Author: Gregg Braden
“When I was in school, I was taught that the main purpose of the heart is to move blood through the body. I was told that the heart is a pump, plain and simple, and that its job is to pump continuously over the course of our lifetime to accomplish something that is extraordinary by any measure.
“The adult heart beats an average of 101,000 times a day, circulating some 1,900 gallons of blood through 60,000 miles of arteries, blood vessels, and capillaries! A growing body of scientific evidence, however, now suggests that the pumping of the heart, as important as it is, may pale in comparison with the additional functions that have been recently discovered. In other words, while the heart indeed pumps blood powerfully and efficiently through the body, the pumping may not be its primary purpose.
“As far back as 1932, scientific investigation of the role of the heart in the body opened the door to a possibility, and a controversy, that continues to unfold to this day. In the early study, Harvard University scientist J. Bremer, filmed the movement of blood flowing through the body of a chicken early in its development. So early, in fact, that the chick’s heart had not yet started functioning. What made this film so exceptional is that Bremer was able to document the chick’s blood moving through its body, on its own, without the aid of the heart pumping it.
“Additional experiments to solve the mystery, performed using similar embryos, showed that the blood flowed as a series of spiral motions, like small eddy currents, rather than in a straight line. The studies also showed that the movement continued throughout their systems even after the heart was removed from the body for as long as ten minutes.
“The two questions here are obvious: (1) How is it possible for the blood to flow in the embryo before the heart is even functioning? And (2) Why does the blood continue flowing even after the heart itself is removed? What could be driving the movement of the blood? Interestingly, these questions were already answered over ten years before the Harvard film was made. And the answer to both came from the same man, Austrian-born philosopher and architect, Rudolph Steiner, the creator of the Waldorf method of education and learning.
“In the early 1920s, Steiner had been researching the motion of fluids, including water and blood, in their natural environment. Steiner discovered, and later demonstrated, that the liquids in their natural state, such as water when it’s still in the ground and blood when it’s still inside the arteries and veins, move freely on their own due to an action that originates within the fluid itself. And rather than flowing in a straight line, as perceived by the naked eye, the fluids follow tiny spiral patters created by continuous micro-vortices to maintain their flow. This spiral movement, Steiner believed, solved the mystery of the blood flowing without the aid of the heart.
“We see the vortex motion that Steiner described on a large scale in rivers and streams. His work demonstrated that the same principle applies on a smaller scale to the blood flowing through the vessels and capillaries of a living body. Although his research was controversial, it was well tested and documented and suggested a closer course of study. It was viewed as so significant in his day that he was invited to share his discoveries with esteemed medical doctors at the renowned Goetheanum (the world center for the anthroposophical movement), located in Dornach, Switzerland. In his presentations, Steiner demonstrated that the heart is not the primary force that moves the blood through the body with pressure. Rather, the blood moves on its own as a result of what he called ‘biological momentum’ – the spiraling effect that was later filmed in 1932.
“So while the heart definitely plays a role in the process, Steiner contended that it was more to serve as a booster to add momentum to the inherent motion of the blood, not the main reason for the motion itself. Steiner’s work was never refuted in his scientific circles and remains controversial today. What he documented early in the 20th century opens the door to an obvious question that goes to the core of this chapter: If the pumping of blood through the body is not the heart’s primary purpose, then what is?
“Today, the implications of Steiner’s discovery, continues to offer a rich source of insight into uncharted processes of the heart specifically and into our relationship with nature in general. Although medical science chose to embrace a more mechanical philosophy when it comes to the role of the heart, Steiner’s work of nearly a century ago is helping unlock the emerging mysteries that cannot be explained with the modern thinking. And while his proposals may have sounded radical in the1920s and ‘30s, the notion that the heart is more than a pump originated long before Steiner shared his discoveries. Resilience from the Heart, pages 4-6, Gregg Braden
Yoga is a comprehensive holistic approach to health, happiness, and wellbeing. Rather than just addressing the physical body, yoga ascertains that there are indeed five bodies, five layers of self or being, that must be addressed for overall healing to take place.
koshas, meaning “sheaths” or “layers,”. Starting from the outermost layer and moving through the layers to the core of the self, each body is made up of increasingly subtler degrees of energy: from the physical body, to the energetic body, to the mental body, to the wisdom body, and finally, to the bliss body. These layers are interwoven, interrelated, and interactive—what happens on one level affects all layers of the body.
Therefore, we cannot neglect the more subtle aspects of our beings. If complete happiness and total wellbeing is what we are after, we must pay attention to and care for all layers of our beings.The Five Koshas
As we begin to explore the koshas below, you’ll notice that they map out an inward journey, from the periphery of the body and arriving at the very essence of who you are.
