Few thousand years back our wise ones knew and understood that we are not just our physical bodies. There so much more to our existence than just the muscles, bones, flesh, blood and organs. Taittriya Upanishad written 3000+ yrs ago mentions the ‘Pancha Kosha’ – 5 Layers of Existence that we all have – which is the basis of the Integrated Yoga Therapy that I have learnt and practice. It gives us a holistic perspective of our selves – not limiting it to our physical body.
Today if I go to a doctor with the problem of High Blood Pressure the medical doctor is going to examine my problem from all the knowledge she has gathered about my physical body – she will probably give me medications to keep the pressure in check which will relax the blood vessels and reduce the pressure on the heart or slowing down the heart beat etc etc. Basically for any ailment the doctors will give us medications/treatment that will work on our physical body – i.e. body parts that we can see with our eyes or microscope. In the field of understanding and fixing our physical body we have reached very far – so even if we don’t like our nose we can change it completely!! From Stem Cells to DNA, to organs and body systems – we know it all and we have mastered the knowledge so much that now we have super specialists – who know much more about our kidney or liver or heart than anyone else. Essentially the approach is to treat our body and its parts separately, isolate the part that is affected and fix it.
This system doesn’t consider the body as a holistic mechanism and doesn’t even remotely consider that if my kidney is not working properly it may not be the problem of the kidney at all!! And if I fix something else, my kidney will also automatically get fixed!!! This is where the ancient approach to holistic wellness plays a very important part. If we go by the Panch Kosha theory for our health problems, we understand the body not just as a physical mass but as an energy field with multiple layers of existence – and each one interrelated and affecting the other. This approach manages to trace the root cause of most problems (which do not arise in physical body but in the other subtle bodies) and not just fix the manifestation that shows up in the physical body.
The 5 layers (Pancha Kosha) of existence that I have are:
Annamaya Kosha – The Food Sheath – literally means the one which needs food to survive. We know so much about this part of us in last 200 yrs. The layer where medical science has gained total mastery over. All allopathic medicines work on this – and this approach sees my brain as an organ. Doesn’t know where my mind is located or my thoughts ! Basically it sees my body as a physical identity – from my cells to organs and body systems
Pranamaya Kosha – The Energy Sheath – this is the life force that I have – the pranas that govern all my physical body systems. This sheath can be recognized by my breath and can also be energized using breathing techniques and pranayama. Imbalance in this sheath is identified by short haphazard or fast breathing. Incidentally when I am stressed my breath becomes short, fast and jerky. When I am sick or unwell, my pranic layer is weak and I start feeling lethargic and slow. Pranic Healing works on this sheath.
Manomaya Kosha – The Mental Sheath – this is my daily mind – the entire gamut of feelings and emotions that I have during my waking moments. My likes, dislikes, hates, fears, phobias, love, compassion, irritations, sensitivities, anger, passion, obsessions etc etc. This is my seat of all pleasure and pains. This is the biggest culprit responsible for 90% of my health problems which originate here but only show up in my physical body much later. Upto here I am not very different from my dog – he also has these first 3 sheaths (though not as developed as mine). My teacher would say our mind is like ‘A drunk monkey, stung by a scorpion jumping around’ – so restless and crazy!!
Vijnanamaya Kosha – The Wisdom Sheath – this is my higher knowing, my inner voice, my inner conscience. This one tells me what is fundamentally right or wrong. This one is at a higher level than my daily mind. This differentiates me from my dog. This one tells me what I should be doing and saying vs. what I actually may end up doing or showing. This is my witness mind – watching over my monkey mind.
Usually if my wisdom sheath and mental sheath are both in sync, I would be healthy and happy . But at most times this one is in conflict with my mental sheath – and this conflict in the vibrations slowly grows and the imbalance then passes thru the pranamaya kosha into MOVES the physical body where it will manifest as a health problem. Hence the first sign of imbalance or impending disease would be imbalanced breath – which, if not addressed then slowly permeates into the physical body and settles as a Diabetes or Obesity or High BP or Arthritis – depending upon each individual and her lifestyle.
Anandmaya Kosha – The Bliss Sheath – this one being the part of me that can experience complete silence and bliss (which I have very rarely experienced!). This one is the ultimate goal of any healthy happy and normal human being – to be happy! This one experiences happiness without any strings attached – pure happiness, bliss , not connected to any material acquisitions or goals. This is where each one of us deserves to be – but alas! We all are usually stuck up in our Manomaya and Vijnanamaya layers – struggling within ourselves – hardly ever managing to reach to this level!
Integrated Yoga Therapy Approach as taught to me by my SVYASA (Swami Vivekananda Anusandhana Samstha, Bangalore) teachers uses this as a foundation to help people heal themselves. So based on the theory that any problem can be resolved by balancing and harmonizing these layers (koshas), we design the therapy to help the client overcome or manage the disease. Various techniques are directed Honored at each kosha and the attaché diagram will make it clear.
In fact most alternate healing therapies work on this holistic approach – not treating the body or an organ in isolation but in treating the entire system of our body and its energies as a interlinked whole system. Diabetes doesn’t get cured by taking insulin – working on why the body has stopped making insulin and why is this imbalance caused and fixing that can cure it! Taking insulin is just like putting bandaid on the wound! Doesn’t mean we stop taking medicines – but it means that along with medicines using such methods to identify and fix the root cause is the need of the day.
So each time I have a disease or chronic problem (of course, this doesn’t apply to accidental injuries or viral infections) I would look at these 5 layers of my body and work at balancing them in order to finally feel fit and fine!
All my yoga sessions are broadly based on this Panch Kosha Theory and designed on the principles of balancing these koshas in every session!