THE EXAMINED LIFE
MANY WESTERN societies have compartmentalized health care by focusing treatment and prevention on one aspect of our being — body or mind or spirit — rather than administering to all three.
For physical pain, a physician tends to prescribe medication and exercise. For mental and emotional well-being, psychiatrists and psychologists offer medication and therapy. For spiritual sustenance and growth, religious leaders opt for prayer and penance. Alternatively and appropriately, yoga’s acceptance as a mainstream wellness practice is due to its capacity to balance and unite body, mind and spirit. Another remarkable benefit is yoga returns responsibility for one’s wellness back where it belongs — to the practitioner.
We are not suggesting physicians, counsellors and spiritual leaders do not play an important role in health care. Quite the contrary. The key, however, is to learn when their help is best applied. Unfortunately, abdicating inquiry and decision making about your health to one of these professionals limits your own intimate relationship with your mind, body and spirit. If, as American psychologist Abraham Maslow theorized, self-actualization or personal mastery is an innate drive we all share, then it behooves us to become intimately familiar with all aspects of our being.
The unexamined life is not worth living. — Socrates (469-399 BC)
Socrates also coined the phrase, “All knowledge is self-knowledge,” affirming self-awareness enables us to choose those actions best-suited to our minds, bodies and spirits. So, if you are looking for a Do-It-Yourself (DIY), integrated wellness experience, yoga study and practice of the body’s five layers of being — koshas — will inform your awareness journey. These five layers or sheaths, like Russian nesting dolls, are located each inside the next with the outer, visible layer being our physical body. ANNAMAYA
Kosha (Physical) includes muscle, bone and tissue, which we strengthen and stretch through yoga postures (asana). PRANAMAYA
Kosha (Energy) involves our organs, emotions and channels or nadis, which transport life-force energy throughout our system. Both breath (pranayama) and asana practices nourish this layer. MANAMAYA
Kosha (Mental) contains our thoughts, ego and sensations emerging from our five senses. We quiet the mind by drawing the senses inward (pratyahara), regulating the breath (pranayama) and anchoring the mind (dharana) through focuses such as yoga actions and meditation (dhyana). VIJNANAMAYA KOSHA
(Intelligence) requires the integration of the first three layers in order to reveal spiritual awareness, intuition and wisdom (discernment). ANANDAMAYA KOSHA
(Bliss) is experienced as joy with the increase of inner and outer harmony — oneness with our individual spirit and with the universal spirit.
In more practical terms, all our previous Free Press articles offered asanas, which nourish and purify the physical kosha. Within these articles, the focus on a yoga action (breath or body) nourished the mental kosha. Those articles focusing on breath actions or organic cleansing (i.e., June 18, 2016) activated and nourished the energy kosha. The more you can integrate the first three koshas, the more you will experience the last two (wisdom and joy).
To guide you in choosing an appropriate practice from one day to the next, use your intuition to answer this question: “Where am I feeling stuck? In my sensations (annamaya kosha)? In my emotions (pranayama kosha)? In my thoughts (manamaya kosha)?”
Once your vijnanamaya kosha answers the question, choose the appropriate practice for what you are experiencing. For today, practice the yoga action described below in each of the three poses, and notice if your experience brings you a little closer to blissful awareness.
Deadlifts are popular exercises, but without proper form, gym-goers can suffer injuries such as herniated discs.