We have three bodies.
Yes, you read that correctly. Not one, not even two, but three. Each body is more subtle than the last, which is why most of us our only aware of the one body we have. In truth, we have a physical body, a subtle body, and a causal body.
The Physical Body:
This one we are all familiar with. It is our meat suit that is framed by our skeleton. The physical body is the densest, most tangible body we have. It is comprised of the 5 elements (earth, air, fire, water, and ether). This body is ruled by the doshas, needs food for fuel, corresponds with the Mahaguna of Tamas, since those in a tamasic state do actions only to please their senses.
The Subtle Body:
The subtle body is what houses our mind. I do not mean the brain, that is in the physical body. Within each of us, we have a mindscape, an imagination, or a mind’s eye – even though we can’t physically point to the mind in the physical body, all of us would agree that the mind does reside within each of us, somewhere in or adjacent to our actual bodies. Even though we can’t point to it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. It is beyond the perception of our ordinary senses, much like certain wavelengths of light vibrating at different frequencies are. The subtle body houses our thoughts, feelings, and imagination. It is governed by the subtle doshas (a topic for another day): Prana, Tejas, and Ojas. Because of it’s dynamic and agitated nature, the subtle body corresponds with the Mahaguna of Rajas.
Before I get into the last body, it is important to note that there are parallels between the physical and subtle body. For every physical aspect we have, there is a subtle corresponding aspect. For example the Brain has the mind, the doshas have the subtle doshas, the nerves have the nadis (channels that affect the mind), etc. Without going into too much depth, the bridge between the body and mind is our breath. The correlation is easy to see, as an unstable breath can cause both the mind and body to malfunction (panic, hyperventilation, etc), and a stable breath can calm the mind and regulate the body’s functions.
The Causal Body:
This is the body that houses the seed of our connection to universal intelligence, truth, or god, if you prefer. The causal body is dictated by the laws of karma (causality, no good or bad attachments here!). This body is the most subtle and impossible to pinpoint. It connects us to that place where there is pure consciousness. If consciousness is an ocean, we are a wave in that ocean, feeling it’s separateness for a brief moment until we return to the ocean again, indistinguishable and whole. It is the brief moment that we are most disconnected, and strive to move closer towards the Mahaguna of Sattwa, or enlightenment. Without the causal body, there would be no way to enlightenment.
Each body we have has it’s own challenges, and true health won’t ultimately arrive unless we address all three. Arguably, addressing solely the Causal body will align the other two regardless, but the path to that health of the Causal body is difficult without striving for health in the other two first. It’s a process. We have to transcend our physical pain via our diet, our mental imbalances via our thought patterns, and we have to overcome our rajasic or tamasic lifestyle by shedding our karma through that sattvic way.
Much like the Physical and Subtle body are connected via our breath, there is a bridge between our subtle body and our causal body whereupon sits the The Buddhi: Our organ of interpretation. This Buddhi is responsible for sorting information either to serve the mind or to serve our higher consciousness. The more we use The Buddhi to move towards Sattwa, the closer we come to our enlightenment. The more we move towards the mind, the more Rajasic we become as we feed the ego. It’s the difference between treating everything as a meditation, or treating everything as a problem to solve.
All our three bodies are connected, and to focus solely on our physical body and forgetting the others will never bring us complete health. But working first on the body can alleviate much unnecessary suffering and pave the way for us to heal the mind and spirit. This is what Ayurveda can help you with as you pursue your spiritual goals. Nothing is completely separate, and everything is connected. What effects the body effects the mind which in turn affects our personal journey, for better or worse.