A couple of weeks ago, we were having a satsang (a get together and class) in our group house. We were talking about the interactions between the physical body and the subtle body, when my housemate Beth made a remark about Hatha Yoga—the yoga postures. That remark, although I had heard others ways of saying the same thing before, for some reason gave me an epiphany about why yoga postures do what they do.
Most serious students of yoga must have heard that the physical body is only the outer shell of our being. Below it we have an (invisible, of course) energetic body (also known as astral or subtle body) which is associated with our energetic tendencies, emotions, and feelings. That’s where the chakras—the seven energy centers—come in.
The first chakra, at the bottom of the spine, near the anus, holds our tendencies related to security, self-esteem, unwillingness, groundedness, etc. The second, near the sacral area, has to do with our adaptability, creativity and flowing. The third, around the abdomen, is the center of self-control and willpower. The heart center, located at the center of the chest, holds our likes and dislikes, and feeling happens there. The fifth, around the throat, is the center for calmness, and also a bridge from our lower to our highest aspects of being. The sixth has two poles. The negative pole is at the base of the brain, the Medulla Oblongata. Our ego resides there, the “I me mine”. The positive pole, is the point between the eyebrows, at the forehead, the famous spiritual eye. That’s our concentration point, and also a gateway to the Infinite. By connecting to that center we reflect and look towards our highest potentials, the superconscious state, omnipresence, omniscience, and unconditional love. My guru didn’t talk much about the seventh chakra, at the top of the head, other than that we don’t really need to concern ourselves with it much. When soul-liberation happens, it happens from there.
At the time of death, it is only the outer shell, the physical body which is shed (which may come as a surprise for some people on Instagram to learn that it is the least interesting aspects of us). Most of what makes us “us” is untouched.
But our true reality isn’t even our feelings and energies, which we carry from lifetime to lifetime. In fact, that is why we reincarnate: to get another chance to shed those as well. Yet below the subtle energetic body there exist our causal body, the thoughts and consciousness which manifest as those energies. Our deepest essence, our soul, isn’t any one of those bodies. It’s a small peace of God’s consciousness, and as that it’s immortal and perfect.
The students of yoga also learn about the Yoga Sutras of the ancient seer Patanjali. The second sutra (https://www.ananda.org/yogapedia/chitta/) defines yoga as:
“Yogas chitta vritti nirodha.”
“Yoga is the neutralization of the vortices of feeling.”
The “vrittis”—those millions of energetic knots in the various centers in our energy bodies—caused by our past experiences—prevent the cosmic energy to flow freely through our subtle spine. That in turn causes us to fall short of attaining our highest of potentials. It is the goal of yoga to neutralize every single one of those vrittis.
In any case, you probably already knew all this, as I did before. But what recently became clear for me is that our three bodies don’t have a clear-cut separation between one another. They exist more as a continuum of being, each blurring into the next more subtle or less subtle layer.
That is why when you hear news that deeply affects you, you might actually feel a pinch in the heart center, although that feeling has nothing to do with the heart organ which pumps blood through the body. And that if you feel a strong tension during an interaction with somebody, you might actually feel a tensed knot inside your belly, as your may be feeling a strong will to resist what you’re facing. And it is for the same reason that people who are able to do energetic healing for others might actually feel some sensations in their hands, while examining the energy centers of their patients.
The expression “You become/are what you think” expresses a truth deeper than most suspect. Each less subtle form of our body is for the most part a direct reflection and manifestation of the more subtle aspect. Our physical body, our physical health and look, is a direct result of our internal energies, more than we can ever imagine.
Modern medical science is still more or less blind to this truth, always mistaking the symptoms, as examinable under microscopes, for the causes. The real causes of disease, aren’t in the cells or even in the genes. Those are just correlations. The real causes are found in the energetic bodies of the patients, their tendencies, which in turn, are formed from their thinking. That is because our energies are only there, as concretized manifestations of the ways of our thinking mind, and the consciousness behind the thinking.
What’s fascinating is that, because of this continuum relationship between the three bodies, even the less subtle body can positively or negatively affect the more subtle body (though the effects in the other direction are much stronger). And that was my epiphany for how yoga postures work. Each asana (posture) puts the physical body in a particular arrangement, affecting the position of the physical spine and various other organs. That particular arrangement, in turn, allows the vrittis or energy knots in our subtle spine to open (or at least be tapped) in a unique way that another posture cannot do. Thus by getting at the energy knots, the subtle body can be positively affected and the prana or cosmic energy can flow more freely from the base of the subtle spine towards our higher aspects in the top of the spine and the forehead.
Ananda Yoga, which is the discipline I have trained as a yoga teacher, goes beyond that. Knowing that it is much more effective to directly affect the more subtle bodies, it emphasizes bringing a direct awareness of the subtle energy in the spine, during each asana. To reinforce that, it invites the practitioner to use mental affirmations, to go directly to align the causal body towards our highest aspirations of being.