Body Beyond the Body The Five Sheaths of Existence

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In Chapter 8, "Hatha Yoga: May the Force Be with You," we briefly mentioned the five sheaths of existence, but they're worth touching on again here because they're intimately connected with the state of your health. The first sheath consists of your physical body. The second is the vital body, made of prana, the life force. The third sheath is your mind, including your emotions and thoughts. The fourth sheath is your higher intellect, and the fifth sheath is the bliss sheath, filled with positive energy and inner peace. Being human means we originally existed in the bliss sheath, and we have to work our way down into the physical body, then find our way back out to the bliss sheath again.

Disturbances or imbalances in any of your body's sheaths, not just the physical layer, can result in illness. Neglecting your nutritional needs, for example, could cause an imbalance in your physical body, which could, in turn, result in an imbalance of prana, which could make you feel uncomfortable and stressed. When you don't feel well, maybe you begin to think more negatively, causing an imbalance in your third sheath of existence. Pretty soon, you're all out of whack!

Know Your Sanskrit

Svasthya (pronounced SVAH-sthyah) is the Sanskrit word for health, from sva-stha, which means "one's own state." Roga (ROH-gah) means "sickness," and vyadhi (VYAH-dee) means "disease."

Know Your Sanskrit

Svasthya (pronounced SVAH-sthyah) is the Sanskrit word for health, from sva-stha, which means "one's own state." Roga (ROH-gah) means "sickness," and vyadhi (VYAH-dee) means "disease."

Disturbances of the third, or mind, sheath can also arise when strong feelings distort your inner balance. Maybe you're fixated on your dislike of a colleague at work. You spend a lot of time fuming about what he said or what she did. Pretty soon, you aren't breathing productively, and your second sheath becomes disturbed. Then you get a cold, and your first sheath is unbalanced.

Even positive behavior can cause an imbalance when taken to an extreme. Perhaps you absolutely love running—normally a healthy activity—so much that you spend all your time running at the expense of all other activities and interests. Your mind becomes obsessed with running and loses interest in other aspects of life. You lose friends because everyone is tired of hearing about running. Your body begins to suffer because you lose too much weight or injure your legs or feet. See how it's all connected?

Even the practice of yoga asanas can become an obsession. If you spend all your time on yoga poses and neglect the other areas of your life, you'll throw yourself out of balance.

The "moderation in all things" adage comes into play in health as well as in diet. Anything you do to an extreme will cause an imbalance in your body and mind, or in your first three sheaths of existence. Remember ahimsa, or nonviolence? Practice it by refusing to commit violence to your body with obsessive actions. Also, observe santosha, or contentment, by practicing satisfaction, peace, and tranquillity. You'll have a much easier time staying obsession-free.

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