by Ryan Glidden | August 28, 2017 12:23 am
In Yoga philosophy, there are five layers or sheaths of the human being identified. The Sanskrit name for these layers is Koshas. The five koshas are as follows: Physical sheath – Anamaya kosha, Energetic sheath – Pranamaya Kosha, Mental sheath – Manamaya Kosha, Intellectual sheath – vjnayama Kosha, Divine sheath – Anandamaya Kosha.
The sheaths are sometimes compared to a Russian Doll or the layers of an onion. I like to think of them more like the varying spectrums of light when shined through a prism.
When you shine a beam of light, there is no telling where the red light wave is vs. the blue or green, etc. It is a single white beam of light. But when you pass it through a prism the light is fractured and split into its different waves of color. In goes white light, out comes a rainbow. Think of the prism like your yoga practice. You pass your light through your practice so you can see and work with each of the varying layers of yourself more clearly, and with more precision.
Anamaya Kosha: Through the practice of postures I stretch certain muscles and strengthen others. My nervous system is toned through an appropriately sequenced Vinyasa class by adding stress (sympathetic activation) and relaxation (parasympathetic activation). My bones and joints are strengthened by applying proper, stress (load) to them and by moving them through full ranges of motion. When practiced correctly, the asana is balanced between stihra and sukha. These somewhat opposing forces keep the asana balanced between effort and comfortability. When mindfully moving in asana I may feel the difference between one side and the other, noticing the asymmetry that exists in my body, and thus be able to work to bring it back to symmetry. I can become more aware of my bodies habit patterns and consciously choose if the pattern I am doing is the appropriate movement for the pose given the time, and current conditions. All of these things and more can be learned when we apply the principles of yoga to our asana practice, giving us greater insight into our physical sheath as we continue to refine and develop its health and balance.
Pranamaya Kosha: When the breathing techniques of pranayama are used either separately, or in combination with our asana practice we can work more closely with pranamaya kosa, the energy body. Prana is life force energy. Pranayama is the manipulation of breath to manipulate the movement of energy through the body actively. Sarah Powers says that the breath is the subtlest part of the physical body and the coarsest part of the energy body. Thus, it is the bridge between the two. When combined with asana we not only move the energy but we clear the nadis, channels that energy moves through. The folding, twisting and extending of the body from pose to pose helps to open the nadis and allow for pranic energy to move with greater ease. We also can consciously work to bring energy to a particular chakra center or focus on drawing, it in towards Sushumna the center energy nadi that runs in line with the spine.
I always teach that you have to learn to move the breath around the body and then move the body around the breath. What do I mean by this? When we are breathing pranayama, we are not just breathing in and out air. We are moving energy. In this way, it is not restricted to the lungs and upper thoracic cavity. Prana moves everywhere and is said to flow with more intensity in the areas that we focus our mind. When breathing in your yoga practice, breathe with your entire body. Focus the mind on the areas that the asana calls it to. Listen and adjust. Learn to create the adjustment around the movement of the breath.
Manamaya Kosha: When I do a yoga pose it does not just happen in my body. It is the mind that tells the body where to go in the first place. The mind says, “put your foot between your hands, spin your back heel down and lift up into Warrior II.” Then, my mind, if left unexamined may decide that Warrior II is uncomfortable so I don’t like it, or that it doesn’t feel as strong as it did yesterday, so I am upset that I feel weak. The mind wants to feel pleasurable, or at the very least satiated. We can use our asana practice to work with both the mind and the intellectual sheaths here. The mind moves the body into a position that it is familiar based off of a motor program it has created through the repetition of that movement over a period of time. It is a mechanism for energy efficiency and is why you brush your teeth the same way every night without having to think about the action. The same holds to a regular asana practice. The mind will repeat the pattern it has learned and then it may take a step further and pass judgment on the pose, how it feels, compare it to your expectations for yourself and determine if the experience is pleasurable or not. If the mind is pleased, it is more likely to want to repeat. If not then the opposite would hold true.
Vjnamaya Kosha: The intellectual sheath is crucial to your yoga practice. This layer of self can look at the pose and the habit patterns of the body with a discerning eye. The intellectual sheath can examine a pose free of emotional attachments or entanglements with one’s ego. This is mindfulness, and it brings us into the present pose. As Iyengar once said, “I practice the pose of today, not yesterday, and not tomorrow.” The intellectual sheath is more objective, whereas the mental sheath is more subjective. I often teach that the first breath in a pose is the habit. It is the position that we take because we have been there before. The body knows the motions. The second breath is where we engage the intellectual sheath. We see the pose for what it is, and we have the insight of what might need to be adjusted. The third breath is action. It is the opportunity to choose consciously what to change and how to move forward.
Anandamaya Kosha: The divine sheath is the final layer. It is the return to the soul (Purusa). It is the layer where there is no time and no comparisons. Our ego lives on comparisons; comparison to others, to different situations and even to ourselves. It is in the sheath of the soul that we are free. Imagine a space in your mind where your thoughts are not comparing to something. Even the contrast between thought and non-thought is a comparison. The final sheath is a return home to the true nature of the self. It is the ray of light that carries on lifetime after lifetime until we know so clearly that it is us, that we were never anything else. That we are complete and all other spectrums of light were tools for us to use to come to this understanding. Namaste.
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