Journey Through the Subtle Bodies with Asia
During this time of isolation and confinement, remember that limitless journeys are yours in yoga. Your yoga practice empowers you to travel to through all the layers of experience called the Five Koshas. These layers, sometimes called sheaths, include the physical, energetic, mental/emotional, higher intelligence, and bliss bodies. Each layer comes into prominence as you deepen your yoga practice and then settles into place, shaping your consciousness and sense of freedom. The first layer, is the physical layer, or annamaya kosha. Literally, the “food body,” the annamaya kosha includes all of your muscles, bones, tendons, and ligaments. You experience this kosha directly. It’s your body, and you can see and feel it. In Vinyasa yoga you hear cues like, “Scan your body, notice any tension you may be bringing to the mat today,” etc. The body is spoken to directly and observed. As you move on to the next layer, the physical body,drops away from your direct awareness. The second layer is the pranamaya kosha, the “energy body.” We channel the pranamaya kosha in a vinyasa practice by observing the breath. You may be asked to simply observe your inhalation and your exhalation. The aim is that as you focus on your breath, some of the energetic restrictions in your body release. Then this layer, just like the physical layer, drops away. The third kosha is the manomaya kosha, the “mental body.” This is said to be where our emotions reside. When we feel that we are carried away with emotion we are living in this kosha. In vinyasa yoga, so we can witness and experience emotions without being governed by them. Liberation through manomaya kosha as a separate layer emerges when you realize you are not your happiness or your grief— that those are reactions or emotions that merely occur within you. Once you’ve addressed this layer, it, too, drops away into the background. Sometimes something unexpectedly insightful comes out of your mouth or into your awareness and you ask yourself, “Where did that come from?” Vijnanamaya kosha emerges through a visualization or a story. It’s you observing you. It is the experience of seeing yourself like a gem in the stream of life or a seed germinating in spring. The listening, watching, and feeling come from a deep inner state. Then this layer too drops into the background. The fifth sheath is the anandamaya kosha, or “bliss body,” and it is total absorption into a blissful state. This is the subtlest of the five koshas, where the separation between you and what is divine disappears. This layer emerges in the brief silence after the journey ends and before we are brought out of meditation, or sivasana. I generally allow three to five minutes of silence there, as there is true limitlessness to be explored in that space— feeling one’s self completely embraced in the practice. Upon awakening from the bliss body there is typically a feeling of unity between body, breath, and mind, of joy in complete silence. When these are the outcomes of the practice, it signals that all of your layers have been addressed and your essence moves freely through the continuum of time and space.