The concept of the “koshas” in yoga philosophy refers to layers or sheaths that describe the various parts of an individual’s consciousness and existence. The koshas represent different dimensions of the human experience, from the most physical to the most spiritual. There are five koshas, each are distinct but also nested within the other.
In yoga therapy, the Koshas are the framework used to co-create a plan for helping a person to achieve more balance and calmness in their lives.
Here are brief descriptions:
Annamaya Kosha (Physical Sheath): This is the outermost layer and pertains to the physical body. It encompasses the physical organs, systems, and the overall body structure. It is associated with the physical sensations, experiences, and health of the body. The state of the Annamaya Kosha can influence one’s overall well-being, energy levels, and vitality.
Pranamaya Kosha (Energetic Sheath): This kosha relates to the energetic body and encompasses the various energy channels, or “nadis,” and energy centers, or “chakras.” It is associated with the flow of vital life force energy (prana) throughout the body. The state of the Pranamaya Kosha can influence one’s vitality, emotional states, and overall energy balance.
Manomaya Kosha (Mental Sheath): This layer represents the mind and mental processes. It includes thoughts, emotions, beliefs, memories, and perceptions. The state of the Manomaya Kosha can influence one’s cognitive functioning, emotional well-being, and mental clarity.
Vijnanamaya Kosha (Wisdom Sheath): This kosha is associated with intellect, wisdom, and intuition. It encompasses higher cognitive functions, discernment, and a deeper understanding of oneself and the world. The state of the Vijnanamaya Kosha can influence one’s ability to make sound decisions, seek inner guidance, and cultivate wisdom.
Anandamaya Kosha (Bliss Sheath): The innermost kosha represents the state of bliss, joy, and interconnectedness. It’s associated with a profound sense of contentment and spiritual fulfillment. The Anandamaya Kosha is often considered to be the closest to one’s true nature or higher self.
Enter the Vagus Nerve
The vagus nerve is a crucial part of the parasympathetic nervous system and plays a significant role in regulating various bodily functions, including heart rate, digestion, respiratory rate, and emotional responses. Its activity is closely linked to the body’s stress response and relaxation mechanisms. The vagus nerve has a direct influence on the autonomic nervous system, which in turn can impact the different koshas. In yoga we might describe the activity of vagus nerve as an energy system, and as the fluctuation of energy.
Making a connection between the vagus nerve’s activity and the condition of the koshas within an individual:
Annamaya Kosha: The vagus nerve’s influence on digestion and metabolism can impact the physical body’s functioning. An overactive vagus nerve might lead to digestive issues, while a well-regulated vagus nerve can promote healthy digestion and overall bodily function.
Pranamaya Kosha: The vagus nerve’s role in regulating heart rate variability and breathing can influence the energy flow within the energetic body. Balanced vagal tone can support a harmonious energy circulation, while imbalances might lead to disruptions in energy flow.
Manomaya Kosha: The vagus nerve’s connection to emotional responses can affect mental well-being. A balanced vagus nerve can help regulate emotions and stress responses, contributing to a healthier mind.
Vijnanamaya Kosha: The vagus nerve’s impact on cognitive functions can influence higher-order thinking and discernment. Optimal vagal tone can contribute to clear thinking and better decision-making.
Anandamaya Kosha: The vagus nerve’s role in promoting relaxation and reducing stress can create an environment conducive to experiencing states of inner bliss and contentment. A well-functioning vagus nerve can support spiritual practices and a sense of interconnectedness.
A conceptual connection can be made between the koshas and the vagus nerve’s activity. Science continues to describe the autonomic nervous system (ANS) in more detail, as we gain a greater understanding as to how thoughts and emotions effect the ANS. Research into vagal tone, heart rate variability, Polyvagal Theory, trauma, PTSD, depression, auto immune disease, and other areas continue to point to connections between ancient wisdom traditions and modern science.
To learn more, I have been using the non-habitual approach to writing by using Artificial Intelligence! It started out as a way to quickly gather a large number of facts around concepts I practice and teach in yoga class and in yoga therapy sessions. You may be wondering what movement and AI have to do with being in a yoga post like this one! Well, like many people writing with AI, I thought it might be good to get out of the habit of writing in the old style (with my own personal intelligence).
Learning about Yoga through non-habitual writing
Similar to non-habitual physical movements that I teach and practice with Somatics and Yoga, I have now been “taught” many things by using AI as a writing approach to topics on Yoga. Some of what I have learned about writing are far from new: check your sources, double-check your facts, don’t believe everything you read, don’t believe everything you find on the internet (AI included), etc. Most of what I have learned from yoga aren’t new either: there is real intelligence in the body.
At the end of this post I will describe some of the things I discovered in the process of writing with AI on the topic of non-habitual movement. I did learn a few things, but also spent a lot of time trying to verify or expand on other things that ChatGPT produced.
I particularly appreciated the statement at the end to “consult with a qualified eye care professional or vision therapist.” Thanks to AI for understanding what it means to stay within scope of practice, and to not provide treatment or medical advice. The article was also liberally sprinkled with “can” statements such as, can enhance, can improve, can contribute, and may help. There is nothing artificial in that intelligence!
