The “mind-body” connection has become a mainstream concept, and even more of a buzzword of late.
As you may know, I use principles from therapeutic yoga to help busy people sleep better & regain energy. As such, I find that more and more I’m teaching my clients about the many “layers” of their system.
Our Five Layers: Mind-body “Plus”
The mind-body concept is mainstream, if not a bit buzzwordy lately. While that’s great progress, there’s even more to your human system!
The yogis commonly refer to the five layers of the human system, which they call kośas (pronounced koshas).
Note: While most authors draw the kośas as nested Russian dolls, I like to draw them like a spider web because it reminds me how delicately they’re connected.
- Physical. The first layer is your physical body and the sensations you have while living in it. It’s the body part of the mind-body connection.
- Energy/Breath. Imagine that one layer out from your physical body is your energy/breath layer. Your physical body is animated by your breath. Your breath gives life and energy to your body. (This is part of why Yoga places so much emphasis on breathing techniques!)
- Mental/Emotional. The third layer contains the “stuff” of your personality: your intellect, your thoughts and beliefs, your feelings and emotions. You can also think of the mental/emotional layer as the mind part of the mind-body connection. For most people I coach privately, the mind/mental part is much stronger than the emotional part, so I chose to break out Emotional Health as a separate section in the self-assessment you’ll do next.
- Intuition/Wisdom. The fourth layer is interesting because it’s where intuition and true knowing (i.e., wisdom) reside. Intuition/wisdom is the impartial part of you that allows you to observe and watch whatever unfolds. When I ask you:
- “Where do you notice tension in your body?”
- “What’s your breathing like right now?” or
- “How do you feel?”
- Connection/Soul. The furthest layer out is where you’re fully connected to the purpose and meaning of your human life experience. It’s where you feel at peace, joyful, and loving. You might call this soul. Many call this layer “bliss.”
When you’re in sync through each of these five layers, you experience true well-being and are “thriving” (as so many people are talking about these days).
I draw these layers sort of like a spider-web because they are all delicately connected. The easiest way to see this connectivity—unfortunately—is through a negative example:
Say you experience chronic pain somewhere in your physical body. Your back hurts badly. As a result, you may have trouble sleeping, and your energy (literally) is affected by the lack of restorative sleep. Because you feel pain, you might tighten up and round your shoulders in a protective way. Such posturing impacts how deep a breath you can take (which can also create fatigue). You might feel angry that you can’t do everything you want to. Or, you could start thinking this pain will never go away, which brings up feelings of grief and sadness.
At this point, it’s probably clear you’d have a hard time feeling peace, joy or love (and anything remotely like bliss!). You’re too busy with what’s happening at all the other layers.
Positive Mind Body Connectivity & “Different Layer” Techniques
You can start by figuring out which “layer” your most pressing issue lives in. Let’s say it’s in the physical layer/body—i.e. the back pain.
Let’s also say you’ve done a LOT already to try and help yourself. You’ve seen orthopedic doctors, you’ve done your PT exercises, you’ve tried chiropractic. Perhaps you’ve even taken medications. But the pain persists. This may be because the solutions you’re exploring all “act” on the same layer as the issue: e.g., the physical one.
One of the ways I help clients is by using interventions at different layers. So for a person with back pain person who’s tried all the physical interventions, they can work with the breath/energy layer instead.
This tactic is often a relief in and of itself. You can stop banging your head against the wall, as it were. Letting go of trying to solve that nagging problem reduces stress and frustration. You end up working with techniques that impact your overall system in a more “round-about” way. This is frequently way more effective in solving the original problem than more attacks!
Of course I’m not saying that breathing is a magic balm that instantly removes all back pain! But working in these other layers can reduce the pain (i.e., suffering) that’s being created on top of what’s truly legitimately there, and even reduce your perception of the pain that remains.
What’s more, yoga practices are often designed to work at multiple layers (at the same time).
Let’s take another example of a person with anxiety. Perhaps this person has done all kinds of traditional therapy, doesn’t feel like they’re getting results, and describes themselves as “all talked out.” While complex and individual, for the sake of discussion we can look at anxiety as a mental layer issue, and traditional talk therapy as a same layer solution.
Therapeutic yoga techniques such as the Moving Mountain or Nyasa finger-breathing are physical practices, but they also help to lengthen the breath (energy layer) while requiring mental focus that’s quite different from talking through problems. They can help the person get some much needed distance from their worrisome thoughts.
These are just a few examples, but hopefully you see my point!