A wander through the koshas – the physical layer

In my last blog I talked about the practice of physical yoga. I mentioned that according to yoga philosophy we have different layers of our being, of which the physical layer is just one. I thought it might be interesting to explore these a little bit further and see how these layers affect us and how we work with them in our yoga practice.

There are five layers, or koshas, of being. These are also known as the layers of human experience, and all day every day we are moving between these layers depending on what we are doing, who we are with or what we are experiencing at any given time. The layers are listed below, using their Sanskrit (yoga) name with a translation.

  • Anandamaya kosha       Blissful sheath
  • Vijnanamaya kosha       Thought layer
  • Manomaya kosha           Emotion layer
  • Pranamaya kosha           Physiology layer
  • Annamaya kosha            Physical layer

We can work on any one of these layers and like throwing a pebble into still water the ripples will expand out and affect all the other layers, but we need to be “awake”, to be consciously aware that we are taking action for it to have any real impact.

The easiest layer for us to understand is the physical layer. This deals with our physical body, in yoga we often describe it as the layer made up of food (brings a much deeper meaning to the phrase “you are what you eat”!). We are all aware of this layer and it is generally where we spend the majority of our time. We are aware of our need to eat or drink, our bodily functions, and how we move. This is usually the layer where we first experience pain and discomfort in the body.

When we start a yoga practice or we are working with a new posture we are very much taken up with the physical mechanics of a posture. We are focussed on where the bits of our body are going in relation to others, which muscles we are stretching or strengthening, where it might feel comfortable (or not as the case may be). You may even notice the effects of your practice on your physical body afterwards. Hopefully they will all be positive 🙂 muscles feeling more relaxed, back and joints moving easier, perhaps you’ve needed to use the bathroom, that persistent headache has shifted.

The great thing about working with physical yoga is that we get to check in with our bodies. We learn to recognise what is normal for us, and more importantly when we are out of balance. We can use our yoga diagnostically, check in with ourselves at any given time, and even better we build a tool kit of movements that we know make us feel better.

Sun sequences and Dru Yoga’s unique Energy Block Release sequences (the first 2 focus largely on the annamaya kosha) are the perfect way to gain knowledge of your physical body, because they give you an all over body “work out”, whilst specific postures may only get a few areas of the body. I recommend you choose a practice, and commit to doing it every day for a month.

The Dog posture

How do your hamstrings feel today?

This doesn’t need to be a big chunk of your day, I can do a warm up, a round of sun sequence and a rest in crocodile in 10 minutes. Be aware of how this practice makes you feel physically, each time you show up. How do you move, where is it feeling stiff, is it getting easier, how do you feel after practice? Get used to asking yourself lots of questions, find out about your body and how it works.

Keep a journal of your practice, this way you can keep a track of how you felt, what changed, which days were easier than others and was there some reason for this that you can now see eg quality of sleep, food choices, work / holiday.

For me, this is a key step towards taking responsibility for your health and well being. If you don’t know what feels right for you, how do you know when something isn’t right? When you have that awareness you can then take appropriate action.

I hope this makes sense, and inspired you on to check in with yourself every day. Let me know how you get on and what you experience. Ix

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