The following is an unedited ChatGPT3.5 response to my prompt: “Describe the potential benefits of eye movement exercises such as saccadic eye movements or other non-habitual head and eye movements, and provide a list of resources for this summary.”
ChatGPT on the benefits of eye movement exercises
Eye movement exercises, including saccadic eye movements and non-habitual head and eye movements, can offer a range of potential benefits for various aspects of visual and cognitive functioning. These exercises are often used in vision therapy and rehabilitation programs to improve eye coordination, focus, and overall visual processing skills. Here are some potential benefits:
Enhanced Eye Coordination: Saccadic eye movements, which involve rapid and precise shifts of gaze from one point to another, can improve the coordination between the eyes and strengthen the eye muscles.
Improved Reading Skills: Eye movement exercises can enhance the ability to follow lines of text smoothly and accurately while reading, reducing issues like skipping lines or losing one’s place.
Better Visual Attention: Practicing non-habitual head and eye movements can help train the brain to pay attention to specific visual stimuli more effectively, leading to improved focus and concentration.
Reduced Eye Strain: Regular eye movement exercises may help alleviate eye strain caused by prolonged computer use or other visually demanding tasks.
Enhanced Peripheral Vision: Some exercises involve tracking objects in the periphery, which can improve peripheral vision and overall awareness of the visual environment.
Improved Visual Memory: Certain eye movement exercises challenge visual memory and can enhance the ability to recall visual information accurately.
Increased Visual Processing Speed: Quick and accurate eye movements can contribute to faster visual processing, which can be beneficial in various daily activities.
Support for Visual Rehabilitation: Eye movement exercises are often used in vision therapy to aid in the recovery and rehabilitation of individuals with certain vision problems or eye-related conditions.
Enhanced Hand-Eye Coordination: Some exercises involve coordinating eye movements with hand movements, which can improve hand-eye coordination.
Support for Neurological Conditions: Eye movement exercises have been explored as a supplementary treatment for neurological conditions, such as traumatic brain injuries and certain types of dyslexia.
Resources for Eye Movement Exercises:
College of Optometrists in Vision Development (COVD): COVD provides information on vision therapy and developmental optometry, which includes various eye movement exercises. Website: https://covd.org/
The American Optometric Association (AOA): AOA offers resources on vision therapy and its benefits, including eye movement exercises. Website: https://www.aoa.org/
Vision Therapy Canada: This website provides information on vision therapy and eye exercises, including saccades and other eye movement exercises. Website: https://visiontherapy.ca/
Optometrists Network: This website offers a section on vision therapy exercises, including eye movement activities. Website: https://www.optometrists.org/
It’s essential to consult with a qualified eye care professional or vision therapist before starting any eye movement exercises, especially if you have any underlying vision issues or medical conditions. They can provide personalized recommendations and guidance based on your specific needs and goals.
In general the information generated by ChatGPT was helpful and informative. The way that ChatGPT handled its sources was not specific as is common in siting references. For example, the links did not go right to the specific eye movement exercises it outlined. A reader following those links would need to know and enter key words into the search tool on each of the websites to find information on saccadic eye movement or other eye movement exercises.
My main criticism of this ChatGPT article was that its referenced web sources that mainly addressed vision problems and abnormalities. It seems to have gotten “stuck” on the term saccadic and did not address the rest of the prompt related to non-habitual head and eye movement. I’ll admit, I too got stuck scanning for the term saccadic. And then, once I saw the phrase “smooth pursuit,” I was off and down into a new rabbit hole of learning!
The part big data plays in dispelling the myth and proving the efficacy of yoga
Yoga is a practice that has been used for centuries to promote physical and mental well-being. As its popularity has grown in recent years, so has the interest in understanding its benefits from a scientific standpoint. Researchers around the world are now exploring the effects of yoga on the body and brain, using a range of techniques to measure its impact.
The benefits of yoga are numerous and well-documented. From reducing stress and anxiety to improving flexibility and balance, yoga has been shown to be an effective complementary treatment for a variety of health conditions.
Recent Yoga Research Articles
Current Yoga Research articles found via PubMed®
Read abstracts on current yoga research articles. Click on the “+ expand” link on the PubMed® page in the link below to see academic affiliations. Clicking on “PMCID” will give you more research detail.
(Note: “PubMed® comprises more than 35 million citations for biomedical literature from MEDLINE®, life science journals, and online books. Citations may include links to full-text content from PubMed Central and publisher websites.”)
Review articles on Yoga Research from 2023 via Google Scholar:
(Note: Google Scholar “provides a simple way to broadly search for scholarly literature. From one place, you can search across many disciplines and sources: articles, theses, books, abstracts, and court opinions, from academic publishers, professional societies, online repositories, universities, and other websites. Google Scholar helps you find relevant work across the world of scholarly research.”
