Yoga therapy has proven to be beneficial to many people with a variety of conditions like diabetes, hypertension, depression, anxiety and many other lifestyle, behavioral and mental disorders.
Yoga is a spiritual practice, it views the human as more than just a human body, that it has a physical body, a mind and a soul.
In the field of Integrative Yoga Therapy, the human body is looked at with having five layers or sheaths,
1. The physical body
2. The energetic body
3. The mental/emotional body
4. The Witness body
5. The bliss body
Each of these layers reside in all human beings. Although they all contribute to the overall health of a single person, they each have particular functions worthy of mentioning separately.
1. The Physical Body
The physical body is understood to be the things that we can see, hear touch, taste and smell of the body. It includes the gross, physical body, and all the senses it has to interpret the world around it.
This is probably the layer of the body that has the most information available and is relatively known to the outside world, so I will focus this blog primarily on the other layers of the body.
2. The Energetic Body
The energetic body is considered the more subtle body, an invisible body to the naked eye, but the energy, like the heat and vibration of the body is very much felt and experienced – to be exact, the energetic body expands to about 1.5 meters out of the body, approximately an arms length outwards in all directions.
In Chinese traditional medicine, this layer of the body is called “qi” and is considered the bodies vital energy, and is similar to yoga and Ayurveda’s (yoga’s sister science) concept of “prana”, the idea and understanding is one and the same as Chinese medicine: the more “qi” or “prana” that you have, the more energy, vitality and life force a human has to offer and contribute to their own health and others.
3. The Mental & Emotional Body
The mental and emotional body is what is considered to be, where the beliefs and values of a person is held, and how that contributes to the well being of that individual – in yoga this is where it is understood to be the root of all diseases, all diseases must be healed within this layer to bring about wellness, health and healing to not only it’s own layer, but additionally to the former two: the energetic and the physical bodies.
Disease manifested in either the physical or energetic layers of the body has its root stemed from the mental and emotional layer of the body. It is likewise a felt aspect of the body, for example blood boils or blood pressure rises when a feeling like anger is experienced.
*For the following two layers, the witness & bliss bodies, it is impossible for disease to be incured, they will forever remain undisturbed in wellness, and health, regardless of how diseased or ailed the human body is in either of it’s former layers. This you can be assured.
However, the witness & bliss body layers may be understood as like two separate internal lamps, who’s brightness and light may be hampered, veiled or layered by the outside world, thoughts or beliefs.
Every single individual will, without a doubt, have a lamp of its own, however, between people they may vary in their brightness.
From the perspective of health, that although the lamps can never be diseases at it’s root, however, the amount of layers or coverings that each individual can have on top of it, blocking it’s range of light and illumination, can significantly impact the former three layers (physical, energetic, mental & emotional layers) into disease.
In the spiritual practice of yoga, our action is to sharpen these two faculties of awareness, to allow these layers to shine more brightly and as clearly as possible, devoid of any hindrances of expressing this inner light. Our prime focus will thus be on removal, rather than to add anything in these layers, for at it’s core, it is perfect in its design, and perhaps more importantly, to unlearn some beliefs and values that have made us believe otherwise - so as to give us light and illumination in our remaining life’s journey and direction.
4. The Witness Body
This is the layer of the body that holds our True Consciousness. Many people believe that the mind holds the consciousness of a human being, but in yoga the mind is where fluctuating, wandering thoughts go, it is not understood as what is the True Reality. Your mind can play tricks on you like a mirage, or like a dellusion, thinking that something is there, but in reality it is not. The Witness body, in other words, is independent of these fallacies, it cannot make this kind of mistake, it is entirely independent of your life’s circumstances, emotions or thoughts.
Some people also call this your intuition, the part of you where you get personal “hits” or intuitive information from, about what to do in your life, and what not to do, independent of the life’s circumstances that are presented to you.
For example, your outer circumstances may present an amazing opporunitiy for you to earn money, however, your internal signal tells you that it is doomed. Often people don’t know how to reconcile these mixed ‘messages within’ that we receive, and part of this layer of the body is learning how to decipher, discern, and build true wisdom and distinguish truth from falsehood. It is a faculty that must be sharpened with effort, and is likewise the compass to leading to an aligned life.
It is the part of the body that recognizes when it sees a cup, that they are themselves, not the cup. Or more relvant to the human condition, that when anger arises, they notice that they are having an angry thought, rather than thinking they are angry people – in one example they cannot see themselves as separate from what is happeneing within them (anger) and the other is able to decipher that a condition (anger) has arisen separate from them with more distance – this distance, this space, is basically what distinguishes your consciousness from your mind. In this layer, you are able to distinguish your tumultuous surroundings, whilst inwardly holding peace.
“A lover is he who is chill in hellfire; A knower is he who is dry in the sea.” - Bahá’u’lláh
5. The Bliss body
The bliss body is where the indiviudal holds it’s joy, it’s happiness - its configuration differs in each human being. In other words, the level and mixture of qualities that bring about happiness and joyfulness to people is unqiue in everyone.
In yogic philosophy, it is understood that each human being comes to this world with a very specific purpose, and for them to live outside of their purpose will inevitably dim their inner light (and cause sadness, depression - ill health in the other layers of the body).
This purpose goes beyond just the profession or career as we know it, and is not that specific as a carpenter, an astronaut, a nurse, or a salespersons. Rather the purpose is more central to an expression of human virtues, such as showing kindness, care, being brave or courageous - which can be expressed in a variety of jobs such as helping children, nursing the elderly, volunteering at an organization etc.
What the job or profession of the person is not predetermined, however, how they obtain their souls highest level of joy, is. One of the focus layers in integrative yoga therapy is therefore to help someone, navigate and find, what they like, what brings them happiness and joy through particular sets of human and social activities because they fundamentally contribute to the overarching health and well-being of a person.
