I’m all for looking at methodical, accessible ways to experience the ‘atman’ – the true self of expansive wholeness and peace. Using practices focused on sensing and uncovering the five ‘koshas’ is a clear framework from which to explore and journey to your innermost, blissful being.
‘Kosha’ is Sanskrit meaning ‘sheath’ or ‘covering’, and describes those elements of being which must be transcended in order to experience your true self:
1. The physical body
2. The energy body
3. Feelings and emotions
4. Thoughts, beliefs and higher wisdom
5. Joy, bliss and equanimity
For the 10-week term starting January 2015, Restful Being yoga classes in Oxford will be exploring these five ‘layers’ of being…and possibly a sixth!
Here’s a bit more about the koshas and yoga, to whet your appetite:
What’s interesting is that we’re looking at our shared humanness. It’s unlikely that your experience of being is short of anything from the five elements listed above (feel free to be in touch if you are!) - so we’re all looking to work with these same, shared ‘barriers’ in our yoga practise:
The physical body (Annamaya Kosha)
Looking to transcend the body requires a very different take on our usual yoga practice. Transcending and going beyond, in my experience, happens when we practice with sensitivity and take all of the striving away from our practice.
The body, in its essence, is merely sensation, so we must learn to dive into this sensation and become open to more and more subtlety and ‘vibratory aliveness’ in our practice. This requires something meditative in its nature, and slow and considered enough to allow us to notice sensation in ever deepening ways.
The energy body (Pranayama Kosha)
We all talk about energy on a daily basis, but many of us might find the concept of there being a literal body of energy animating our physical form difficult to comprehend. I like the phrase ‘Wisdom is being prepared to entertain an idea without the need to take it on,’ so let me entertain you for a moment: prana (life force) is as real as the screen you’re reading this on and just because you can’t dissect it with a knife, doesn’t mean it’s not real. The kind of practice that balances our energy is the familiar ‘Hatha’ yoga, though with a focus on Bhandas (energetic locks and seals) and breathing-in to poses to really open your energy body. This practise is energising and revitalising, and therefore very popular throughout the Western world.
Feelings and emotions (Manomaya Kosha)
At this ‘layer’ we experience ‘energy-in-motion’ (‘e-motion’ for short). In our practise it is here that we begin to feel the hits of our feelings having opened ourselves energetically in the previous practice. This kind of ‘emotional yoga’ is experienced with long, yin-style holding of postures and diving-in to feeling our body, energy body and paying attention to feeling. I love giving these kinds of classes: the ones where somebody comes up at the end and apologises for getting mascara on the eye pillow they borrowed. We’re literally ‘moved’, and as we are, profound shifts take place as we release and are freed from this kosha.
Thoughts and beliefs (Vijnanamaya Kosha)
This kosha is met with meditation, which we will be practising around week 8 of the term. Here we’re also likely to meet our old friend the ego, and face what it does and doesn’t like about your physical practice. You’ll be challenged to look deeply at your preferences and understand how you’re choosing and refusing of life (and yoga poses!) is taking you further away from your atman, not closer to it.
Joy (Anandamaya Kosha)
Joy is our birthright, as is equanimity. You know those times when you leave yoga class (or substitute with your favourite, peace-invoking activity) and feel like you’re OK with the world as it is? You feel no desire to fight, push away or control? We might also find ourselves happy or at ease for no particular reason at all. This is the Anandamaya Kosha, the body of bliss and equanimity, and in class we’ll be exploring ways of connecting with this as a relative experience (reflecting on our joys and moving towards them) and in an absolute way (that ‘happy for no particular reason’ thing).
And the sixth kosha? You’ll have to be a good student and make it all the way to week 10 to find out…
Sound good? I can’t wait, and I’m looking forward to seeing you in class.