Qualitative methods used to measure the body’s physiologic response
Yoga has been widely recognized as a holistic approach to wellness, and its benefits have been documented in numerous studies. However, measuring the physiological changes that occur during yoga practice can be challenging. Fortunately, researchers have developed a range of qualitative methods to assess yoga’s impact on the body.
Heart rate variability analysis is a commonly used method to measure the physiological response to yoga. This technique involves measuring the time between heartbeats, which can provide insights into the functioning of the autonomic nervous system. Studies have shown that regular yoga practice can improve heart rate variability, which in turn can lead to better cardiovascular health.
Cortisol level measurement is another technique that is often used to assess the impact of yoga on the body. Cortisol is a hormone that is released in response to stress, and high levels of cortisol can be detrimental to health. Studies have shown that regular yoga practice can reduce cortisol levels, which can lead to a range of health benefits, including reduced anxiety and improved immune function.
Brain imaging techniques like fMRI and EEG scans have also been used to study the effects of yoga on the brain. These techniques allow researchers to visualize changes in brain activity during yoga practice, providing insights into the neural mechanisms that underlie the benefits of yoga. Studies have shown that regular yoga practice can increase activity in the prefrontal cortex, which is associated with improved cognitive function and emotional regulation.
Breath analysis is another technique that can be used to assess the physiological response to yoga. This involves measuring the volume and rate of breath during yoga practice, which can provide insights into the functioning of the respiratory system. Studies have shown that regular yoga practice can improve respiratory function, which can lead to better overall health and well-being.
Overall, these qualitative methods provide valuable insights into how yoga affects the body. By using these techniques, researchers can draw conclusions on the efficacy of yoga and yoga therapy, and develop evidence-based recommendations for individuals looking to improve their health and well-being through yoga practice.
In recent years, yoga has become increasingly popular as a form of exercise and stress relief. However, despite its widespread use, there is still much that is not fully understood about how yoga affects the body. Now, Smartphones and wearable technology enable personal data collection for yoga practitioners. Individuals willing to share their personal information are adding to the collective knowledge for yoga research. Yoga works. Let’s prove it.
Wearable devices, such as heart rate monitors and blood pressure cuffs, have been used in medical research for many years. However, the use of these devices in yoga research is a relatively new development. By wearing these devices during yoga practice, researchers can collect data on how the body responds to different poses and breathing techniques.
Smartphone apps have also been developed specifically for yoga practitioners. These apps can track breathing patterns, heart rate, heart rate variability, and other vitals, allowing users to monitor their progress and make adjustments to their practice as needed. Some apps even use artificial intelligence to analyze the data collected, providing personalized feedback and recommendations.
The use of big data analysis in yoga research is another exciting development. By collecting and analyzing data from large numbers of yoga practitioners, researchers can identify patterns and trends that would be impossible to detect in smaller studies. This can lead to a better understanding of the physiological effects of yoga, as well as the potential benefits for specific populations, such as those with chronic pain or mental health conditions.
Overall, the use of smartphones and wearable technology in yoga research has the potential to revolutionize our understanding of this ancient practice. By providing new insights into the effects of yoga on the body and mind, this technology is helping to pave the way for more personalized and effective yoga practices in the future.
Research has shown that yoga is not only a physical practice but also a mental and emotional one. In addition to the physiological responses mentioned above, there are several other benefits of practicing yoga. For instance, practicing yoga regularly can lead to improved flexibility, balance, and posture. This is because yoga involves holding poses for an extended period of time, which helps to stretch and strengthen the muscles.
In addition to the physical and mental benefits, practicing yoga can also help to improve overall well-being. By focusing on the breath and being present in the moment, yoga helps to cultivate mindfulness and self-awareness. This can lead to a greater sense of inner peace and contentment, which can have a positive impact on all areas of life. Overall, the physiological responses mentioned are just a few of the many benefits of practicing yoga. Whether you’re looking to improve your physical health, reduce stress, or cultivate greater mindfulness, yoga has something to offer everyone.
The scientific research on yoga is still in its early stages. By measuring the physiological changes that occur during yoga practice, researchers are beginning to understand how it works and how it can be used as a therapeutic tool. With continued research, we can expect to see more insights and discoveries about the potential of yoga to transform our lives.
Full disclosure: this post written with artificial intelligence assistance using prompts that I entered into the AI tool “byword.ai.” But, frankly I spent so much time adding to it, removing huge sections, and heavily editing it that I should just claim full authorship! –—Tish Ganey
How to Improve Heart Rate Variability Through Yoga and Pranayama: Exploring the Benefits for the Heart, Nervous System, Cortisol Levels, and Overall Health and Wellness
Heart rate variability (HRV) is a measure of the variation in time between each heartbeat. It is an indicator of the health of the heart, nervous system, and overall well-being. High HRV is associated with good physical and emotional health, while low HRV is linked with chronic stress, anxiety, depression, and poor cardiovascular health.
Understanding Heart Rate Variability (HRV)
What is Heart Rate Variability?
