Among modern medicine practices, it was once thought that the best way to effectively treat a disease was by applying the biomedical model of health; that is, the treatment of purely biological factors, excluding psychological, environmental and social considerations. However, this is actually an antiquated notion. Research has shown for many years that medical health and illness are due to the interplay of three factors: biological, psychological and social.
Dr. George Engel introduced the biopsychosocial model of health in1977. It is both a philosophy of clinical care and a clinical guide that addresses disease at the cellular level but also looks at additional factors that influence symptoms or disease process such as social environment, nutrition, psychology, and mood. While it may be a relatively new way of thinking in western medicine, this model of health echoes ideas that yogis have been practicing and teaching for thousands of years.
The ultimate goal of yoga is to move with freedom (sukkha) and be liberated from suffering (dukkha). Traveling this path, the journey of yoga can lead to finding health and wholeness by identifying the obstacles and blockages that prevent us from reaching this potential in mind, body, and spirit. In this way, yoga provides us a conceptual model of using yoga as medicine.
In yoga, we start from a place of wholeness and look at ourselves as a complex structure of interwoven layers. The ancient Vedic text, the Upanishads, describes this as the Pancamaya Model. In Sanskrit, Panca means five and Maya describes aspects or sheaths of the human structure. These sheaths are called koshas in Sanskrit. Each one affects and is in relationship with the others. The koshas as listed below could be viewed as a frequency in the body that goes from gross to subtle – from that which one can see and grasp to that which is invisible and ungraspable.
Annamaya – physical body – that which is nourished by food
Pranamaya – energy body – that which is nourished by life force, energy
Manomaya – body of learning, feeling, and emotion
Vijnanamaya – body of belief – our behaviors, patterns, and conditions
Anandamaya – body of bliss – unconditional love – beyond boundaries
The first 4 layers are in constant flux. The 5th is unchanging but often hidden by the first four. If we can find stability and stillness on a physical, energetic, emotional and mind level, the more reliable body of bliss will become a part of our daily awareness.
As we come to understand and connect with all of our koshas we can begin to see what is really going on and welcome and attend to all of our visitors be they positive or negative. If we tune in every day to our physical, energetic, mental and bliss bodies to see what’s going on, we can begin to take appropriate actions and supportive responses in our daily lives. It’s like checking our own personal weather report and then dressing for the day accordingly. In this way, like the biopsyhcosocial model, the teachings and practices of yoga are uniquely positioned to address the whole person.
You can begin to explore and familiarize yourself with each of your layers through a simple, 5-minute check-in offered below:
Sit in a comfortable position with your sitting bones contacting the earth, inviting a sense of weight into the pelvis. Soften your abdomen. Begin to turn your attention and awareness inward, closing the eyes. Become aware of your physical body and begin to scan the physical body, noticing and welcoming any sensations that arise in this moment. Perhaps you’re aware of ease or tension. You may notice whether you feel well or unwell, simply scanning your physical body and welcoming whatever you find. Cultivate a sense of curiosity about what it is you feel.
Begin to check-in with your energy levels. Notice the breath. Observe the pace and the depth of your breath, the rhythm of your breath. Is it fast, slowed or regular? Where in your body are you being moved by your breath? Notice a sense of expansion and recession as you breathe in and out. Is there a sense of free flowing breath and energy, or perhaps a sense of blocked energy?
Now bring your awareness to your heart space, the center of your emotional body. Notice what you feel. Are there any particular emotions present in this moment like joy or excitement? Are there feelings such as anger, jealousy or worry that you may want to push away? Be curious about what you find and welcome whatever it is that you notice. If no emotion is present, welcome that information without judgment.
Draw your attention to your headspace and notice the quality of your mental body. Is there a particular thought process repeating itself in your mind? Is there a blank space? Observe whatever thoughts or preoccupations come into your mind without making any changes, just witnessing. Recognize that all of these aspects of yourself that you’ve tuned into are in constant flux and will not be the same the next time you sit down to check-in.
Now notice, is there a part of yourself that you can connect to that is unchanging, a place of unconditional love that is always there? Notice whether you can connect with your bliss body, a part of you that is always there, never changing, but is sometimes hidden by the other layers. Welcome whatever you observe or discover just as it is. Use this information to set an intention about how you want to go about the rest of your day.
Meg Satinsky MPT, PYT 
Engel GL: The need for a new medical model: a challenge for biomedicine. Science 1977;196:129-136.

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