As a seasoned yogi you will know that in subtle yoga anatomy the body is divided into five layers:
Anamaya Kosha – the grossest form of the physical body. Put simply, everything you can touch, including skin and bones.
Pranamaya Kosha – the energy body. The breath and the force which causes everything to flow in and through the body, which makes the blood run through the veins, which makes food move through the digestive system, which converts oxygen into a vital force in the body. When this kosha dies – the physical body dies.
Manomaya Kosha – the monkey mind. That part of the brain which randomly jumps from one thought to the next a zillion times every day. That part of the mind which overthinks and tortures us, which chews over situations, people and trauma over and over again with no end in sight except the psych hospital if it was let to run wild.
Vijnanamaya Kosha – the higher mind. That part which allows us to go into deep meditation and awareness. That part that can detach from the drama of human existence and understand the wider picture, see us as a spec in the vast universe.
Anandamaya Kosha – the bliss level which moves on and on through lives. That layer that’s activated in moments of full presence where time and space cease to exist, for instance in orgasm, in gazing at the sunrise on the horizon from my boat’s bow, in a deep hug with a loved one, when gazing deeply into my children’s eyes, when fully submerged in the flow of my yoga practice….
In my 200 hrs yoga teacher training some of my students have wondered how the koshas fit in with the chakras, how that fits in with the eight-fold path, how that fits in with Ayurveda, then Tantra and so much more of the wider yoga philosophy. It can be a lot to all take in at first, but I say one level at a time and more importantly, apply it to your life. Use what works and helps for now, and come to another concept when the time is ripe. Just learning the theory isn’t worth much. So let’s apply it.
Recent real-life example: Drama and violence at our the Eco-Village
First of all I’m sorry to bust some illusions upfront: Even in intentional communities there’s dirty drama and deceptive human behavior. Arguably even more deceptive than elsewhere for the mere fact that you somewhat expect it less. As such, at the eco-village where we have been trying to build a house for the past two years, another member has physically and verbally abused our children and ourselves. Instead of support we got weeks of nothing, aloneness, scraping under the carpet feeling… followed by a traumatizing meeting whereby the perpetrator was empowered to set demands to the victims and in no way shape or form given any hint, indication or, dare I say, request to change his behavior. It was not even hinted that what he did was unacceptable, or that a personal development or anger management course was long over-due. Instead the victims were put en pair with this guy with obviously huge psychological issues and serious anger management problems and left feeling that there was no other choice than leaving a place which no longer felt safe nor supportive for our children to thrive in.
In short, deeply traumatizing. My Anandamaya Kosha has been trembling and struggling to meet its human needs of deep sleep and rest, or even to keep food down. Pranamaya Kosha has been equally trembling in a fight and flight response whereby often it has been hard to breath. There is a feeling of complete rootlessness (Mooladhara Chakra), no joy and energy (Swadishtana Chakra) and no support (Manipura Chakra). Manomaya Kosha is in heaven – running from one thought to the next, chewing over the situation over and over again and probably glad that just as we had managed the beginning of a moving on the meeting was called causing even more trauma than before and giving the monkey mind plenty of food for overactive, unconstructive thought.
Now without yoga, the understanding of the deeper layers and decades of applying these to life I would be stranded here, dropping into a space of deep burn out, trauma, stuckness, depression etc as the thought and feeling of ‘I’m devasted. I’m destroyed. I’m done.’ are all so close, at times overwhelming and easy to to succumb to. Yet luckily there are still two koshas, two layers of me, left which can pull me out of the deep.
Vishnanamaya Kosha gives me perspective and trust that although hard, there is a lesson in this, maybe a warning and probably a dose of hope too, that there’s something much better around the corner. And even if none of that, even if life just moves on somewhat differently, than Vishnanamaya takes me back into the moment which is all that exist. Yesterday, the abuse, the meeting, the drama all that is gone. What there is right now as I’m writing these lines at 3am on another sleepless night is the full moon shining brightly above me, my happy and healthy kids peacefully snoring in the cabins down below, my boat rocking in the gentle waves, a waterfall splashing in the background, the occasional jungle noise from the forest behind the beach, not a single sign of other human existence around us and me, with time to jot down my thoughts, out of my head and into the world for the sake of greater awareness, digestion, understanding, openness, transparency and ’cause I’m not the ‘put under the carpet and shut up’ kind of person.
So here comes Anandamaya Kosha – the bliss of the moment to which I’m so grateful for and as such, the journey through the koshas has been helping me find my way back home. For that, I’m deeply grateful. To strengthen these two latter koshas I work with breath which goes on then to help calm Pranamaya, through it Manomaya and Anamaya. I have also worked with mantras, Ganesha-meditations, trataka (fire-cleansing), tantra, massage (careful – more release!) and several other useful tools to find my way back to Ananda – bliss in the now – the calm eye of the storm of human existence.
Where are you at with your koshas? I’d love to hear how they help you put life into perspective. Namaste.