HRV refers to the variation in time between each heartbeat. It is calculated as the difference between the longest and shortest intervals between heartbeats during a given period (usually a minute). High HRV indicates a healthy and flexible cardiovascular system, while low HRV suggests a rigid and overloaded system.
Heart rate variability is a complex and dynamic process that is influenced by many factors, including age, gender, genetics, physical activity, diet, and stress. It is regulated by the autonomic nervous system, which consists of two branches: the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for the “fight or flight” response, while the parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for the “rest and digest” response.
When we experience stress, our sympathetic nervous system becomes activated, causing our heart rate to increase and our HRV to decrease. This is a normal and adaptive response that prepares us to deal with a threat. However, when stress becomes chronic or excessive, it can lead to a state of sympathetic overdrive and reduced HRV, which is associated with a range of health problems, including cardiovascular disease, depression, anxiety, and chronic pain.
Why is HRV Important for Health and Wellness?
HRV is a sensitive indicator of the body’s response to stress and the state of the autonomic nervous system, which controls the heart rate, breathing, digestion, and other vital functions. By monitoring HRV, we can gain insights into our physical and emotional states, and take proactive steps to improve our well-being.
Research has shown that individuals with higher HRV tend to have better physical and mental health outcomes. For example, high HRV has been associated with better cognitive function, improved sleep quality, reduced inflammation, and lower risk of cardiovascular disease. On the other hand, low HRV has been linked to increased risk of depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders.
Fortunately, there are many ways to improve HRV and promote overall health and wellness. These include regular exercise, mindfulness practices such as meditation and deep breathing, a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables, and stress reduction techniques such as yoga and massage therapy.
By taking care of our physical and mental health, we can improve our HRV and enjoy the many benefits that come with a healthy and flexible cardiovascular system.
The Science Behind Yoga and Pranayama
Yoga is a traditional practice that has been around for centuries. It involves physical postures (asanas), breathing techniques (pranayama), and self-awareness training (meditation) to promote physical, emotional, and spiritual health. The practice of yoga has been shown to have numerous benefits for the body and mind.
The Effects of Yoga on the Body
Research indicates that regular yoga practice can help reduce stress levels. This is because yoga has been shown to lower levels of cortisol, a hormone that is released in response to stress. Lowering cortisol levels can help reduce anxiety and improve overall mood.
In addition to reducing stress, yoga has also been shown to lower blood pressure. This is because yoga postures can help improve circulation and blood flow throughout the body. Improved circulation can help reduce the strain on the heart, leading to lower blood pressure levels.
Yoga has also been shown to improve respiratory function. This is because many yoga postures involve deep breathing, which can help increase lung capacity and improve overall respiratory health. Improved respiratory function can help reduce the risk of respiratory illnesses and improve overall physical performance.
Finally, regular yoga practice has been shown to enhance cognitive performance. This is because yoga can help improve focus, concentration, and memory. Additionally, the mindfulness training that is a part of yoga practice can help reduce stress and improve overall mental health.
The Power of Pranayama: Breathing Techniques for Improved HRV
Pranayama is a specific type of breathing practice that involves controlling the breath to achieve specific physiological and psychological effects. Research suggests that pranayama can improve heart rate variability (HRV) by increasing parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) activity.
The PNS is responsible for the body’s “rest and digest” response. When the PNS is activated, the body is able to relax and recover from stress. This can help improve HRV, which is a measure of the variability in time between each heartbeat. High HRV is associated with better overall health and a reduced risk of heart disease.
Pranayama has been shown to be an effective way to increase PNS activity and improve HRV. This is because pranayama involves slow, controlled breathing that can help activate the PNS and reduce stress levels. By practicing pranayama regularly, individuals can improve their overall health and reduce their risk of heart disease.
Benefits of Improved HRV Through Yoga and Pranayama
Strengthening the Heart and Cardiovascular System
The heart is one of the most vital organs in the human body. It pumps blood throughout the body, delivering oxygen and nutrients to the cells and organs that need them. The cardiovascular system is responsible for maintaining this process, and any disruptions can lead to serious health problems.
One of the benefits of improved HRV through yoga and pranayama is that it can help to strengthen the heart and cardiovascular system. By practicing these techniques regularly, you can lower your blood pressure, reduce your risk of heart disease, and improve your circulation. This can help to ensure that your heart and cardiovascular system are functioning at their best, and reduce your risk of heart attack, stroke, and other related conditions.
Enhancing the Nervous System Function
The nervous system is responsible for regulating many of the body’s functions, including our stress levels, emotions, and physical health. When the nervous system is functioning properly, we feel calm, relaxed, and in control. However, when the nervous system is overactive, we can experience anxiety, stress, and other negative emotions.
By improving HRV, we can enhance the function of the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for rest, digest, and repair functions. This can help to promote relaxation, improve sleep quality, and reduce the risk of chronic stress-related illnesses. In addition, by practicing yoga and pranayama regularly, we can learn to control our breathing and calm our minds, which can further enhance the function of the nervous system.