1. Physical Body
We begin at the outermost layer, the physical body (organs, bones, muscle tissue, and skin), known as the annamaya kosha in yoga. Anna means “food” or “physical matter” and maya means “made of.” We are the most familiar with our annamaya kosha—the experience of our physical body in yoga.
2. Energy Body
Sheathed by the physical layer, the energetic body is called the pranamaya kosha and is composed of the body’s subtle life-force energy prana, also known as chi in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
The animating force behind every atom, cell, organ, and body system, prana coordinates every physiological activity, from the pumping of the heart to the elimination of waste.
Imbalances or blocks within this energetic body greatly affect the overall function of the physical body. What’s more, the body’s subtle energy greatly influences the state of the mind, which is the next layer of self. Prana is closely related to the breath—you receive prana upon the air you breathe.
When breath is shallow and sporadic, your prana is also erratic. Unstable pranic energy causes the mind to become agitated and the body’s various systems irregular. Smooth out the breath, and prana becomes more stable, the mind gets calmer, and all the body’s living systems function more optimally.
If you’re interested in working with your vital energy, yogic breathing practices known as pranayama exercises, increase and regulate prana in the body.
3. Mental Body
The third layer corresponds to your mind, emotions, and nervous system—expressed as streams of thoughts, feelings, and sensations, and is known as the manomaya kosha, from manas, which means “mind” or “thought processes.”
Many of us have an overactive manomaya kosha that wears on our nervous system and plays out through our emotions. Yoga helps calm our minds and soothe our nervous systems, allowing you to recover from the effects of stress and fatigue on your third body.
Your mental body is also where we experience the five senses. It’s the sheath that allows us to receive, absorb, and process input from the world around us, governing our automatic responses and reflexes. When you go on autopilot and zone out, you’re operating from your manomaya kosha.
4. Wisdom Body
You begin working with the first three bodies as soon as you start practicing yoga.
Coordinating your breath with your movement brings you present on your mat—synchronizing your physical, energetic, and mental bodies. However, the next layer, your wisdom body, takes a little more internal awareness that is cultivated over time.
Beneath the constant stream of thoughts, feelings, and sensations (the processing, thinking, and reactive mind), lies an inner knowing and higher intelligence in your wisdom body, which is called the vijnanamaya kosha, from vijnana, or “intellect.”
Your intuition, conscience, and the reflective aspects of your consciousness are all part of your wisdom body. Here, we develop our awareness and deeper insight into the nature of who we are and how we relate to the world around us.
The practice of yoga helps quiet the mental body so that our wisdom body can be heard and begin to guide us. One simple way to start working with your vijnanamaya kosha is to simply pay attention to any sensations or pulsations taking place internally throughout your practice.
For example, after a Bridge Pose or backbend, once you’re back down on your mat, close your eyes, feel the sensations taking place on the inside, and become aware of your heartbeat.
5. Bliss Body
The deepest layer of our being is the core of our existence, known as the anandamaya kosha, from ananda, which means “bliss.” Often referred to as your highest self or spirit, your bliss body is where you experience the unbounded freedom, expanse, and joyousness of your true nature.
Connection with this kosha is like coming home. There’s a sense of peace and connectedness during which time ceases to exist and your consciousness expands beyond the limits of your body.
While most people aren’t even aware of this aspect of their being, chances are you’ve experienced glimpses of your anandamaya kosha throughout your life.
Holding your newborn child or looking into your lover’s eyes, you may have dropped from conscious awareness and into your radiant bliss body. You might have also touched upon it while losing yourself in a painting, poem, film, story, or song, or perhaps while giving a speech or performance.
I dip in and out of my bliss body when I’m teaching yoga. Without having to involve my thinking mind, wisdom, directions, and insights pour out of me and fifteen minutes can go by in the blink of an eye.
Integrating the Five Bodies
All five layers of self are interconnected and dependent on one another. If the body is tense, the breath is shallow, the mind is irritated, and wisdom and joy are absent.
If there’s disconnect from spirit, indicating a weak bliss body, there’s disharmony on all layers. On the other hand, when you’re perfectly in tune with your bliss body, joy and peace permeate all aspects of who you are.
The practice and philosophical application of yoga into our everyday life help bring all the koshas—body, breath, mind, wisdom, and spirit—into harmony, promoting overall health and bringing you closer to self-realization and an absolute fullness of being.
Information about Koshas: Books and article Research Gathered