, strength, and more. We can target particular parts of the body with a specially-designed asana practice to address whatever imbalance or condition might be there. We can design physical practices that lead to greater balance in our nervous system – to calm us down, or pep us up.
Diet, sleep, blood pressure, weight management, physical exercise all play a part in physical health. But so does our energetic management, our sense of self in relationship to others, and our ability to manage our minds and hearts. True health is a complex issue.
Physical yoga asanas not only do the things mentioned above, they also can help move energy through the body, building or releasing it. The connection into our nervous system through manual movements radiates through the whole body, sometimes promoting emotional releases we don’t expect. The intricate and mysterious interplay of all the layers of our being is a precious and brilliantly designed system we are privileged to live in.
For instance, did you know that learning how to stand clearly allows gravity to sequence with the most ease through your body? And that this ease of standing can also give a deep feeling of grounding and steadiness in the heart? Which may lead to stepping forward into the world with a greater sense of confidence…
I invite you to come along to the next series of yoga classes where we will be looking at some of the physical ‘touchpoints’ in our body, and how those can relate to those deeper layers of energy, thought, emotion, and deep connection with self. The healthy natural pathways of our being are accessible to us all through this system.
After all, a health-span that extends to the limit of our lifespan is the goal. The grand adventure of life is too precious to miss out on!