Whilst the previous two Koshas, the annamaya and pranamaya koshas are those that create the physical structure the manomaya and vijnanamaya koshas are the mental functions which allow us to deal with the knowledge aspect of being.
Manomaya Kosha is the third layer identified by the ancient yogis as part of the individual’s physiology. It refers to the mental body, that is the dimension of experience that occurs for individuals on a mental level.
Psychologists identify three aspects of mind – the conscious, sub-conscious and unconscious states. From a yogic perspective the mind is divided into 4 parts:
Manas is that part of the mind that responds to sensory input and related to survival therefore this aspect of mind is associated with measuring, judgement, thought and counter thought.
Chitta is that part of mind associated with registering and storing impressions and memory…it is also the basis of the unconscious mind.
Ahamkara is the aspect of mind concerned with identity, the separation of “me and you”
Buddhi which means to know is discrimination, awareness and understanding and assists Manas with the process of rational thinking.
To a large extent the these last three parts are forced to act through the limitations of Manas with our awareness focused on our needs and desires for survival, security and social engagement .. “trying to work out what’s in it for me ” so to speak.
Through yoga practices such as Pratyhara ( the withdrawal of the senses in the beginning of yoga nidra, where we disassociate from the outside world ) you are able to become aware of the subtleties of the mind. NB: You will remember this as that part of the yoga nidra practice where you are encouraged to search out sounds without naming them, gradually drawing the awareness inwards to the internal sounds.
By practising Antar Mouna meditation ( the witnessing of thought and counter thought) you can also become aware of the workings of the mind and in doing so you can begin to identify more with the higher aspects of mind. Once you begin to see how the mind operates it is possible to transform and control thought processes through self-awareness and mindfulness.
Of course working through the other layers or koshas through asana, breathing practices, mantras and cleansing practices will also help to harmonise the mind, so once again yoga gives us many tools to explore the koshas and find balance and equanimity.
The second Kosha or layer identified by the yogis in yogic physiology is the Pranamaya Kosha . Prana is the vital force permeating the body and every layer of matter. It is related to energy. In fact Prana is associated with all the koshas and it is vital for life. It animates the body. However there is energy specific to Pranamaya kosha .
It occupies only about 2 per cent of our awareness and takes up the same space as the physical body. According to the ancient yogis prana flows through energy channels in the body referred to as Nadis which correspond to the physical nerves. There are said to be 72000 nadis with three prominent ones — Ida, Pingala and Sushumna. Both Ida and Pingala wrap around the main energy channel Sushumna like the double helix…where the networks converge at 7 points are the chakras ( or wheels of energy ).
In different parts of the body the yogis believe that prana serves different functions and they identified 5 pranas or pancha pranas as they are called:
- Vyana – flows through the whole body and is always present, it is said to be the last to leave when we die
- Udana – flows through the head, arms, legs and is associated with the mind and senses and movement..energy used in actions.
- Samara – is equalising and balancing the mid torso and has a side to side movement. It regulates the flow of prana and Apana.
- prana – is the upper torso navel to throat flowing up with inhalation and down with exhalation ( Think of the practice of the So Hum breath here) ..the lungs, heart
- Apana – flowing from navel to pelvic floor.. a downward movement associated with excretion and childbirth
Obviously breath has a very close association with Prana and the way to become aware of the actions of prana and to effect change is through breathing (Pranayama) practices By practising these techniques even something as simple as natural breath awareness you become aware of your own personal breathing patterns. You notice changes in breathing patterns associated with your state of mind. However things like meditation and asana also affect Pranamaya kosha so your yoga class may contain all of these elements. A balanced personal practice would include not just asana practice but also time for pranayama practice and some meditation. Remember this does not have to be a long time but it is worth thinking about making your practice (or sadhana) well rounded.
Posted in Asana, Meditation, Pranayama, Uncategorized, Yoga and Growth
Tagged awareness, Balance, Chakras, energy channels, home practice, koshas, pranayama, yoga
What is the yogic approach to physiology? The ancient yogis believed that the individual was made up of 5 layers or sheaths of experience and these were called the koshas. These koshas explain our relationship and experience with the environment, the breath, the mind and higher levels of consciousness. They provide a way for us to find our way into the subtler layers of our being.