Regulating Cortisol Levels and Reducing Stress
Cortisol is a hormone that is released in response to stress. It is an important hormone that helps the body to respond to stress, but when cortisol levels are chronically elevated, it can lead to a range of negative health effects, including anxiety, depression, and weight gain.
One of the benefits of yoga and pranayama is that it can help to regulate cortisol levels in the body. By practicing these techniques regularly, we can reduce inflammation, promote relaxation, and provide a natural way to manage stress and improve mental health. This can help to reduce our risk of chronic stress-related illnesses and improve our overall quality of life.
Boosting Overall Health and Wellness
By improving HRV and enhancing the function of the heart and nervous system, yoga and pranayama can help to boost overall health and wellness. These practices have been shown to improve immune function, promote healthy digestion, reduce pain, and improve cognitive function, thus providing a natural route to better health and vitality.
Furthermore, practicing yoga and pranayama regularly can help to improve our self-awareness and mindfulness. By becoming more aware of our bodies and our thoughts, we can learn to better manage our emotions, reduce our stress levels, and improve our overall quality of life.
Yoga Poses and Pranayama Techniques for Improved HRV
Best Yoga Poses for Heart Health
When it comes to maintaining a healthy heart, yoga is one of the best forms of exercise. Not only does it help to improve cardiovascular health, but it also promotes relaxation and reduces stress. Some of the best yoga poses for heart health include:
Bridge Pose: This pose helps to improve circulation and strengthen the heart muscle. To practice, lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Lift your hips up towards the ceiling, keeping your feet and shoulders on the ground. Hold for several breaths before lowering back down.
Cobra Pose: Cobra pose is great for improving respiratory function and opening up the chest. To practice, lie on your stomach with your hands under your shoulders. Slowly lift your chest off the ground, keeping your elbows close to your body. Hold for several breaths before lowering back down.
Fish Pose: Fish pose is another great pose for improving circulation and opening up the chest. To practice, lie on your back with your legs extended and arms by your sides. Lift your chest up towards the ceiling, arching your back and placing the top of your head on the ground. Hold for several breaths before lowering back down.
Supported Shoulder Stand: This pose not only strengthens the heart muscle, but also helps to improve thyroid function and reduce stress. To practice, lie on your back with your legs extended and arms by your sides. Lift your legs up towards the ceiling and then use your hands to support your lower back as you lift your hips off the ground. Hold for several breaths before lowering back down.
Pranayama Techniques to Increase HRV
In addition to yoga poses, pranayama techniques can also be very effective for increasing heart rate variability (HRV). HRV is a measure of the variation in time between each heartbeat, and is an important indicator of overall cardiovascular health. Some of the best pranayama techniques for increasing HRV include:
Deep Breathing: Deep breathing is a simple yet effective technique for promoting relaxation and increasing HRV. To practice, sit comfortably with your eyes closed and take slow, deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth.
Alternate Nostril Breathing: This technique helps to balance the nervous system and increase HRV. To practice, sit comfortably with your eyes closed and use your right thumb to close your right nostril. Inhale deeply through your left nostril, then use your ring finger to close your left nostril as you exhale through your right nostril. Continue alternating nostrils for several breaths.
Ujjayi Breathing: Ujjayi breathing is a powerful technique for calming the mind and increasing HRV. To practice, sit comfortably with your eyes closed and breathe in and out through your nose, constricting the back of your throat slightly to create a “whispering” sound.
Combining Yoga and Pranayama for Maximum Benefits
While yoga poses and pranayama techniques can be effective on their own, combining the two provides even greater benefits for heart health and overall well-being. By practicing yoga and pranayama regularly, we can improve the function of the heart and nervous system, promote relaxation, and reduce stress. So why not give it a try and see how it can benefit you?
Full disclosure: this post written with artificial intelligence assistance using prompts that I entered into the AI tool “byword.ai.” –—Tish Ganey
The practice of yoga is probably best recognized for what it “looks like” in the physical body. Yoga asanas, the yogic postures are recognized immediately in American culture. Who hasn’t seen a picture of someone standing with wide legs, one knee bent, with their arms extended out to their sides? And then thought, “oh, they are doing YOGA!” This physical practice of yoga is an activity for our physical body, for our Annamaya Kosha. Annamaya Kosha is the layer, or part of ourselves that stands apart from other aspects of our being. It relates to our physical body.
Names for the physical body and for the other five “bodies” are broad categories of our being. These five layers or Koshas help us to recognize the unique and important aspects of these different parts of ourselves. They are separate parts, but completely interrelated as everything in our universe seems to be! These divisions or “sheaths” give us a way to understand and discuss our selves in greater detail. They identify the need to heal.
The Five Koshas:
1. Physical Body – Annamayakosha
2. Breath/Energy Body – Pranamayakosha
3. Psycho/Emotional Body – Manamayakosha
4. Witness/Wisdom Body – Vijnanamayakosha
5. Bliss Body – Anandamayakosha
Yoga without breathing is “just stretchin'”
One of my favorite yoga teachers is known to remind the class, in his southern way, that doing yoga without a real focus on the breath is “just stretchin’.” Even though we divide the physical body from the energy body in a list of the Koshas, we cannot separate them! With Annamaya and Pranamaya, we are moving the physical body in synchrony with the breath/energy body as if it were one thing. And it is! We move the arms up and inhale, we move the arms down and exhale. That is yoga!
