Yoga and Pain, Disease and Dis-Ease


We are sensory beings, and as such, we experience the world through our senses. Pain, disease, and dis-ease, do not occur in isolation. Indeed, they happen on every layer through which we experience the world. As a Yoga Therapist, I work with all of these layers, through the concepts of the pancamaya kosha model.

A break-down of the Sanskrit words:
panca — five
— illusion
kosha — layer

Briefly stated, pancamaya kosha means the five illusory layers that cover up the self, the “Self of the self,” or as termed in Vedantic philosophy, the Atman.

These layers are illusory, because while we might identify with aspects of each of them, the practice is to realize that we are also not any of these, but something more.

[To me, this feels like going into a black hole, only to realize the infinite expansion… Atman is Brahman, which is the universal principle. But more on that in another writing!]

To better understand these concepts, here is a breakdown of the pancamaya kosha:

Anamaya kosha — this is the outermost layer, comprised of the physical body and all physical sensations, such as the five senses of sight, sound, smell, taste, touch. Ana translates to “food,” so this layer is quite literally the “food body.”

Pranamaya kosha — this is the second layer. Prana is an often used word, commonly known as “life-force” or energy. Pranayama are techniques used to control or manipulate the breath, thereby influencing the energy state. Most of us can attest to our energy state being intricately intertwined with our physical state. We can feel “energetic” or “depleted,” for example.

Manomaya kosha — this third layer is the mind in relation to emotions. Mana translates to “mind.” Emotions are a response to our environment and our state of being. Emotions can be though of as “energy in motion,” or “e-motion.” Our emotional state does affect our energetic state, and thereby also our physical experience.

Vijnanomaya kosha — this is the layer of the intellect. Vijnana is essentially translated as knowledge, sometimes scientific knowledge. I also consider it as where the power of discernment exists. This is the layer from which we discern our experience on all the other layers. It is also the closet we can come to understanding our spiritual self on a conscious level.

Anandamaya kosha — this is our spiritual layer. Ananda (long A) is “bliss without reason or cause.” It is the place where we are able to realize that life can be in crises or celebration, and this state of Ananda is a constant. It is through the realization that we are even not this, that we recognize the true self, or the Self of the self, which is Atman.

To make all of this more relatable, I will share my story.

In the degradation of my marriage to one of dysfunction and toxicity, I was living in so much anxiety —a constant “walking on eggshells” and a “ waiting for the other shoe to drop” type feeling — that I became unable to digest the “sweet stuff” in my life. And this crept into my experience of my kids, my pleasure of teaching and practicing yoga, my family. Often I could not even find the sweet stuff if it was there.

“Digestion” here is metaphorical — at the end of each day, we need to be able to digest what has happened that day. This includes getting cut off in traffic, a difficult conversation with your boss, an unhappy client, kids rejecting your efforts to make a well-balanced dinner, your partner snapping at you for forgetting to pick up the dry-cleaning… Each of these, when we are not able to digest and assimilate, add up to stress and trauma with a small “t.” To compound that, sleep becomes more restless or uneasy. We wake up feeling fatigued. Sleep is where the integration is supposed to happen.

Your body is already sending signals that something is not right. Not being able to sleep well is an indicator that something is out of balance.

And, sleeping too deeply, or not being able to arise easily in the morning, is another indicator.

And there are many, many more ways that our bodies signal to us that something is misaligned in life.

The idea is that we are able to listen and attune to our bodies to a level that we notice when that out of balance happens, so that we can put into practice ways to effectively bring balance — and well-being — back into live.

Because, when this occurs day after day, year after year, at some point, your being cannot uphold it any longer. Pain, disease, and dis-ease sets in.

Some pain and dis-ease can be healed.

Some can not. Sometimes it becomes chronic. And then it is something we have to learn to live with.

Dr. Gabor Mate describes this concept so well in his exploration of personalities and different manifested disease states in his ground-breaking work, When the Body Says No.

Yoga therapists work with this concept through the pancamaya kosha model.

It feels as though this “mind-body” connection that we seem to be seeking these days, is something that in ancient wisdom traditions, was never separate to begin with.

And when we speak of holistic care, and wellness, this is what we are speaking of. It is truly whole-being wellness with which we are concerned.

Medical science has parsed out the human being to be pieces to examine closely. There is a “doctor for” everything. Heart, lungs, digestive tract, brain, bones, etc.

In 1637, French phosopher Rene Descartes declared, Cogito, ergo sum, often translated as, “I think, therefore I am,” which became a dominate line of thought in Western Philosophy. This parsing out of the “I” as something separate, got us somewhere to understanding consciousness, but as it was with the Age of Enlightenment in Europe, we continued to dissect our being until each piece of us was examined. This occurred in the West, while in Eastern thought, the bodymind has never been separate.

And for our minds to understand ourselves, it is to some degree necessary. We need to separate to get to know ourselves better.

There is a tale that God (Consciousness) wanted to know himself (I use the pronoun he/him because in the yogic tradition, consciousness is the masculine principle, while matter is the feminine), and in order to know himself, he had to become two. Then three, four, more, and now we have over 7 billion selves, through which conscious is looking, only to know itself once again. (Go deeper into that story, and God hid himself so well that he forgot who he is… and it is the forgetting that brings suffering, the remembering that allows us to transcend suffering.)

Of course we need specialists to understand our parts: heart, lungs, digestive tract, brain, bones, etc. We dissect to understand. But in the process of dissection, we seem to have forgotten that we are a WHOLE being. That one part does not experience existence not in isolation of another. And, we need to arrive again at the whole self. We need to remember that we are not just parts, but one hole that is integrated, and unseparate. (Indeed, we are seeking to remember that we are not separate from Self — separate from God, or the divine Consciousness that created this incredible play of life.)

This Knowing — that bodymind is inseparable, as well as inseparable from the environment that surrounds us — is what Yoga Therapy can facilitate. In the practice, you are empowered, as witness to your own experience, to uncover and discover patterns that, once brought into conscious awareness, are obstacles to whole wellness.

And the really beautiful thing is, Yoga Therapy gives YOU the power as you discover or realize your true being within the therapeutic process. Yoga Therapy is not something being done TO you, as it is in the conceptualization of most medical care.

Whether you are dealing with psychological stress and trauma, emotional, or physical, Yoga Therapy’s approach that these are inseparable, and one affects the other, can help.

The Self can be experienced in the present moment only. All else are fabrications of the mind. Ruminating on past experiences, or creating future ones.

Yoga IS the practice of resolving the problematic stuff of the mind. (Yoga Sutra 1.1) Once this is achieved, the mind rests in it’s essential self, in present moment awareness, allowing for direct experience of what is happening in the present moment.

“Yoga Therapy is the process of empowering individuals to progess toward improved health and wellbeing through the application of the teachings and practices of yoga.” (Taylor 2007b, p3)

Have you experienced Yoga Therapy? Would you like to?

Schedule a Discovery Call with me to get started on your path to realizing your true nature, enabling you to Live. Life. Better. Because You Can THRIVE.

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Embodied Living with Kristen Boyle

Kristen Boyle is a Yoga Therapist and master yoga teacher, working with students, teachers and clients, all over the world.