Even though yoga postures and the practice, do not always look the same as it once did over the past thousands of years, or so, the heart of yoga remains the same. Yoga is a way to gain control over the mind and the body through the use of breath, thereby allowing its practitioner to feel the true essence of their being, which is an underlying peace in the body, mind and the spirit which resides within the human body at any given time. The practice for the yogi is to address all the layers of the human system through yoga in order to reach the innermost layer, which is peace, or bliss.
There are five layers or sheaths, within humans. Each layer affects the other similar to the ripple’s effect on a rock upon being skipped onto a body of water. Once the pebble hits the water, the water ripples out further and further from the initial piercing of the pebble upon the water.
Each layer within the human system can be identified and each layer deeply affects the other and can create disharmony or stress in the body if each layer is not brought back into balance through practices, such as yoga.
The outermost layer of the human system is the PHYSICAL BODY. It is the one that we can touch, see, smell, hear, and access through our physical world. Yogis access this layer through the practice of YOGA. When the body practices yoga it heals and strengthens the body in a physical way, making it stronger, more vital, more flexible and with less physical stress within the entire physical body and hence after a yoga practice we feel more relaxed, stronger, more flexible and calmer. As yogis we begin on this outermost layer.
The second layer of the human system is the BREATH BODY. It is more subtle than the physical body, as each five layers of the human system grow more subtle, just like the pebble striking hard upon the water, the ripples grow more subtle.
The second layer, the BREATH BODY, is what we utilize to bridge the Body to the Mind. It is also our way of controlling the body through the use of the breath. When our breath is calm it has a soothing effect upon the physical body, as well as the mental body, through the linking of the breath to the movement. It is also the way that we move into and come out of a posture. This is a subtle point, but a very important one. It is NOT the flowing of one posture into another, but rather, the movement of the breath inspires each posture, so that the breath leads the posture, NOT the posture leading the breath.
It is akin to riding a wave on a surfboard. The wave is the breath, the surfboard is the posture. We ride the waves of breath within each posture and each posture is born out of the breath, rather than the breath being born out of the posture. This is how yogis are able to control their bodies; it is through the breath, not the posture controlling the breath. It is also the goal of the yogi, to arrive in a comfortable position within each posture, and the indicator that tells us if we’ve reached a comfortable position is through breath awareness. If the breath is erratic, or if we’re holding our breath, shoulders rise up and our heart begins to race, palms begin to sweat, which is also an indicator that we are exciting the nervous system, or adding further stress to the body. If erratic breathing occurs, or if we begin holding our breath during postures, it simply means we need to slow down, to go easier on ourselves, and to stop pushing beyond our limitations in order to try and achieve a different looking posture, and find comfort in the posture, because YOGA is not about how it looks, but rather, how it feels. When you are concerned with the breath within the posture, than you are living in the moment of the practice, which is what Yoga wants us to be, because if you’re concerned about following the posture then your mind is fixated in the future, rather than living in the present moment. This leads us to the next layer of the human system.
The third layer of the human system is the MENTAL BODY (or MIND BODY). As I mentioned before, as we dive deeper into these layers, each layer grows to be less concrete (unable to be felt by the physical body) and thereby make up our SUBTLE body.
The mental body obviously has a great effect on the breath and physical body. The way we think has both positive and adverse effects on the entire human system. When we train ourselves to be present, or when we focus our minds on positive thoughts, we are actually helping to soothe the breath and the physical body. Of course, we live in a world where we are inundated by stress, fears, worry, and this is why YOGA is called a PRACTICE. We practice being positive, we practice slowing down our breath, we practice being present, we practice getting stronger and more flexible in our bodies. It is the practice which is sustaining and with each practice the experience is different because our five systems within the body are different within each day. How we think, what we eat, how much sleep we get, all have effects on the PHYSICAL, BREATH and MENTAL layer of the human system.
When our body is made more subtle through a YOGA practice, the BREATH, too, becomes softer, and the MENTAL body is soothed and less prone to fixating on negative thoughts, worries, or fears. Our BREATH body again comes into play here, because if we find ourselves thinking negatively, our shoulders tighten, our jaw tightens, and the nervous system becomes taxed, and through the slowing down of the breath we bring a sense of calm to the body, and a point for the mind to bring its awareness, a centred point of awareness on the sensations of the breath within the body. Yoga practices train the mind to be more present, or as we say in YOGA, getting control over the monkey-mind that flips back and forth from past to future, forgetting along the way the present moment.
The next layer is even more subtle. The EMOTIONAL or PERSONALITY BODY. This layer is unique in that though we all share this part of our human system; they are expressed even more differently or uniquely than the other layers within the human system. This is where we get the phrase, “They are allowing their emotions to take over,” or, “They are so emotional.” Our emotions are that which connect to our feelings, or our heart, and there are those that allow their emotions to be worn on their sleeves. (I’m certainly one guilty of wearing my emotions on my sleeve for all to see.)
We all experience emotions differently, it comes to make up our personality. People who have the exact thing happening to them, whether it is positive or negative, will come to experience it differently. Something as little (or big, depending upon our perspective) is experienced as uniquely as there are people in the world. If one person breaks a fingernail, one may respond with, “Darn, I broke a nail. I’ll have to get it fixed tomorrow.” Another with the same incident might respond in a more negative manner. “DAMNIT!!! I broke a nail, now I have to go the salon again, pay the lady again, to fix it. DAMNIT!”
This is not to say that either way is the right or wrong way of handling the situation, but we can see that getting control of our emotions helps to aid in a more positive outcome and experience. In the way to control our EMOTIONAL BODY layer, we utilize the mind. We practice positive thinking until the practice itself becomes a good habit, rather than a more negative one that has adverse effects upon the entire human system.
When we gain control over the PHYSICAL, BREATH, MENTAL, and EMOTIONAL layers of the human system we are then FREE to experience the innermost layer within us, the most subtle layer of all, the BLISS or PEACE body. When we are indeed comfortable in our body, breath, mind, and emotions, we are able to access a comfortable meditation seat to view the innermost layer, the BLISS body, which is also known as SPIRIT.
Numerous people have problems with never feeling the BLISS or PEACE body. This is because there is so much turbulence within the other four layers, they are incapable of truly feeling at PEACE within the body and mind, and thereby remain absent from fully experiencing the BLISS or PEACE body that continually resides within us all.
When we have balanced out all four layers then we are given the gift of experiencing the BLISS or PEACE layer within the human system which is always there if we only take the time for a practice which helps to bring balance to the other layers of our human system.
Lastly, to access and to feel PEACE, or the innermost layer, we must address the surrounding layers, and once we do, it is akin to being able to see to the bottom of a lake. When the water above is calm, soothed, we can experience the peace. When the water is filled with a murkiness, which, comes from stress in the body, breath, mind and in the emotional body, we can’t fully come to know bliss. If the body is in pain, it affects our breath, the pain then dominates the mind and the emotions, and it is then nearly impossible to experience peace. This is why we must begin the practice, in order to fully know PEACE, from the outermost layer, i.e. the physical body.
We then begin to see the bottom of the lake, and all the magical things underneath the layers of water, when there is a true calm in the body, breath, mind and emotion. We continue the practice of YOGA to find the calm, because when there is turbulence in any of the layers of the human system, we cannot fully come to experience PEACE, within our BODY, MIND, and SPIRIT.
The Spirit body, or BLISS, or PEACE body, is waiting for our arrival and the benefits of arriving at such knowing is the ultimate goal of a Yoga, to YOKE, the body, mind and spirit as one.