The Unified Field of the Body, Mind & Spirit0
The Unified Field of the Body, Mind & Spirit
As Explained through the System of Ayurveda
Written by Denise O’Dunn, Ayurvedic Practitioner and Yoga Instructor
“Body, Mind and Spirit” is a common phrase to express the inherent unity of the aspects of being alive. Ayurveda, the Science of Life, teaches that the body, mind and spirit are intimately unified in a common field of experience and we function best when each aspect is acknowledged, honored and supported. This Vedic wisdom goes further to explain how the mistaken belief that body, mind and spirit are separate parts causes suffering. Ayurveda shows that focusing on one part of the body, mind, spirit, trinity while ignoring the others leads to imbalances that can manifest as disorder and disease.
To better understand how your body, mind and spirt are connected, it’s helpful to identify how each aspect of being human contributes to the full experience and purpose of living.
According to Ayurveda, we are each made of intertwined physical, psychological and spiritual dimensions. The physical element contributes to our material structure, our physical features and the way our bodies function. The psychological aspect includes our mental, emotional and subtle energetic nature. The spiritual dimension, our consciousness, is the cosmic connection that follows us in to this life experience and manifests as our sense of belonging to the whole. The Vedas describe these three dimensions of the human body (sharira) as having three primary forms or bodies: sthula sharira, sukshma sharira and karana sharira.
Sthula Sharira is our most tangible form; made up of our physical body. This gross (sthula) form contains the five basic elements of nature (ether, air, fire, water and earth), the three primary forces of nature or doshas (vata, pitta and kapha), all of our body tissues (dhatus) and pathways (srotamsi), along with that which our body eliminates as waste material (malas.) Sthula sharira is our finite body that is born in to this world to grow, deteriorate and perish. It is our visible earthly vehicle that breathes, moves and rests while carrying the mind and spirit.
Sukshma Sharira takes on a less material, yet vital form; it is our subtle (sukshma) or energetic body and includes the psychological level of our being. This refined form contains our mental and emotional faculties, our sensory perceptions and motor actions, our three vital essences (prana, tejas and ojas), as well as our energetic pathways (nadis) and centers (chakras and marmani.) Sukshma sharira is the body form where we experience thinking, knowing, feeling, acting and all sensations. It keeps our physical body alive while providing us with our sense of self (ahamkara) and delivering a bridge to unite the body and spirit.
Karana Sharira is the least material form, representing our spiritual body as a gateway to cosmic consciousness and the origin of the physical and energetic forms. This causal form consists in the three universal qualities of harmony (sattva), movement (rajas) and stability (tamas.) It keeps a record of all previous and current actions (karma) and impressions (samskaras). Karana Sharira is considered to hold the cause (karana) of this life, the store house for past lives and the seed for the next life to come. It acts as a map for the body and mind and is that part of us which moves on when the body and mind are gone.
Ayurveda effects the integration of our body, mind and spirit by supporting all aspects of our individual nature as it seeks to bring us into harmony. The system of Ayurveda includes the following practices designed to maintain each form of our being.
Nourishing Dietary Practices
Conscious cooking and mindful eating are primary ways that Ayurveda helps to regain and maintain harmony between our body, mind and spirit. Ayurvedic nutrition provides an awareness of food selection, preparation and consumption based on a person’s unique make-up and individual circumstances.
According to Ayurveda, every food has its own specific combination and contribution of six tastes and twenty qualities; by receiving the proper balance of these tastes and qualities, based on your specific dosha or dosha combination, your brain and body communicate in way that assists efficient digestion and leaves you feeling content. Ayurveda teaches us that our food should appeal, not only to our sense of taste, but also to our sense of sight, smell, touch and sound.
Ayurveda regards digestion as the complex progression of converting the intelligence of food into your own consciousness. When the subtle energies of all nutrients are effectively absorbed and assimilated, your physical tissues, physiological activity and psychological functions are supported.
To be truly nourished on all levels of your being, Ayurveda makes recommendations concerning the way we eat. This awareness includes your environment, your social company and the surrounding activities at the time you are eating. Our ritual of eating strongly influences our ability to digest our food and contributes to feeling satisfied physically, mentally and emotionally.
As a practice based on science and spirit, Ayurveda encourages us to prepare and eat our food in a peaceful, loving and pleasant environment; and to greet our food with reverence, acknowledging its source with gratitude.
Dinacharya – The Daily Self-Care Routine
Dinacharya is a Sanskrit term referring to the daily practice or routine founded on Ayurvedic principles. It is the practice of following the inherent wisdom of nature by being close to the natural pulse of the day. The activities described in dinacharya are intended to be synchronized with the daily cycle of the sun and performed on a regular basis. Ayurveda teaches that regular routines create stability and promote personal balance. Dincharya includes self-care practices designed to cleanse and support your bodily tissues, calm and sharpen your mental faculties and keep you in touch with your divine nature. Dry brushing, body oiling, tongue cleaning, nasal cleansing, conscious eating, hatha yoga and meditation are all components of dinacharya. We are natural beings designed to be in sync with the rhythms of nature. When we fall out of rhythm, we lose touch with our true nature. Living in harmony with nature brings you closer to your spiritual self.