Yoga therapy and balance within the Koshas
The discussion of the Koshas and of working with these layers of existence is the basis of yoga therapy. In a traditional yoga class the topics of breath, emotion, body awareness, and body wisdom are sometimes introduced. In yoga therapy, they are at the forefront of any approach. Yoga therapy starts with the Koshas. For individual yoga therapy, zeroing in on imbalance among the Koshas is where the healing begins. Group yoga therapy also uses the Koshas to identify common imbalances for which the yoga therapist can guide individuals within the group. All healing begins with balance in the Koshas.
Slowing the physical body, slowing the energy body
In the physical body we tie together breath and movement in yoga. Using our physical body we can work to slow down each of these aspects in the practice. We slow the physical body so the breath can work to slow down our energy body. We slow the breath and the energy so the physical body will slow down and find greater relaxation. Working in tandem in this way, IS the way. The breath practice within the movement practice is actually the special sauce of yoga! And in this way we are able to notice the other Koshas as they come online, as we practice consistently.
Many paths, one mountain
This quote of many paths, one mountain reminds me of what happens when yoga becomes a regular, consistent practice. Often times we start out thinking and wanting a purely physical practice. We want exercise! As we learn the postures and begin to take the general shape of each posture, we are ready to “hear” more from the yoga teacher. We begin to hear and incorporate the instruction to move on the inhale, settle in on the exhale (or the reverse, as the posture may require). Slowly we are led up the path, and up the mountain. This mountain is the journey to our true nature. There are many paths up this mountain. Yoga is one. Spiritualism is another. Family. Community. Work. Caregiving. Birth. Death. These can all be foot paths up the mountain.
Many people, one place
All these varied paths may hold some new intelligence or understanding as we explore what it means to be human. And what it means to be our own human, individual selves. Individual but also part of the collective. There are different parts to ourselves and within our own true nature we have these layers, these Koshas. But still, being just one person (one in five, five in one, if you will!). One person as a member of a larger group of humans on earth. We are together in this one place but having many different experiences.
Yoga is the yoke
Yoga is a Sanskrit word that generally translates to “yoke.” There are many variations on this idea and what the word yoga means. My preferred explanation is that yoga is a yoke. It joins the parts of ourselves to form the whole. It creates a yoke, where the parts of ourselves are joined one to the other. This yoke forms another yoke of joining all people together in the common experience of living through and with the Koshas. We’re all one!
Pranamaya Kosha is the name of the part of ourselves that deals with Energy. Prana is a Sanskrit word that means “vital energy.” It is the force within the body that animates or electrifies our being. The idea of Prana (or Qi in Traditional Chinese Medicine) is one of the few concepts that doesn’t have a relative term in Western medicine. The major body systems and organs are defined and recognized in some manner in most ancient, traditional, and modern medical practices. And many healing practices also recognize the more subtle presence of energy.
For some reason, the idea of energy within the body is missing from the modern medical lexicon. Maybe it is because it cannot be seen as a distinct object within the anatomy. Or maybe it is not easy to measure or detect with an instrument, like heartbeat with a stethoscope. It might simply be too woo-woo because we don’t yet fully understand it. To make this more unnerving, most people can relate a direct experience of feeling or using this form of personal, vital energy.
The Sanskrit term “Pranamaya Kosha” may sound like something that is too foreign to understand. Sanskrit names for our yogic postures, practices and philosophies are sometimes used in yoga class. But Sanskrit can sometimes be intimidating! After all, many yoga teachers will guide the class into “Downward Facing Dog” with never mentioning its Sanskrit mouth-full-of-a-name: Adho Mukha Svanasana!
The Sanskrit names for the five Koshas can have a similar effect when we first hear them. It might be easier, or more straight forward to refer to the Koshas as layers that make up the whole person. Our five layers or Koshas, in yogic philosophy are an easy way to broadly categorize parts of ourselves. These layers may overlap and are deeply interconnected. If you ever run across a Kosha coloring book, be sure to color outside the lines!
Koshas are the parts of ourselves, that together, make up the whole person. They are divided in a ways that help us to identify our levels of balance. For example someone who has a physical injury may feel like they are off balance in their physical body (Annamayakosha). Someone who feels happy and relaxed may be in that state because their witness body (Vinjnanamayakosha) has reached a high level of acceptance and surrender. It is through the awareness of these parts of ourselves that we are able to maintain health and well-being.
Yoga can help bring balance back into our lives, and help us keep areas of our lives in balance through awareness and yogic tools.
