K. Pattabhi Jois said, "Practice, and all is coming." It sounds so simple, but every time we make space for our practice, there's something a little different, some new layer to work with. Yoga's term for these layers of being - or sheaths - is 'koshas'. There are 5 koshas that surround the innermost kosha, the Anandamaya kosha: pure light within, our true Self.
The first sheath is what brings most people to yoga: the physical layer or 'Annamaya kosha'. The yoga postures are perfectly designed to strengthen, create flexibility and cleanse our bodies' systems so they can function optimally and we move through life with ease. The element associated with this layer is Earth, it is the most dense (and certainly sometimes feels pretty dense!).
This in turn awakens the second sheath, the Pranamaya kosha, our energy body. Through attention to alignment and the flow of breath around the body, we can increase the flow of energy, enlivening or steadying it when we feel scattered. Prana is known as the water of life that flows through the nadis (or meridians), and water is the element associated with this sheath.
More subtle than the first two sheaths is the Manomaya kosha: the thinking mind and emotions. Our mental structures are formed by the beliefs and opinions we've accumulated from family, our culture and habitual thought patterns. There can be density here too, and powerful force. This sheath is associated with fire, and you may notice that your thoughts and emotions can get fiery during practice! Yet the more we practice, the more awareness we bring to these (often outdated) structures and eventually they soften and dissolve, and light from within starts to shine through.
It is with consistent practice and healthy 'thought medicine' we notice the gradual awakening of the Vijnanamaya kosha, the wisdom body. This is that intuitive knowing, removed from prior conditioning, a higher knowing. When we tap into this, we make better choices in our life that support our soul. When we ask questions such as, "Do these choices physically, energetically, mentally support me? Does this lead me closer to Source? Or does it pull me further away?", we receive messages from beyond the thinking mind. We can more clearly judge when we're going off course and when we're on course. Our Vijnanamaya kosha guides us towards our heart's deepest desires and that which makes us fulfilled. Air is the element associated with this sheath, spacious and light.
This is a constant process. We don't just awaken the wisdom body once and then we have it forever more! We practice to clear, refine and listen, again and again.
Beyond these layers, shining its light at the core of our being, is the Anandamaya kosha - the bliss body. There are no words really to describe this. We can use words such as deep joy, inner peace, pure love, oneness with All Life, but it's sometimes best not to attach words to our inner, true Self. Yogi Bhajan once said, 'Happiness is your birthright' and a meditation teacher called Sally Kempton echoed this by saying, 'You're literally born to be blissful, because the bliss body is the deepest layer of your personal Self'. This sheath is associated with the ether / space element: infinite space, light and joy. Source of All.
I wanted to share this with you because we can sometimes be quite harsh with ourselves when practicing yoga. Some people say, 'I can't switch off my mind' or 'it's too hard', 'I can't get my head around the breathing', etc. We need to remind ourselves it's a multi-layered process and not one driven by the mind. Begin with good alignment, keep the body safe. Focus on the body, become embodied. The postures will increase your lung capacity naturally, you'll become more sensitive to the movement of breath and energy naturally. Eventually the breath will guide the movement and the mind will follow the breath. Keep practicing this and the rest will follow. Sunlight streams through.
This week's class is a mixed-ability flow (although not for absolute beginners) on Monday at 7pm.
Click on the link below if you haven't previously registered for Monday's class. If you have Spotify premium, I will send you the playlist and you can play it on a separate speaker so you can still hear me.
Lots of Love,
Register for class: https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZAkde2srj8uHN2vNb76Ui3soDcNrbEZg5vs
Image: Constable, Study of Clouds (1822). From Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.