Ayurveda offers us a brilliant system to understand and use herbs. Ayurveda teaches that herbs are representatives of the cosmos and every herb on earth receives and transmits life giving energy that reveals the conscious intelligence of the universe. It follows that every herb is endowed by design with the ability to awaken our consciousness and align the body with the consciousness of the herb. Ayurveda shows how best to use an herb’s properties at satisfying an individual need to regain and maintain balance between our body, mind and spirit. This building up of our body and mind intelligence enhances proper function and harmony on all levels of our being.
Ayurveda encourages the practice of hatha yoga. Hatha yoga is “the yoga of physical discipline.” Hatha yoga focuses primarily on postures (asanas) and breathing techniques (pranayama) to integrate your body and mind to function in balance. Hatha yoga benefits your physical body with greater spine flexibility and joint mobility, increased muscle tone and strength, along with improved function of internal systems. Hatha yoga practice helps your mental ‘body’. The union of breathing and movement benefits concentration, the stretching of muscles assists with relaxation and stress reduction thereby merging the mind and body. As your body and mind merge you find a place of stillness that will draw you to the core of your being; this is where the source of all bliss is experienced. Here our spiritual ‘body’ basks in the state of pure consciousness or enlightenment (samadhi) where the individual self becomes one with the Divine Self.
Ayurveda promotes the practice of pranayama, which is the regulation of prana (vital life force). Pranayama is accomplished through breath control and various yogic breathing techniques. Pranayama aims to clear the channels of our energy body (nadis) and stimulate latent life force currents. When we regulate our breath, we positively affect our mind and physiology and trigger the relaxation response which eases your body into the parasympathetic nervous system. The simple act of deep breathing calms the nervous system, which allows for a more effective flow of oxygen and prana to your bodily cells and tissues. The Vedic texts explain that a regular practice of pranayama purifies your body and mind, thereby accelerates your spiritual progress.
Meditation can be seen as a process of shifting awareness from the dense physical body, to the more subtle mental body and ultimately to the spiritual body or pure consciousness. In meditation we expand beyond awareness of our physical form and travel through the subtle body into pure awareness of the spiritual body where pure bliss (ananda) is experienced. Meditation begins when we create a physical position that can be held with steadiness and ease; one that allows us to withdraw from sensory awareness, where fewer nerve signals are sent and received. It is here that the subtle pathways leading to and from our causal (spirit) body are cleared and we experience the absolute connection between all of our bodies. Ayurveda encourages us to a regular meditation practice and makes recommendations for different techniques based on our unique body-mind constitution and our current mind state.
Aromatherapy helps to bring balance to our body, mind and spirit naturally through the aromatic properties of plants. Aromatics have been used in Ayurveda since ancient times for health, beauty and spirituality. When we smell essential oils, their chemical molecules are carried directly to the area of the brain that influences emotions, memories, desires and creativity. Aroma also provokes the production of hormones that control physical and psychological functions. Ayurveda recommends aromatherapy in our daily routines by: applying aromatic oils to our skin (abhyanga), inhaling diffused essential oils, burning natural candles and incense, keeping arrangements of fresh fragrant flowers in our homes or work places and growing aromatic plants and trees in our gardens.
Ayurvedic therapies are designed to restore balance to the body and mind by encouraging the movement of life force energy (prana) and removing residual toxins (ama) through the organs of elimination. The main purpose of the oil (sneha) treatments of Ayurveda is to enhance the flow of prana by anointing the body with specific oils for doshic balance. There are also therapies that provoke sweat (svedha) to carry the properties of the unctuous formulas deeply into the tissues of the body (dhatus) and open the channels (srotamsi) where matter, information and energy flow.
Being in Nature
Ayurveda recommends that we spend time in nature every day so that we can experience the wonder of being in this life and stay in touch with nature’s rhythms. We are natural beings made up of the same five elements that form all nature. Although all of the elemental qualities are present in our physical and psychological bodies, the earth and water qualities of our bodies, the fire and air qualities of our minds and the ether qualities of our spirits are unified when we return to the sacred space of nature. The moment you enter a natural environment you appreciate the most, your senses become fully engaged to unite your body and mind. In nature we recognize the way everything is interrelated; we remember we are more than our bodies and minds. The splendor of nature reminds you that you are one with the entire universe.
Ayurveda reminds us that our time here on Earth is part of our cosmic journey; we are born into nature and our bodies return to nature, while our minds and energy bodies ascend, and our spirits soar on.
The wisdom of Ayurveda pertains to each of us. It offers specific recommendations that help to keep us balanced in consideration of our individual body, mind constitutions. The best way to understand and utilize the principles and practices of Ayurveda is to have an Ayurvedic consultation with a qualified practitioner of Ayurveda. We would love to help you move along your path to balance and bliss.
Denise (Yashoda Ma)