The Five Koshas:
1. Physical Body – Annamayakosha
2. Breath/Energy Body – Pranamayakosha
3. Psycho/Emotional Body – Manamayakosha
4. Witness/Wisdom Body – Vijnanamayakosha
5. Bliss Body – Anandamayakosha
Come to Tampa Yoga Therapy to focus on the Pranamaya Kosha, the energy body. The approach for this Kosha is to bring more awareness to the inherent energy in the body. You may notice this Kosha includes the name of our breath practice: Pranayama. Breathing is one of the best tools we have to move Prana (energy!) in the body. Our complete practice allows us to move and breathe to help focus, generate, channel, and transform pranic energy.
The play of opposites are common to many of the ancient traditions. In Yoga Therapy and in Ayurveda, the “sister science” to yoga, we speak of energy qualities of Brahmana and Langhana. These are the opposites of expanding energies (Brahmana) and contracting or reducing energies (Langhana).
We may loosely refer to these same ideas across many different traditions of healing and well-being. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the concept of Yin and Yang is similar. In modern, allopathic medicine, we look to the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems of the larger autonomic nervous system.
All of the systems and traditions within these various practices recognize some form of “energy” in the body. It goes by many names: Prana, Qi or Chi, or response of the nervous system. There is wide acceptance that energy in the body does exist, that it has electrical and electro-magnetic qualities, and that it is extremely important to our health. It is common knowledge that sometimes we need to increase energy in the body. And also honor it’s opposite: the need to soothe, slow and calm the strong forces of energy in the body.
We practice the opposites in Yoga Therapy with postures (Asana) and yogic breathing (Pranayama). Examples are Sun Salutations to expand or increase energy in the body, or Savasana to relax or reduce the expenditure of energy in the body. With Pranayama we may choose to breathe very slowly as a Langhana practice, or flip our energy level to high with a Brahmana breath practice like Breath of Joy.
Managing Energy – What do you do first?
All yoga helps us “manage our energy.” Yoga Therapy is targeted and strategic. In Yoga Therapy we explore this concept of energy, balance, and the opposites of Brahmana and Langhana as we assess the five Koshas. Yoga Therapy recognizes the need to have balance within the five Kosha bodies: physical body, energetic body, emotional body, spiritual body, and bliss body.
Describe and Assess. The first step in Yoga Therapy is to determine which area or Kosha needs to achieve a greater balance of energy.
Evaluate and Listen. Yoga Therapists do not diagnose or treat conditions, that’s what doctor’s do! Yoga Therapists listen to their clients and determine what support the individual needs for their healing journey.
Select and Co-Create. Yoga Therapy is a holistic exploration into managing life energy. The Yoga Therapist works with the individual to choose from a wide range of yogic “tools” for the greatest possibility of positive outcome.
Organize and Evaluate. A Yoga Therapy practice program and plan is developed. An ongoing evaluation continues to allow the plan to flex based on the individual’s on-going needs.
Moving Energy with Brahmana and Langhana yogic practices
Yoga Therapy practices help individuals tap into the energy centers of the body. Through body awareness practices, energies can be felt. As we learn to become familiar with our own brand of energy and energy centers, we can move toward transforming and directing our own energy. The form of energy has specific qualities that relate to the Koshas. For example, physical body energy can be experienced as being energizing in the body. Emotional body energy can be noticed as a sense of calm, or its opposite: anxiety and stress.
Brahmana means to expand and heat up. The effects of a Brahmana-styled Yoga Asana and Pranayama practice include:
Warming and vigorous
Stimulated nervous system
Sympathetic nervous system “dominance”
Energized and engaged
Langha means to reduce and “fast.”
The effects of Langhana-styled Yoga Asana and Pranayama practice include:
Inhale, exhale. That’s a breath. What more is there to know about inhaling and exhaling? You may feel like I’ve got this because we unconsciously and involuntarily take about 20,000 breaths a day. If you feel you’re an expert at breathing because you do it all day long, then I urge you to rethink and relearn. A good start would be to pick up a copy of a book by James Nestor: Breath, the New Science of a Lost Art. Then come to a Tampa Yoga Therapy class and learn pranayama.
Oddly, Nestor doesn’t specifically mention pranayama or even yoga until about the fifth chapter in. Most of his eastern credits go to Buddhism and his personal practice. But after that, he’s all in with an extended bibliography that speaks to one of my favorite topics: Many of the ancient practices of yoga are complementing (and in some cases, outperforming) modern medicine. Of particular note are pranayama and meditation. We are fast-learning the neurophysiology behind these yogic practices of self-regulation.
What does it mean to relearn to breathe?
People are extremely intelligent. But we can be sluggish on system intelligence because our smart body works on autopilot. Those who take the time to study their own systems with acute awareness usually come to rethink and relearn A LOT. Matters not if you lived 5000 years ago, or were born yesterday. It turns out if you pay attention and develop emotional awareness around your autonomic nervous system, you will find your true nature within this “lost art” of breathing.
Your chances of greater breathing skills are improved when guided by an experienced pranayama teacher. With guidance, encouragement, and practice you expand your repertoire of different breathing patterns. You learn different pranayama practices for different effects on the body. For example, to calm down the nervous system you begin to ease into longer periods of holding the breath. Gaining breath holding skills give us greater control over respiratory and autonomic systems with less exertion and effort.
