What is Five Bodies Counseling?

Five Bodies Counseling is a holistic approach to psychotherapy that examines and treats the psychological and emotional health concerns of the entire being – not just the mind (thoughts, feelings and interpretations) or the organ of the brain, which are the focus of many traditional psychotherapy approaches. This approach originates in Vedanta, the philosophical framework that underlies most of Eastern thought and spiritual practices, including yoga.

In this philosophy, each human being is composed of five bodies, rather than one. And distinct from the Cartesian dualism of mind-body, these bodies are not separate from one another, but integrated. Together, they create a kind of topographical “relief” map to discern where and how stressors and psychological troubles are affecting person – a “You Are Here” map of an individual’s experiences – and thus indicate a meaningful starting point for therapy.

With the spark of consciousness as our illuminating light, you might see each of these bodies as lampshades, or sheaths, through which that light shines. Also commonly referred to as “koshas” in the original Sanskrit, the five bodies include:

Orange Mandala
  • First Body (annamaya kosha) – the physical or “food” body, this includes our bones, tissue, fluids, and the physical senses
  • Second Body (pranamaya kosha) – the energetic body, or body of breath, this is the life-force that bridges the physical body to the more abstract bodies of mind, wisdom and heartful connections
  • Third Body (manomaya kosha) – the mental and emotional body, this is the home of “mind,” as well as the inner and outer experiences / expressions of emotion or feelings
  • Fourth Body (vijnanamaya kosha) – the meaning-making or “wisdom” body, this is where we develop and maintain belief systems and, consciously or unconsciously, craft our personal narratives
  • Fifth Body (anadamaya kosha) – the body of bliss and subtle connections, which Western minds might conceive of as “the body of the heart,” this body senses and communicates feelings of connection or belonging and inspires our sense of awe

When a person experiences suffering or poor health in one of these bodies, the other four are affected. However, many traditional counseling approaches focus solely on the Third and Fourth bodies: the mental / emotional and beliefs / narrative aspects of being. Because psychological concerns such as grief, depression and trauma are usually a complex interplay that also involve physical symptoms (e.g., tense muscles, digestive ailments, headaches, dizziness, etc.), difficulty managing personal energy (e.g., sleep disturbances, lethargy, restlessness etc.), as well as trouble feeling connected to life and others, the popular cognitive – or “thought-based” – approaches to psychotherapy today often come up short. One-size-fits-all rarely works when there are five bodies to dress.

As the counseling profession in the United States looks more to the East for the mindfulness-based practices that can be helpful in treatment of trauma and anxiety, Five Bodies Counseling takes that Eastward-looking gaze and expands it. For example, our work may involve lessons and practice of several yogic breath techniques, as well as the work of developing the awareness and skill to determine which to use. We may focus on your relationship to physical or emotional pain, and sessions may be guided to address the underlying stories or belief systems that hold pain in place. Or you may be encouraged to explore the role nutritional habits and health conditions play in your mood and emotional reactions and to develop self-care practices that reduce the impact of these powerful currents. Five Bodies counseling assumes a complex relationship between physical and emotional pain, and treats both of them simultaneously, with the mind and the will of consciousness as the tools being used to evaluate, soothe and provide care for the whole being.

This therapy is designed to build awareness of your unique experiences of all five bodies, and to develop greater care and compassion for those parts of yourself that have been forgotten or mistreated. It is about opening your heart and realizing a greater connection to yourself and others. It is about achieving balance and learning how develop and engage in self-care practices that will serve you for a lifetime. It is about becoming the steward of your own well being.

Ripple in water with autumn leaves in reflection

Within the Five Bodies framework, Tamara’s individual therapy practices draw extensively on her interest in personal narrative, creative / expressive approaches including art and writing, mindfulness and yogic breath practices, exploration of personal philosophy or world view,  and interpersonal process-oriented dialogue. However, the therapies used reflect her evaluation of individual client needs and the concerns presented in session. Each person is unique, making the course of therapy with each client unique – as it should be.

Five Bodies Counseling
Psychotherapy for the Whole Being