Culture, Nature, Spirit, Self: The Layers of Human Relationship
Human beings are social creatures. Without a strong relationship to family and tribe, we would never have survived. We’re also very complex. Satisfying our physiological needs is simply not enough for good health. We need to nurture the spiritual, emotional, intellectual and energetic aspects of our being in order to reach our potential.
Within the philosophical school of Yoga these facets are known as the “kosha”. The kosha comprise matter, energy, mind, emotion and spirit.
From the Periphery to the Centre – Layers of Relationship in the Yoga Sutras
Thousands of years before Freud and Jung, yoga philosophy recognized that the process of personal development is a series of steps, often refered to as “branches” or “limbs”. I prefer to think of them as the growth rings of a tree trunk, or the layers of an onion. In the Yoga Sutra’s of Patanjali, eight branches are described. Moving from the periphery (worldly preoccupations) towards the centre (spiritual essence), they encourage us to examine the various relationships that constitute every aspect of our lives.
- Yama concerns our relationship to the world and society. The “yama’s” constitute various “laws” that form the basis of a safe and respectful culture: non-violence, truthfulness, not stealing, sexual respect, non-possessiveness.
- Niyama considers the relationship that we have with our self, our habits, our attitude and personal hygiene. The “niyama’s” include purity of mind, speech and body, an optimistic outlook, self-discipline, self-reflection and spiritual contemplation.
- Asana is about the relationship that we have with our body, our physical posture, our strength, balance and flexibilty. When the Western world thinks “Yoga”, usually it refers to “asana”, the practice of yoga postures.
- Pranayama examines the relationship that we have with our breath. The breath is the language of the nervous system as well as the embodiment of vital energy. By working with the rhythm and the quality of the breath cycle, we can powerfully impact upon our mental and emotional health.
- Pratyahara focuses on the relationship that we have with our five senses, our capacity to withdraw from external stimuli and focus inwards. It helps us distinguish between action and reaction. By reducing the distractions of the outer world, we become sensitive to what’s going on inside.
- Dharana is about the relationship that we have with the mind. Stress accumulates when we have too many things going on at once, when our thoughts jump madly from one object to the next. When we tame “the monkey” through focus and concentration, we’re blessed with calm, clarity and space.
- Dhyana is the about the relationship that we have with our spirit. It’s meditation, the deep connection and communication between our inner self and the universal flow.
- Samadhi describes the relationship that we have with pure consciousnes. It’s the ultimate goal of the spiritual journey. The ego dissolves, our individual essence merges blissfully into the great Universal life force, and, notwithstanding the trancelike state, consciousness is fully aware of the experience.
So, you can see how the Yoga Sutra’s describe a process of personal growth and provide a map of that journey. Achieving spiritual Enlightenment may not be on our agenda for this lifetime, but nonetheless, by acknowledging and nurturing these “external” and “internal” relationships, we’ll definitely be rewarded with a true and balanced state of holistic health: spirit, mind and body.
Connect, Slow Down, Breathe Deep
In my Health Coaching program, the Paleo Reset 31, “Connect” is the 4th Element and it refers to the way we connect with ourselves, with others and with the world. Our health, our ability to manage stress, and our satisfaction with life depends very much upon the time that we dedicate to our relationships, to slowing down and to experiencing peace and tranquility.
This is an essential aspect of the ancestral health model, and one that I really love. Our DNA responds positively to quiet time with few distractions, in contemplation, in conversation, and relaxation. These things are not a luxury, but necessary.
We need Solitude. We need to spend time alone every day, even if it’s only for a few minutes. As we know from the chapter on Cortisol, and as mentioned above, focusing on the breath cycle is a simple and powerful way to calm down the sympathetic nervous system – “fight-or-flight” – and activate the parasympathetic nervous system – “tend-and-befriend”.
We need real Relationships. We need to cultivate mutual relationships of generosity and kindness. Strong, supportive relationships stimulate the immune system and help us cope with life’s problems. They delay mental and physical decline and are essential for a long life.
We need to spend time in Nature. When we’re outdoors and in nature our senses intensify and stress melts away. The cells of our body are energized and regenerated through the charge of negative ions. We need the vitamin D that is best synthesized through sunlight.
We need to make sure that all of these connections don’t fall low on our list of priorities. They’re so important.
Of course, there’s another fundamental quality of being human that needs to be exercised, strengthened, nurtured and maintained. In the following post we’ll address that quality that really makes us stand out from the crowd: our intelligence.
Sun Blocked – Vitamin D Deficiency and Insufficient Sun Exposure – Vitamin D “switches on” so many of our health genes, including the P53 which prevents cancer.
Technology, Dopamine and Addiction – Scary stuff and totally relevant for these tech addicted times.
Sleep Deprivation: Bright Lights and the Circadian Rhythms – You know that feeling of being “tired but wired”?