How yoga therapy works: Part 2—Frameworks for understanding

Yoga philosophy understands healing and health somewhat differently than Western models do. A primary model for understanding the work of healing in yoga is the panchamaya kosha, or five-sheaths, model, which holds that different aspects or layers of our experience are located and organized in different theoretical sheaths: physical, energetic, emotional, perceptual, and spiritual. The five sheaths are layers over self-awareness, which in this model is foundational to health. Working through imbalances in the koshas is one of the approaches to healing in yoga therapy.

Problematic patterns—emotional, behavioral, physical, or thought-based—create imbalances. As the Western model tends to separate mind and body, it also separates humans and nature, a separation not found in yoga. In yoga, change in nature, and thus in humans, is governed by three characteristics: movement, inertia, and balance. In this triguna model, the three characteristics interact to create patterns, which are expressed as imbalances in the sheaths. This article connects the triguna model to polyvagal theory, providing a translational framework between Western neurophysiology and the foundations of yoga therapy.

Understanding the panchamaya kosha and triguna models can be an effective way to begin a healing journey, as these concepts offer unique insight into our own patterns of operating in the world. The article above explains that drawing out the relationship between the triguna model and polyvagal theory positions yoga therapy as a “distinct practice rather than fitting into an outside model for [use] in research and clinical contexts.” 

Yoga is significantly researched and practiced as a complementary and integrative therapy with safe and effective results for a wide variety of conditions. Because the value of yoga therapy is perhaps not fully realized within existing healthcare systems, explanatory frameworks like this one are keys to understanding how the practice works. The blog will present more details of this explanatory framework in future posts in the series on how yoga therapy works.