Yoga is the thread that binds the various phases of our lives as the Upanishads define them. It paves the way for people to overcome common afflictions and diseases, whether they are physical or mental.
By Pragati Oswal
Who are we? What we generally identify ourselves with is our physical body in general.According to the ancient Indian philosophy of Taittriya Upanisad, our body is actually a five layered entity. The tangible layer or the physical body accounts for but one-fifth of the entire being. It is the gross layer called Annamaya Kosa. The other layers are Pranamaya Kosa – the Electro- Magnetic &Bio-Chemical energy field, Manomaya Kosa – the layer of mental and emotional personality, Vijnanamaya Kosa – the Intellectual layer and Anandamaya Kosa – the layer of Bliss. A harmony between all the five layers is good health.Now, good health is not what bothers us, so let’s get a yogic perspective on disease. Disease or Vyadhi is classified into two types:
- Adhi –This type of disease originates in the mind mostly due to strong likes or attachments(raga) and dislikes or repulsion(dvesha). There are two types of Adhis – Samanya (usual) and Sara (essential). The Samanya types of disease are usually produced during our interactions with the world. The judgments we make, the opinions we have, our choices, our fears, preferences, likes and dislikes, stresses and pressure of different kinds, all contribute to Samanya type of disease/ Vyadhi. In conventional medicine these are termed as psychosomatic diseases. A high blood pressure due to emotional upheaval or work-stress, fever in some children during exam time, irritable bowel syndrome are few examples of simpler Samanya type of Vyadhis. Deep-seated emotions that create auto-immunity like cancer, multiple-sclerosis, severe asthma etc., are more complicated types of Vyadhis.
The Sara/ essential type of Adhis are due to strong impressions and tendencies that we carry from our past lives that lead to the cycle of rebirth and death. Congenital diseases are an example of this type of Vyadhi.
It is said that essential type of ailments can be destroyed only by the realization of the causal states of mind. Such type of recoveries confound the theories of the physical world. In layman’s language, we call them “miraculous”. According to yogic philosophy, when one gets established in eternal bliss, into a complete harmony between all the five layers of the body (which will be discussed in detail in the following sections), one overcomes the shackles of birth and death.
- Anadhijah Vyadhayah: The secondary category of ailments are caused by an external event. These are non-psychosomatic diseases.Contagious diseases, food poisoning, fractures due to accidents, dengue, malariaetc belong to this category. The texts say that when the source is outside, one can seek the solution outside the self as well. These can be managed throughmedicines, surgery etc.
We shall now explore the specifics of each one of the five layers of the self and how and where the disease manifests.
ANNAMAYA KOSA -THE PHYSICAL BODY
The first layer, Annamaya Kosa or the physical body is the body as we see it. It is that which we identify ourselves with and that with respect to which we differentiate ourselves from another. The body has distinguishing traits like big -small, bulky-lean, tall-short, young-old etc. Also, the kind of food we eat seems to be directly influencing our body. ‘Anna’ means “grain”, in other words, food. So, annamaya kosa is the material sheath made of food. This could be understood in two ways. Firstly, we need food to maintain the body. If we eat too much, our physical body usually grows out of proportion. If we eat a well-balanced diet, the body usually stays healthy. On the other hand, if there’s consumption of inedible food items, the organs get damaged and the body systems get affected for the worse. In this sense, Annamaya kosa depends on the type of “anna” that goes into it. We become what we eat.
Secondly, the physical body also serves as food. For example, the mosquitoes feed on the blood in the human body, the vultures eat any carcass including the human dead body etc. The human body also serves as food for many carnivorous animals or even microbes. Annamaya Kosa will always remain “anna”. So, any physical body/Annamaya Kosa, will depend upon food and will serve as food.
Anadhijavyadhi/non-psychosomatic diseases affect the annamaya kosa by the way of what goes into the body or by the way of injury, poisoning, infection etc.
Adhijavyadhi/psychosomatic diseases don’t originate in the body, they percolate through other layers and make their presence felt in the physical body. This category of disease can only be treated symptomatically at the physical level. For a lasting solution, the layer of origin needs to be tapped.
The annamaya kosa should be maintained through exercise (yogasanas), adequate rest or deep relaxation, kriyas (cleansing practices) and an appropriate diet in general. In the event of an infection or accident, medicine, surgery or an appropriate measure needs be resorted to.
PRANAMAYA KOSA – THE LAYER OF BIO-CHEMICAL ENERGY
Prana is the subtlest form of biological energy. It is present in every physical and mental event. Prana is intelligence and consciousness, the two vital ingredients which animate physical body/ annamaya kosa, without which nothing can remain alive. Prana, the life energy described here is not only the material electromagnetic energy spectrum known to modern science. Body’s main source of Prana is though breath which on a gross level brings in oxygen and on a subtle level brings life energy. That’s why a dead person cannot be revived with oxygen. It is the prana which imbues life into breath. Breath functions as a direct link or a messenger between the Annamaya and the Pranamaya kosa. When breathing is refined, slow and regular, the circulation of Prana reaches all levels promoting a state of complete equilibrium. A uniform harmonious flow of prana to each and every cell of Annamaya Kosa keeps them healthy and alive.
Prana isn’t bound by the laws of nature that apply to other forms of energy such as sound, light, electricity etc. Prana is described as that which can increase or decrease by itself without any ostensible agency (Svayameva tanavam yati, svayameva pinatam yati).
