“Yoga is almost like music in a way; there’s no end to it.” – Sting
When the body is working as it should, it is like a great symphony. Master composers can provide the perfect musical score for an orchestra to play, but even if it is the most virtuosic, most genius musical composition ever created, just one vigilante violinist can ruin the perfection of the music. Think of cancer or diseased cells. They work in the same way. The rest of the orchestra can be finely tuned, and ready to play the masterpiece of you, but if just a few cells are out of sync, playing a different rhythm or the wrong notes, then cacophony happens, not beautiful music. From the wisdom of ancient yogic teachings, the body is seen as a cohesive whole, and treated as such. It is not a rudimentary mechanical machine. While it performs incredible tasks for us on a daily basis, it is not to be treated as just a bag of bones needing an occasional tune-up.
Moreover, when the body is allowed to be completely peaceful, we can attain not just perfected health, but ascendant health – that is, we become a genius of sorts ourselves. We may develop talents and gifts that were latent within us, unable to rise to the surface because our bodies were too busy trying to heal us, and bring us back to our natural state of equilibrium.
There are said to be over 8.4 million different asana in Hatha yoga, but the only two poses which are repeatedly referred to in every ancient text are Padmasana (lotus Pose) and Samasana (Perfect Pose). These two are primarily postures of meditation, so one cannot over emphasize the importance of a peaceful mind for our overall health. If postures like these are employed as a means to cure the body, the necessity for pills and surgeries, chemotherapy and other invasive medical procedures becomes, oddly, obsolete.
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” ~ Viktor E. Frankl
Additionally, from a yogic perspective, we have many layers of awareness, or intelligence. The physical is actually the most mundane and lowest level of ‘health’ as we know it, but it is also the gateway to untold vitality and wellness. There are other ‘sheaths’ of the body, called koshas, and as we clear energy from the more subtle layers, this translates to a more open and vital physical body. There are many metaphors used to explain the koshas, like peeling back the layers of an onion to find its core, or unstacking Russian dolls that nestle inside one another. As we heal one layer, the rest of the layers are affected, and vice versa. Ideally, we would keep our most subtle layers ‘clear’ so that disease could never manifest at the physical level, but most of us are not yet aware of our selves on such a subtle level and are happy to peel back just the first layer of the onion. So, this is where we begin our practice – at the physical level.
“By now it should be clear that there must be more to being human than just [the] physical body. We know through modern quantum physics that the physical body is actually a unique aggregation of physical particles of matter which, themselves, are points of frozen light.” Dr. Richard Gerber, Vibrational Medicine
Yoga, in its true form is a means to strengthen the body so that it might become a stronger conduit for clear mental existence. The practice of yoga, ideally, releases age-old tensions accumulated through the day-to-day actions we commit without being in a mindful state. Even the way we breathe is ‘un-yogic,’ and instead of building peace and equanimity in the body, we participate in a feedback loop for creating higher and higher levels of stress. In yogic parlance, this is called the fight-or-flight response, also the reaction of the sympathetic vs. parasympathetic nervous system. Much of yoga aims at undoing this outdated development of the central nervous system, so that we only get excited when we need to – like when we should pull our hands from a hot stove or need to catch public transportation!
From the Physical Body to the Bliss Body
Just as a true musical genius doesn’t just accurately play notes in order to illicit awe from a listener, the true music of the physical body is only achieved through realizing that this is the ‘lowest’ or most dense part of our form. Allopathic medicine looks at the physical self as not only a machine, but divorces it from the other ‘sheaths’ or layers of our true energetic selves. While a master violinist or pianist can play technically perfect and leave an audience without any overwhelming sense of appreciation, they can also play a few wrong notes, but imbue their work with such subtlety of emotion and passion – in some cases – the hand of God even – so that we are left speechless with the beauty of a single performance.
The ‘Bliss Body’ or Anandamaya Kosha referenced in yogic texts is the feeling, either fleeting or perpetual, of absolute awe of the world in general. If you can remember ever feeling completely connected with everyone and everything around you, with very little awareness of a separate ‘self’ then you were likely experiencing an ego-less moment that gives way to perfected health and our most true nature. Though there are ascended states, even beyond this, when we merge with what yogis call Atman, or the larger Allness of the Universe, which some call God, the bliss body is something that cannot be achieved with the limited tools of the purely physical.
The Vedas explained that the “sheath of bliss is associated with the karana-sharira or causal body. This is the stage in which atma (the Self) experiences the eternal bliss, a perfect state of peace, comfort, stability and carefree nature. This svarupa (inmost Self form) is the ultimate foundation of all life, intelligence and higher faculties. This state is explained as the state of sthitaprajna. This is also known as the state of samadhi. The sadhaka who has reached anandamaya kosha understands all the previous koshas better and realizes how incomplete they are. He also understands how transitory the world is. By understanding this difference, he gives importance to philosophy, reality and subtleness. In this light, he feels all the worldly problems insignificant and he finally attains a state of peace and content.”
While we usually only get a glimpse of this aspect of our selves during our dreaming states, we can learn to access it consciously and at will through meditation in our waking states. It is with this level of consciousness that virtuosity – in anything, is achieved.
The Importance of Acknowledging the Energy Body
Many forms of ‘healing’ are lacking because they do not access the ‘core’ of who we are. They ignore the fact that the body is energy. Any yoga practitioner worth their salt will tell you that asana, pranayama, and meditation are practiced to align the sheaths of the body – the subtle emotional, physical, and spiritual selves. This is why practices like yoga, Thai Chi, Qi Gong, and others are so effective when modern Western medicine has failed. We work on the periphery first – the physical body with asana in order to gain access to the mental, emotional and spiritual which are layers of more and more subtlety.
This is often why yogis continue their practice even after curing themselves of major illnesses, seeing drastic emotional changes within, and even after understanding how their energy affects the world around them. The layers don’t of awareness that we can realize don’t seem to end, because we don’t end. We aren’t just a kidney or a liver, a cardiovascular system, or a brain. We’re a collection of fine energy that simply uses this body like a suitcase to carry our consciousness from one train station to another.
While practicing asana can make us sweat, it is really the penetration of the mind we are after, and this physical ‘exercise’ is simply the most basic place from which to begin. To really make music, or to realize the music already being composed by the body/mind/spirit every second, we have to eventually leave the physical aside. Until then, we start with the flesh. We then breathe. We take our focus within more and more every time we take to the met or the meditation cushion. When our legs fall asleep during a lengthy attempt at meditation or our arms get fatigued in Downward Facing Dog, we are tuning our orchestra. The music that ensues is almost always more sublime.
The above article is an amended excerpt from Pharma Sutra: Healing the Mind and Body with Yoga by Christina Sarich available at Yogaforthenewworld.com.
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