Peeling Back the Layers

You know that feeling that you get post savasana, that feeling of being totally connected to something? Maybe something higher than physical self? This is the body that yogis refer to as Anandamaya or the bliss body. Over 3000 years ago yogis mapped the layers of the body identifying several sheaths or layers like Russian dolls stacked one inside the other. These layers are metaphysical, each working in union with the other to produce a feeling of wholeness. The layers move from the outside to the core and in our yoga practice can be a reminder to operate from the inside out. We can use these layers to navigate our way through life, rather like a road map.

These Koshas or layers are part of our journey in answer to the question ‘who am I?’ Once we start to practice self study and look deeper we can reveal many depths to our being. We can use this road map to bring a stronger sense of being to our body, breath, mind, wisdom and spirit.

Anandamaya Kosha. This is our outward self, our physical body. It is tangible and touchable, it is the vessel that carries us through life, our container. It is rooted in the earth and carries this element. It is changing and reforming constantly. Often in the western world as we practice our yoga or asana we are very concerned with this layer, how we look, our ability to do the poses, competition, failure and success. We want to be the best we can in a physical sense, to achieve our poses with grace. We learn to align our body, to stack bone on bone, engage our muscles and deeper organs into poses. This layer is sometimes called the ‘food body’. This is in reference to our body being made of food from the earth and pays respect to what we put into our mouths. It is our starting point on our yoga journey. When we come to practice we should call to mind the bodily sensations we have, what we can feel in our gross body and then this can be a lead in or pathway to exploring the other layers.

Pranayamaya Kosha. Our breath or energetic body. Scratch a little below the surface and you will find the energy that carries our body from one move to the next. Our breath is the source that fuels our outer sheath to be in this world. It’s element is water. It is an energy that is a untouchable and flowing like a river. This energy moves through you and your channels fueling your practice. If we are not connected to this source of energy we struggle with our poses and expend too much energy to go too far into our poses. If we use our breath as a guide to our flow of prana then we can practice our postures with grace. The more present you become to your breath the more you can trust your body. The practice of Pranayama or breath exercises, helps us to remember the importance of breath. We often forget to breath properly, we become unconscious of the the effort the breath makes to fuel our body and build it up. In our vinyasa practice we can pay respect to how we breath into and out of the poses, igniting our pranamaya kosha.

Manomaya Kosha. This is our mind our thoughts, that which shapes our actions in our body.There is no mind without body, no body without mind. Have you noticed when your thoughts become distracted and random you can lose your breath and balance in life. The mind ignites and fuels our thoughts. Where the mind goes the body follows. If we strike a pose we find uncomfortable or difficult we can choose our thoughts to shape our breath and body and move into and out of the pose with ease. Choose your thoughts carefully, stay present in the mind so your thoughts are not random and you can get the mind to work for you and be at your service rather than the other way around.

Vijanamaya Kosha. This is the layer of the heart. The all knowing part of you that is beyond reason and doubt. This part of us knows the answer, it is our intuition and our gut instinct. This sheath is so often covered by the other layers and so becomes inaccessible. If we find silence and time to sit we can find the answers which are deep within our heart. This inner body is reflective in nature and can provide a deeper insight into ourselves. Once we move in harmony with the first three layers we may find ourselves in a pose where we just literally open up to the sky, a feel good moment where we have become a witness to our experience of the heart.

Anandamaya Kosha. This is the heart of the artichoke. The essence of who we really are. It is deeper than happiness and close to bliss. Ananda means bliss.This state of peace is felt when we connect to our deepest purpose.There is a sense of wholeness and integration and a feeling of having arrived home.

We can use our yoga practice to peel back layer after layer and so revealing what is always there, always present, waiting patiently to be discovered.

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