Prana divides itself into 5 facets that govern various physiological functions. Prana-functions in the upper region especially respiration, Apana-functions of lower regions like excretion and procreation, Samana-functions of the abdomen like digestion, Udana- functions like vomiting, cognitive skills, memory and Vyana-regulates the circulation, touch sensation, coordinates the other pranas and acts as a reserve for other pranas.
The disease/Vyadhi manifests in this layer mainly when the breathing gets affected. In Yoga Vasistha, it is said that when the mind is disturbed, the breath goes haywire, it staggers like a deer who has been wounded. This leads to Ajirnatvam (indigestion), Atijirnatvam(over-digestion) or Kujirnatvam (wrong digestion). All these hamper the body’s capacity to assimilate nutrition from the food and remove that untowardly substances. Since the food creates the physical body, badly digested food shall create an unhealthy physical body or body systems.
Pranayama, the techniques of breathing in yoga, that increases the Pranic capacity or length, is practiced for therapeutic purposes.
Manomaya kosa is the mental layer, the emotional layer based on individual likes and dislikes, attachments and repulsion, that which determines joy or distress. We are what we think we are because of our mental make-up, our mental perception. All the yogic texts emphasize on mind-management. Sage Patanjali defines yoga as “citta vritti nirodhah” which means mastery over the modifications in the mind. Sage Vasistha defines Yoga as a subtle technique to trick the mind into calmness. Bhagavad Gita states that equanimity of mind is Yoga. For Yoga, i.e union/one-ness to manifest between all the five layers, there is unanimity regarding the “state of mind” that must be attained.
The Manomaya Kosa has a tremendous capacity to influence the Pranamaya and the Annamaya Kosa. The diseases originate here. Disturbances in the mind lead to most of the psychosomatic ailments (AdhijaVyadhyayah). These disturbances are caused mainly due to one’s strong emotions based onsubjective attachments or repulsions.
There are two kinds of emotions – violent& soft. Violent emotions like anger, greed, hate, envy or any of the “seven deadly sins” ( wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony) create disturbances for ourselves and others around us. In the process one experiences many unpleasantries like obsession, over-ambition, loss of sleep, indigestion, extreme alertness, imbalanced breathing pattern, anxiety, depression etc. One or more of these snow-ball into a disease in the Annamaya kosa.
Soft emotions are those which put us at-ease with ourselves and with others around us. That’s why love, compassion, forgiveness, affability changes the way one behaves with others as well as oneself. When one nurtures such emotions, the mind develops the potential to become a great healer.
In other words, peace of mind is indispensable for good health.
The need for Ahara/food, Nidra/sleep, Bhaya/fear (action based on fear) and Maithuna/procreation are the four characteristics that are common to animals and human beings. Buddhi or the intellect is what makes a human being superior. In other words, the human ability to use discretion above everything else, is the essence of being human. It is this component of the human personality that differentiates them from animals. This intellectual body is called the Vijananamaya Kosa.
The intellect has the ability to guide the mind.It is referred to as the “inner voice” or the conscience in general. Intellect tells us right from wrong, whether to do or not to do, to be or not to be. The intellectual learning happens from our direct experience, conditioning, growing up, realizations, schooling, lectures, interactions, applications and experimentations. The intellect lays bare the facts, the truths and then guides the actions.
In Kathopanisad, Yama, while sharing the secrets of death and beyond for self-realization, reveals to his disciple Nachiketa the difference between Shreyas and Preyas. The latter, preyas is what we are attracted to but isn’t good for us in the long run. The former, Shreyas is that which we (may or) may not be attracted to, but is good for us. Shreyas is the path of Vijanana or the path of knowledge.
While Manomaya Kosa/mental layer has the choice to like or dislike it has no power to discriminate, judge or decide. It is partial towards what it likes and rejects what it doesn’t. Partiality or preference can never lead to the correct judgement. Lack of judgement leads to suffering and eventually disease.
In a state of imbalance, the Manomaya Kosa which is meant to serve like a manager in a corporation inappropriately assumes the role of the CEO. Unfortunately, this causes a great deal of confusion because the Manomaya kosa lacks the qualities of a CEO. However, when Manomayasurrenders to the essential wisdom of the Vijnanamaya Kosa, it functions remarkably well.
The Vijnanamaya Kosa is disease-free. It however, consists of data base which at times is faulty. At times people develop wrong notions (for examplegender -based generalizations such as girls like pink and boys like blue, boys don’t cry etc) and the actions become faulty in return, the discretion ceases to be. So, the notions need to be rectified.
Anandamaya Kosa is the causal body. It is the reason for our existence. By itself it is the layer of bliss, of complete silence, of complete harmony, of perfect health. All our actions are guided towards the search of our origin which is bliss. Ananda means bliss, perfect peace, comfort, stability, joy and love. Ananda is not the mere passing pleasure of emotion experienced at the level of Manomaya kosa whereby this sense of bliss is sought in external material. The bliss of Ananda is beyond the mind and independent of any reason or stimulus to cause a happy mental reaction. This bliss resides within and can be tapped by its own realization. Being established in bliss leads to a shift in consciousness or even a quantum leap in consciousness that creates harmony between all the layers of existence.That’s the culmination of the greatest form of healing, quantum healing.
(Pragati Oswal is a Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) Practitioner and Researcher with expertise in pain relief, healing and wellness without the use of medicines)