Yoga and the 5 Kosha Model: Healing Chronic Pain on All Levels of Your Being

In our digital world, technology experts continually come up with solutions to make our everyday lives easier. However, when it comes to helping people suffering from chronic pain, modern technology doesn’t have much to offer, and neither, unfortunately, does modern medicine.

Interestingly, the ancient yoga tradition contains numerous tools to help us address chronic pain issues, or rather a variety of tools for specific layers of chronic pain. None of these, by itself, will solve the problem. But once these yoga tools are combined, they can become very powerful not just in relieving pain, but in restoring function and quality of life.

How Yoga Can Help Manage Chronic Pain

Why is yoga so effective for managing chronic pain? Yoga is effective because chronic pain is multidimensional and affects us on different levels of the system. Let’s do a quick review of the inner workings of the brain and how it responds and adapts to pain signals.

  1. Your brain needs to assess every instance of pain from multiple angles (sensory, emotional, behavioral and cognitive) to decide whether or not it should be bothered by the pain signal and what kind of response is necessary. (1)

  2. Because of the brain’s negativity bias it is wired to expect the worst and prefers to err on the side of safety by swiftly initiating a strong pain response.

  3. For the purpose of efficiency the brain builds streamlined neuropathways for dealing with similar threats based on past experience and resorts to those for each instance of pain.

  4. The problem is that the actual pain signals might get misinterpreted and jumbled up with our emotional and cognitive responses to them. Both actual pain and our emotional response to it get similar physiological treatment.

Strictly physical remedies for chronic pain do not take into account the neuromatrix of pain or pre-established neuropathways. That’s why they can be ineffective.

To be effective for managing chronic pain, a strategy needs to involve the physical body, physiology, mental assessment, emotional response and overall outlook on life. In the field of chronic pain management, it’s called the interdisciplinary chronic pain rehabilitation program (CPRP).

This approach to healing chronic pain usually includes physical therapy to address the physical sources of pain, cognitive behavioral therapy to change patient’s response to pain, and medication to help overcome emotional reactions to pain.

“The common denominator of all the therapies in a CPRP is that they target the central nervous system, reducing its sensitivity, but also the cognitive, emotional and motoric aspects of pain, among others. They do so by changing how patients make sense of pain and by changing their degree of emotional alarm about it, and by reassuringly showing them how to move and engage in activities despite the pain.

“In other words, CPRPs are a top-down intervention: by changing the neuromatrix of the central nervous system one can change the peripheral nervous system and the pain of the associated body parts.” (1)

The Yogic Model of Pain Relief: The Five Koshas

For anyone familiar with yoga philosophy, the above approach to healing chronic pain will sound a lot like the Panchamaya kosha model in yoga.  The panchamaya kosha model (also called five koshas) models the extended human body-mind in terms of five main layers of our systems: physical structure, physiological processes, the content of our minds, our ideas and attitudes toward our surroundings and our sense of connection to other people, society, and the Universe. The yoga tradition has developed tools to bring balance and healing to each of those layers.

The panchamaya kosha model is extremely useful when it comes to managing chronic pain, since chronic pain affects us in each one of those dimensions. Here is a quick overview of the five dimensions of the human system and the main yogic tools (practices) that give us access to each one of them.

The 5 dimensions of the human system (Panchamaya Model)

Want another great article on the origin of pain? Read Olga Kabel’s – When You are Hurt Where Does Pain Come From?

Study core strength and so much more with Olga Kabel and YogaUOnline – Yoga for Posture Improvement with Focus on Core Strengthening and Axial Extension.

Reprinted with permission from Sequence Wiz.

YogaUOnline contributor Olga KabelEducated as a school teacher, Olga Kabel has been teaching yoga for over 14 years. She completed multiple Yoga Teacher Training Programs but discovered the strongest connection to the Krishnamacharya/ T.K.V. Desikachar lineage. She had studied with Gary Kraftsow and American Viniyoga Institute (2004-2006) and received her Viniyoga Teacher diploma in July 2006 becoming an AVI-certified Yoga Therapist in April 2011. Olga is a founder and managing director of Sequence Wiz- a web-based yoga sequence builder that assists yoga teachers and yoga therapists in creating and organizing yoga practices. It also features simple, informational articles on how to sequence yoga practices for maximum effectiveness. Olga strongly believes in the healing power of this ancient discipline on every level: physical, psychological, and spiritual. She strives to make yoga practices accessible to students of any age, physical ability and medical history specializing in helping her students relieve muscle aches and pains, manage stress and anxiety, and develop mental focus.


(1.)  Neuromatrix of Pain by Institute for Chronic Pain

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