Yoga, Your Whole Self, and Healing Depression

Beyond the amazing fitness benefits of yoga practice, are yoga’s contribution to human balance, healing, and integration.

Yoga, at its root, is not for perfecting our form or realizing fitness ideals. Starting a yoga practice is the beginning of a process or journey of deepening our relationship to the body, and generating vitality that enlivens our whole self—mind, body, and spirit.

Defining the Whole Self

Humans are multi-dimensional creatures in the yogic tradition. By practicing yoga poses, or asanas, the different dimensions of our being find balance and are integrated, resulting in transformation and healing.

We each have five dimensions, or Koshas, in yoga philosophy. The Koshas are frequently called sheaths, since each is a layer of our being, an expression of our essential nature.

  1. The initial sheath represents our physicality, the body that we see, touch, and nourish with food. This first Kosha is the one we are the most familiar with, where our yoga asana experience begins.
  2. Kosha number two is our energy body, also known as prana or life-force. This energy is associated with the breath that enlivens our physical being, and why breath awareness is an integral aspect of yoga practice. Our breath facilitates the balance and movement of prana or life-force within the physical body.
  3. The third sheath represents the human expression of emotions, feelings, and thought. This part of us takes in and processes sensory data from the environment—tastes, smells, sounds, sights, and textures. The third Kosha thinks about and reacts to the incoming data and though it is meant to guide us, it typically behaves like a boss.
  4. Our wisdom or higher mind is represented by the fourth sheath. The wisdom function supports our thinking process and points us in the direction of integration and truth. This reflective aspect of consciousness gives us the capacity for insight into our self and others.
  5. The fifth sheath stands for our being. It is the bliss of sensing the limitless, ever-expanding experience of reality. The bliss is not an emotion, but a state of balance and integration—tranquility, peace, and love.

How Yoga Heals

By thinking about the experience of depression, you can understand how the various Koshas affect each other. For instance, depressed people frequently display slouched posture and shallow, restrained breathing. So, the depression of the mental Kosha is demonstrated in the bent posture of the physical Kosha, and by the shallow breathing of the energy Kosha.

In the practice of yoga asanas, the physical and energy sheaths (body and breath) function together and increase their integration, or cooperation. This generates an increased flow of energy or prana into the physical and energy dimensions, and revitalizes the mental-emotional dimension. In this way, with continued practice, all our sheaths are enlivened and integrated, enhancing our mood, feeling of well being, and access to higher dimensions.

Source: Yoga U (
Photo credit: Evan Lovely / flickr

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