The first layer or kosha which we are most likely to be aware of is one called annamaya kosha or the body sheath. It occupies about 75% of our awareness. This is our relationship with the body, the bones, muscles, ligaments, organs and how we interact in our environment through the senses of sight, touch, taste, smell and feel. It concerns the foods we eat, the things we do, our sleeping habits, the media we expose ourselves to, the people in our lives and places we visit. You may notice that some people or places make you feel content, happy and positive whereas others make you feel anxious, exhausted, fearful. Similarly you may find that when you get regular sleep and take regular meal breaks with healthy food choices you generally feel better. The same goes for exercise be it yoga or some other form of physical activity.
Once we become conscious of these things we are able to use yoga to create a steady experience of annamaya kosha. Some things to consider may be setting a regular time for going to bed, making changes to our eating habits in terms of what you eat and when( you could even use Ayurvedic principles here). Making conscious choices about the people we spend time with, not just putting up with it. Establishing a regular yoga practice and taking time for stillness in meditation. Creating balance in annamaya Kosha creates a ripple effect to the higher koshas or layers affecting energy levels and or mental balance.
Yoga practices for harmonising the physical body include:
- asana by toning and strengthening the body,
- pranayama (breathing practices) by increasing breath capacity, physical energy and balancing the cerebral hemispheres
- meditation and yoga nidra to provide stress relief and balance the fight/flight response
- cleansing practices like neti, kunjal to keep mucus membranes and tracts lubricated and healthy
Some of the principles in the management of Annamaya kosha include:
- regularity of sleep, meals, yoga practice
- simplicity of food, daily routine
- moderation – not overdoing any addictive behaviours
- discipline – not rigid or suppressed but in developing the ability to control the mind
- awareness i.e.. consciously listening to the body’s needs
- tapas or sacrifice ..opportunity for fasting
I have just commenced teaching my first fully restorative yoga class having completed Level 1 training in restorative yoga teaching last year. Since this course I have introduced a few restorative poses into my mainstream classes to stimulate interest and invested in some bolsters with a view to running a group that was dedicated to restorative yoga.
So what is restorative yoga and why do we need it? A restorative yoga class typically has only 5-6 poses which are held for longer periods of time using the support of props such as bolsters, blankets, blocks and even straps. These poses are designed for you to move more deeply into the stretches while your body softens and rests on the supports. They include, forward bends, backbends, twists, lateral stretches and passive inversions and many are based on the teachings of BKS Iyengar. As you are holding poses for longer there is greater capacity to tune into the breath, to explore the effects of breath on the physical body and the mind.
Some of the benefits of restorative yoga include, soothing the nervous system, encouraging mindfulness, cultivating heightened body awareness, creating a sense of acceptance and detachment and feeling safe and nurtured.
At the time when I was looking for a restorative practice myself I was grieving the death of my beloved mum. I felt that I just wanted to be held in a warm and comforting space where my body could release the tensions both physical and mental that had built up during that time. It was about letting go of doing anything in particular and just experiencing the present moment in a safe and comfortable environment.
According to Liz Koch international teacher and author “We need more capacity to endure pleasure…we only do something to get out of pain. We don’t do something because it brings us pleasure; a sense of calm and nourishment. We don’t know how to nourish ourselves with movement as well as food…we need to learn to take care of ourselves and to explore this concept of nourishment.”
Restorative yoga is about that exploration. It is about taking more time to feel into poses, to allow for rest, rejuvenation and not trying to “fix things”. It is about surrender… whether it is to your day, your life, your pain, your grief (as it was and still is on many days in my case), your happiness or joy, and loving and respecting your body. So of course what better time to start a restorative class than in winter when we look for comfort and restoration?
Posted in Asana, resorative yoga, Uncategorized, Yoga and Growth
Tagged awareness, Balance, health, healthy-living, letting go, mental-health, Relaxation, Stress management, yoga
The use of Mantras adds a whole new dimension to your yoga practice whether it be simply chanting the Surya or Beeja mantras as you practice the series Surya Namasakara or if you spend some time chanting the Mahamrityunjaya mantra or the Gayatri mantra as part of your home practice.
Both of these mantras like all mantras have a powerful effect on the body and mind by connecting you to higher vibration, with the mind and body becoming filled with something that is positive and uplifting.
The continued repetition of the mantras (or just listening to these vibrations) can cause changes within the chanter or even to the environment. Some of the immediate changes include relaxation as the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems are brought into balance. Other potential benefits include improvements in the voice and lifetime changes like attaining self-realization.
