Living the teachings — understanding yoga’s everyday spiritual meanings
Understanding a little about yoga philosophy will deepen your overall experience. Ancient yoga began several thousand years ago as a philosophical practice, the journey towards enlightenment with the practical element (asanas) just one cog in the wheel of yoga.
Anyone who fully embraces yoga knows that yoga goes far beyond the poses and that it is a gift that can help us find more inner strength and enable us to live in a more peaceful and joyful way. It has the potential to be a lifelong journey with so much to learn and benefit from along the way.
The koshas can be thought of as the sheaths or layers of the body and mind, often referred to as ‘energetic sheaths’. When we read about the koshas, often an analogy is made with that of an artichoke with the petals layered on top of each other. Another nice analogy is that of a bright light shining within us covered by multi-layered lampshades. When there is harmony within these layers our light shines brightly, but if there is disharmony present our light shines less brightly.
From the outside in, the first layer is the physical body (annamaya kosha). How we treat our physical body, our outer shell, will ultimately filter through all the other layers or sheaths. We are reminded of the importance of good nutrition, exercise, sleep and rest.
The second layer is the pranamaya kosha, our breath or energetic body, the seat of the energy that courses through our body.
This is the kosha that connects most deeply with our breath and responds in a powerful way to specific breathing practices like alternate nostril breathing. Without pranamaya the physical body could not sustain life; everything is interconnected. The third layer is manomaya kosha and is concerned with the workings of our mind and our emotions. This body responds to information from our five senses and our environment too. It craves positive stimulus and experiences fed through our senses.
Vijnanamaya kosha is the next layer inwards and represents our wisdom body, our higher intelligence. This layer separates us from the animal kingdom enabling us to know the difference between right and wrong and make our life choices based on this higher thinking as opposed to the animal kingdom which largely reacts from impulse or instinct.
This higher intelligence can be influenced by knowledge of the yamas and niyamas. Finally, we have our bliss body, anandamaya kosha, best experienced in dream-like states when we feel as though we are at one with the world. The next time you practice yoga consider how well your layers are aligned. Notice where your awareness is: are you only focused on your physical body? Can you connect with your breath? Sense the energy coursing through the body, draw inwards and let your bliss body light up your path.