To achieve anything in life we need a systematic approach. Yoga consists of various systematic methods that are adapted to the individual’s temperament and personal needs. Even though the paths may vary they share the same goal of growing more in-tuned with the Universal Life Energy, thereby feeling greater health, knowledge, and happiness.
The practices of yoga date back thousands of years. The word yoga is derived from the sanskrit root ‘yuj’ which means to unite or connect. There are many expressions of this union. And the most common to all paths is the union that brings into balance the triple principle. This trinity is at the heart of all paths and has many expressions. In common terms we can say that yoga is the union of body, mind and spirit. Therefore, the systematic yoga practices consist of techniques that will insure this union.
To live in harmony with the life-energy, experiencing the triple union, is to understand what it means to be whole. Necessarily, we should understand the function of the three bodies and the five corresponding sheaths that surround our consciousness, or soul. Because to maintain a balanced flow of life-energy these three bodies need to be harmonious and healthy.
The physical body consist of the food sheath. It is created by food and it is sustained by food. Our choice of food is vitally important. For this reason yoga recommends a vegetarian diet. Having the right exercise program is important for health of the body. Yogis have long been inspired with this most complete health and fitness program. This branch of yoga is called hatha yoga. The original hatha yoga was inspired through yogis who were in deep meditation. The life-energy became so balanced that it spontaneously moved the yogi’s body through the practice, guiding as the body wisdom. Likewise, when one learns the practice from a yogi who has the direct experience then they, too, will feel the awakened flow of prana. Progressively as the life-energy becomes balanced one will feel guided from within knowing exactly what the body needs in terms of food, exercise, rest and play.
This body received its name because it is subtle in comparison to the physical body. The subtle body consists of three sheaths. These three sheaths represent our subtle instruments: energy sheath, mental sheath, and intellect sheath. Even though we may not see the subtle body as we do the physical body, we cannot deny its existence, because we experience life through these sheaths.
The life-energy sheath is our vital energy. It lies between the food and mental sheath. This is why we say the breath is the link between the body and mind, as the breath is the main source for life-energy to enter the body. To increase and balance the life-energy, yoga has a series of breathing practices called pranayama. With a rhythmical breath the body and mind become more vibrant and aware.
The mental sheath is composed of our lower mind. Yoga sees this aspect of the mind like it is a movie screen. The five senses, conscious and subconscious thoughts project onto it. By maintaining a positive mind as well as moderation with the senses the mind stays open to the guidance of the higher mind.
The intellect sheath is referred to as the higher mind because it is the home for our discriminative and intuitive faculties. Everything that is perceived in the mental sheath is witnessed by this aspect of the mind. After reviewing all information, it discerns what is best to do then presents it to the ego (individual consciousness). Then it is up to the ego to follow the insight or not. The more we follow this inner guidance or conscience, the more we will experience the natural power of intuitive knowledge inspiring our life.
The causal body is the closest to the soul. Therefore, it is the subtlest, giving it the ability to reflect the spirit of our soul the most. For this reason it is called the bliss sheath. It is all so easy to feel our physical body as well as the subtle body but how many of us really feel our body of bliss? When we live a healthy lifestyle we naturally feel good about ourselves. Our life-energy becomes strong and we live more and more in the flow. Through consistency in this experience, we begin to feel the bliss that is inherent within us. It is this bliss that heals our bodies. It is this bliss that we seek in all things. It is the bliss of our very own self.
Through aligning these bodies, the prana becomes balanced, allowing one to discover one’s true source of health, knowledge and happiness. It is our very birthright as a divine soul.
In summary, healthy guidelines for the three bodies and five sheaths:
1. natural care for the physical body (exercise, vegetarian diet, proper rest, moderation)
2. breathing practices
3. positive mental qualities
4. following the inner guidance
5. feeling the bliss
When one follows these guidelines within the systematic yoga practices, the life-energy naturally awakens to a higher level of evolution. The inner and outer life become transformed. Just as the life-energy flows through nature bestowing it’s abundance, the awakened life-energy flows through our bodies allowing us to experience the abundance of our soul.
For the yogi this is the culmination of yoga practice . . . to experience the soul as the triple principle: Sat (the soul is eternal); Chit (the soul has highest knowledge); and Ananda (the soul is above the pair of opposites, residing in bliss). This realization is the highest manifestation of a balanced life-energy.
Ahh… in the flow, all is made possible.