According to Swami Niranjananda “mantra is the force that liberates the mind from bondage”
Many people get caught up in trying to understand the literal meaning of mantras and whilst it is pleasant to know the translation of the mantra it is not essential for the mantra to have its effect. For it is the vibration that counts. These ancient Vedic sounds resound within the body and the external environment, uplifting both energy levels and thought patterns.
To hear the Gayatri Mantra go to http://www.satyananda.net/prasad and go to audio then Gayatri Mantra
(try listening to this without knowing what the words mean first!!!!….then if you must know check out the next post!)
for more on Mantra……
Posted in Mantra, Uncategorized
Tagged Balance, deeping practice, health, healthy-living, home practice, Positive life, Relaxation, salute to the sun, Stress management, Wellbeing, yoga practice
Perhaps you have been to a yoga class where your teacher has explained something about mudras to you or perhaps this is the first time you have even heard of them…either way an understanding of mudra and how it affects yoga practice can greatly enhance your spiritual experience of yoga.
The word “mudra” is a Sanskrit word that literally means gesture or attitude. A mudra can be psychic, emotional, devotional or aesthetic in nature. The mudra will have an effect on the mind creating a sense of peace, well-being or even a connection to something “bigger” than yourself. From a Tantric perspective a mudra will provide a way of capturing dissipated prana (vital energy) and therefore will calm and introvert the mind helping to create a state that is more conducive to deeper meditative experience.
There are different types of mudras but the most common are those of the hands particularly ….Chin and Gyana (sometimes spelt “jnana”) mudra where the index finger is connected to the base of the thumb or thumb tip and the hands are placed in a relaxed fashion on the knees facing up or down respectively.
In these mudras the index finger represents individual consciousness and the thumb represents higher consciousness. The curling or bowing of the finger to the thumb is symbolic of the desire for unity of the individual with the higher consciousness….the very essence of yoga and life…that of union.
Some of the specific benefits of mudras include:
- bringing awareness to large areas of the cortex – physiologically the hand and the head areas take up 50% of the cortex
- establishing pranic balance (keeping the energy within the body),
- helping to express some of the more elevated states of mind like peace, joy, compassion, devotion, surrender and inner beauty
- linking the yoga practitioner with higher cosmic forces
- deepening awareness and concentration
Swami Niranjananda (Prana, Pranayama, Prana Vidya 1994) describes the activity of mudra in this way ….There can be no expansion of awareness without firstly starting to become aware. During mudra practice, we start to become aware of the thoughts which emerge before, during and after the practice. We are creating fixed, repetitive postures and gestures which can snap the practitioner out of instinctive habit patterns and establish a more refined awareness.
To read more about Mudras try the following links:
http://yogatherapy.org.au/doc/mudras_abstract_poster.pdf —- an interesting study on how hand mudras help to deal with particular health problems
Posted in Mudra and Bandha, Uncategorized
Tagged Balance, deeping practice, Focus, hand gestures, home practice, mudras, prana, Training the mind, Wellbeing, yoga, yoga practice
How do you get a more balanced perspective on life and develop equanimity?
You are standing on one leg with your arms raised above your head and feeling very wobbly as your teacher asks you to breathe through the practice…to ground yourself in the supporting leg, to focus your awareness and feel the strength of the pose.
Then one day without realising it you suddenly notice that you are not wobbling anymore. All the conscious effort in the practice evaporates and the pose seems to flow smoothly as you maintain your awareness on your breath. What has caused this transformation? How have you been able to ward off the wobbles?
Through balancing asana you develop physical balance but also a mental and emotional balance. The strength required in these poses develops a strength of will. You know that you are supported and consequently you know that no matter what life throws at you…. ..you will manage it.
The steady breathing required to maintain the pose is exactly the same steady breathing you need when faced with the ups and downs of life. All too often we panic when things start to get difficult …we breathe shallowly and allow the mind to race off predicting the future or reliving the past rather than staying present. It is the balancing poses in particular that teach us to be present. (you may have noticed that you become wobbly all over again if you let your mind drift and the awareness is lost). To balance successfully you need to feel your whole body, to focus the awareness, to breathe steadily and ground yourself into the supporting leg.
If you are interested in exploring balancing asana a bit more here are a couple of useful links:
Posted in Asana, Uncategorized
Tagged asana, Balance, breath awareness, Focus, Stress management, Training the mind, Wellbeing, yoga, Yoga postures, yoga practice