This article first appeared in the March/April 2017 issue of canfitpro magazine.
As the case with other Eastern based sciences, Yoga looks at the individual holistically. Understanding that optimum health and balance is achieved by taking care of the whole self rather than just focusing on symptoms or specific issues. This is shown in the approach taken for all things mind and body. In the case of mental health and depression, any experience that an individual has that takes him or her out of balance creates a “depression”. Likewise in weight loss, the somatic experience of stress and trauma will keep excess weight on the body despite a person’s best attempt at eating well and exercising. To find balance, we must therefore create harmony in all aspects of self. This is precisely how the kosha’s work.
The kosha’s, translated to sheath or veil, represent our subtle body. There are five koshas each representing a different aspect of self. Kosha’s have also been described like the layers of an onion, peeling each one back to reveal the bulb, the centre, though the essence of the onion is the onion itself with all of it’s layers together.
Along with this is another important aspect of yoga philosophy, which is the dualistic view of self and Self. Prakriti, (nature) describes the self or what is permeable. Just as nature, we change and this is a good thing. We grow up and grow older. With experience our thoughts and connection to the world around us adapts and changes as well. We spend much of our time with prakriti as this is our interaction with life unfolding. The dilemma is where we get caught thinking of ourselves as only the self. Absorbed in our appearances, stuck in the cause and effect of the past and present. Parusha on the other hand, or Self is impermeable – unchanging. This is our true unwavering light within. When we feel connected to Self we feel in perfect harmony with the world around us. Likewise it is the disconnection of Self that manifests in many dis-eases such as addictions, depression and the symptoms of trauma. In looking at the kosha’s, the innermost layer, anandamaya kosha is this connection to Self. However, as per above we need all the layers working together to be in balance in order to experience our true essence.
The following is a brief description of each kosha and how to bring them into balance. The word “maya” means illusion, reminding us that nothing is locked in stone. We must continue to hone the ability to go with the flow and to surrender. That often what appears as truth is not final.
Annamayakosha/Physical Body: This is how we take care of the bodies we are in. We do this through exercise and movement as well as eating healthy foods such as choosing organic and eating a variety of foods. Just as we seek balance for the whole, each kosha should have it’s own balanced scale. Exercise is extremely important, but too much exercise can cause just as much damage as too little. Eating well without being a slave to our food list. Honouring dietary restrictions is also important here. We know gluten makes us sick, and yet we keep sneaking the bread on the dinner table. Understanding the difference between indulging in a treat and needing sweets after every meal.
Pranamayakosha/Energetic Body: This is our vitality, where our energy comes from. Getting a proper amount of sleep and rest and limiting our caffeine intake so we are working with our own natural energy. Just as finding practices for each kosha is important so to is our understanding of how they relate to each other. By taking care of our physical body with exercise and healthy food, energy naturally increases and we won’t feel the need to reach for that extra caffeine boost during the day, or the opposite, sleep aids at night. Prana is our life force and prana is carried through the body with breath. To shift our energy, practice pranayama breathing techniques instead such as alternate nostril breathing, sinking breath (focus on the exhale) for calming and expanding breath (focus on the inhale) for energizing.
Manomayakosha/Emotional Body: This is where we move a little deeper, where we learn and feel. Taking time for our own self-practice, meditation or journaling. Checking in with how we feel. In our go-go world of trying to get a million things done each day, it is paramount that we carve out time to just be – to let our nervous system settle and to simply observe. Like the domino effect, a couple of weeks without exercising or eating properly will probably lead to issues sleeping, a few days of that and our emotions feel like they are all over the place. Taking care of the first two koshas is paramount to emotional health and well being. Turning off external distractions and moving inwards. This is where the importance of a daily meditation practice fits in. We can find meditation practices in many forms: a walk in nature, listening to a piece of music or a more traditional seated meditation with focus on breath. There are manyexamples of guided meditations online that may work for you as well.
Vijnanamayakosha/Intellect Body: How do we perceive life? Are we able to step back and rationalize our experiences rather than continuously reacting? Do we have the ability to look at our decisions and choices objectively? A regular meditation practice will help us discover these answers, as one of meditations great benefits is clarity of mind. Being involved in “satsang” or philosophical discussions with others, staying inspired reading books and articles and surrounding ourselves with others on the same path as us. Building and nurturing community is important here to help develop our intellect body and also to sense a connection to the greater whole.
Anandamayakosha/Bliss Body: What brings you joy? Do that everyday! You deserve to be happy. Our bliss body, also known as the Self is our true inner light. By taking care of the other koshas we are able to connect to our Self, living our dharma (life path) and enjoying life. Start a happiness journal, including all the things you love to do. Making sure to add practices that fit for each kosha. While you are at it, include your gratitude journal, something that will make your heart swell each time you read it. Honour life, honour love, honour YOU. Practice nourishing and nurturing through self-care.
Understanding that life itself is its own perfect seesaw of light and dark, and we will experience both. What these practices will help us with is finding our way back to the light when darkness, or even a little grey does fall. Whenever this is in doubt, start at the beginning: When was the last time I exercised? What did I eat for lunch? How did I sleep last night? Finding practices that work for us, and that relate to each kosha is an important aspect for balance. The ability to connect back to our Self, to our own inner light, is one of the greatest gifts we can receive.
Namasté (the light in me, honours that same light within you)