“All men have been created to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization.”- Bahá’u’lláh
Everyones’ human purpose on this earth is believed to be noble in character, and is one and the same in bringing more light and goodness in the world, however, the contributions and angles that it does this, will vary with each individual.
How the layers of the body work together
Although an effort was made above to clarify and distinguish each layer of the human body with its function as separate and distinct, all layer works together to contribute to the wellness, health and healing of an individual. Any effort of healing that is made to any one layer of the human body, will ultimately have affect and influence in health and healing to the rest of the organic whole.
The layers of the human body are like unto a spider web, that if you press or pull (make any effort, good or bad) on any side of the web, the shape of the spider web will conform to the direction you push or pull. Whether it is a “press” of disease, or a “pull” of health, the spider web is fluid in its form and interconnectedness, it is an organic whole, and will be adjusted to any stimulous, effort, trigger that you put on it – whether good or bad.
Of course, within integrative yoga therapy our focus is only on activites that bring about the thriving health of the person. However, the oppositie is important to equally understand, about what actually brings about the deterioation of poor health in the first place, it is often not one thing (one effort, one stimulous) that brings about the mishealth of an individual, but a series of, or a conglomerate of compounded efforts away from health, that brings about its present conditions – which is likewise indicative of the level, time, effort and work needed in integrative yoga therapy to permanently get out of any undesired health condition.
The question now is, how does Integrative yoga therapy work in reality and what does it do to restore the health of a person?
Within integrative yoga therapy, the reason why the word “integrative” is used is because there are myriad of tools that integrative yoga therapists use that bring about the health, healing and thriving wellbeing of a person through each layer of the human body.
For instance, an integrative yoga therpapists may use one or many of the following tools to bring about the health of an individual,
1. The physical body - asanas (physical yoga postures), movement, dance, body awareness,
2. The energetic body – pranayama, breath exercises, nervous system adjustment practices, mudras, chanting, singing
3. The mental and emotional body – reflective practieses, writings, journaling, emotional cleansing practices, drawing,
4. The witness body – meditation, visualization, mantra, mandala, yoga nidra
5. The bliss body – professional & career satisfaction assessments, service, volunter work, situation analysis,
The way in which these tools are used vary with the number of students, conditions worked with, severity of conditions, frequency of class, etc with each integrative yoga therapist and skillset. Here are several examples of how I conduct my classes in a private, group or a 10 week program as possible ways to bring about health to all layers of the body.
Private integrative yoga therapy class
1-3 mins of chanting [Nahal alone or with student, centering]
3-5 mins of body scanning [body awareness practice]
5-10 mins pranayama [breath awareness practice]
30 - 50 mins of asanas [physical yoga postures]
20-30 mins of yoga nidra [deep relaxation practice]
3-5 mins centering [closing remarks]
Hypertension group integrative yoga therapy class
1-3 mins of reading a themed quote [Nahal alone]
10-15 mins of hypertension education [knowledge base]
5-10 mins themed meditation [visualization]
30 - 50 mins of asanas [physical yoga postures]
20-30 mins of yoga nidra [deep relaxation practice]
5-10 mins guided written reflection [closing remarks]
1.5hr Once/Twice per Week
10 Weeks Integrative Yoga Therapy Diabetes Program
1-3 mins group singing [centuring practice]
10-15 mins themed mudras [energetic body]
20-30 mins of asanas [physical yoga postures]
5-10 mins themed meditation [visualization]
15 - 20 mins of yoga nidra [deep relaxation practice]
5-10 mins centuring [closing remarks]
An integrative yoga therapist primarily works with the level and expertise of the student and works at fullfilling a commonly discussed goal or aspirations of the student, rather than the other way around. The integrative yoga therapist uses his or her skillsets to bring about that goal within a given agreed upon time-frame, generally beginnig with 10 weeks but this will likely vary with the conditions of the client and goals desired.
In a regular yoga class provided in a studio, students follow the sequence of postures that the yoga teachers has prepared for the students, irrespective of individual ability. An integrative yoga therapist generally begins with an assessment of all the layers of the bodies, and works with the individual, groups and classes in order to most suitably provide them with their particular catered needs, goals and aspirations. These goals may vary from person to person from wanting to reduce stress, lose 10 pounds of weight, balance the pelvis, heal a physical injury, reduce medication, reduce side-effects of medications, bringing more awareness, heal from surgery etc.
Integrative Yoga Therapy is a growing field that is gaining ascendancy, legitimacy and effectiveness within the western medical model in countries like America, UK, Austrailia, Canada, Germany and India. Particularly in it’s ability to be able to bring about thriving wellness and health to people that were otherwise not able to achieve it with traditional models of healing.
If you find that you are open, receptive, and willing to try out another healing system or modality, do try to find an integrative yoga therapist near you, or contact me for further information. In addition to the local classes I run, I also provides safe and effective classes over webcams for those who are unable to access an Integrative Yoga Therapist near them, or for any reason unable to leave their homes.
Hope this blog provides some clarity into integrative yoga therapy!
I would love to hear in the comments below what your takeaway from this blog is, what do you know now that you didn’t know before about integrative yoga therapy?
If you found this blog helpful, do share it along to your friends and family that could benefit from receiving this type of integrative therapeutic service!
Classes are available in English and Mandarin!
Nahal Haghbin is an Integrative Yoga Therapist in training from the Kripalu School of Integrative Yoga Therapy and a globally certified Yoga Alliance Yoga Teacher based in China. She conducts lectures, private and group asana and consultations on Yoga & Integrative Yoga Therapy in person and online. She works with menstrual disorders and with female health and wellbeing. Book an online yoga session with her.