What does holding my breath have to do with breathing?
Well, nothing! It is a whole, separate topic. But it has everything to do with slowing down your systems and calming your brain. Reducing the number of breaths we take — by holding and slowing, actually improves the functions most affected by our breath patterns. (Note: James Nestor goes in for great detail on oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange with scientific experts in his books and on his website). Learning to slow the breath through retention is literally at the heart of the benefits.
This is especially true as we move into pranayama practices like Anulom Vilom that involve learning the breath retention techniques. With Anulom Vilom there is a slight holding in of the breath at the top of the inhale, and a short holding out of the breath at the bottom of the exhale.
And benefits of relearning to breathe are . . . ?
Reduced stress, less anxiety, better digestion, improved sleep, and a statistically significant decrease in blood pressure in both systolic and diastolic levels, after a few weeks of a regular pranayama practice. Should I continue, or is that list sufficient? Smile. Patterns of inhaling and exhaling in specific pranayama techniques give us back some of the control we need over our “modern” autonomic nervous system. Read modern=out of control.
In therapy sessions and therapeutic yoga classes at Tampa Yoga Therapy, a wide range of pranayama and meditation practices are main components. Some examples are Nadi Shodhana (alternate nostril breathing), Anulom Vilom, the variation that includes breath retention; diaphragmatic breathing, counting breath, and “box breathing” techniques. Once comfortable with Nadi Shodhana, Anulom Vilom, and some of yoga’s basic pranayamas, we can begin extending our pranayama practice to include more repetitions and longer periods of breath holding. Meditation dovetails directly into pranayama. Where the mind goes, the prana flows. We relearn and rethink our way into a more intentional way of being.
Feeling a little anxious these days? Calming down with yoga has never been easier! Now you can practice yoga in the comfort of your home and on your own schedule. Online yoga classes are here and popping up all over. Don’t worry about pouring yourself into your stretchy yoga pants. And no need to squeeze into that special yoga sports bra. Just show up, as you are!
Social distancing may be our new normal for awhile. It requires a physical barrier of space between us at this time. And we are leaning heavily on technology to keep us connected. Online yoga classes taught live and pre-recorded are not a new thing. They’ve been going on since the early days of the internet on platforms like Facebook and YouTube. Now we have Vimeo, FaceTime, Instagram stories, GoToMeeting, ZOOM, BlueJeans, and many more. Bandwidth may end up being an issue, but that’s a topic for another time.
I posted my first online yoga classes on March 4, 2020 in preparation for my trip to the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Massachusetts. My online yoga classes were set up for my regular students to practice yoga while I was away at yoga therapy certification training. Online yoga classes are needed by a much larger audience now. COVID-19, the corona virus seems to be changing everything in our lives. It is just one more yogic “adjustment” we need to make.
Advanced Therapeutic Yoga Classes Online for YOU
My online yoga classes can be found under the “online courses” tab. I plan to add more the the following courses and to add different courses in the coming weeks. Here is a sampling of the online yoga courses now on the Tampa Yoga Therapy site:
Online Chair Yoga – Practice yoga in a chair. If you’ve done yoga before you’ll recognize many of the movements in this class. If you’ve never done yoga before you may find this to be one of the most accessible forms of yoga. Make no mistake, chair yoga is STILL yoga. Pranayama – this course features short videos demonstrating breathing practices such as Dirgha (the three part breath), Nadi Shodhana (alternate nostril breathing), Kaki Mudra (the beak breath), Kapalabhati (the skull polishing breath), and others. Basic Yoga Practices – which includes a free “preview” video titled, “Please Watch This First,” where I explain a general approach to yoga asana practice. The lessons within this course are for practices like the Sun Salutations sequence, a basic yoga practice. Live Yoga via ZOOM – This is where you’ll find the current week’s regularly scheduled, live yoga classes where I will be teaching class from the Take Me To The River Yoga studio.
Those posted early in March are my first ever online video classes. I have a lot to learn! Have patience while I improve my technical expertise and work through the practice of delivering yoga online. Please join me in either a live class via ZOOM or through a pre-recorded online yoga class. It’s easy. Try it today at www.TampaYogaTherapy.com/courses.
The following content provided by YogaMate in conjunction with Global Yoga Therapy Day, August 14th. These articles are intended to provide a glimpse into ongoing yoga research projects. Each section addresses specific conditions that may benefit from the practices of yoga therapy.
Relaxation Response Can Influence Expression Of Stress-related Genes
“How could a single, nonpharmacological intervention help patients deal with disorders ranging from high blood pressure, to pain syndromes, to infertility, to rheumatoid arthritis? That question may have been answered by a study finding that eliciting the relaxation response — a physiologic state of deep rest — influences the activation patterns of genes associated with the body’s response to stress.”
Scope of Practice for Yoga Therapy
What is the scope of practice for a Yoga Therapist? What can they do and not do? The International Association of Yoga Therapists lays this all out nicely in this chart. Yoga Therapist renewing their certification must pass a quiz on this information.
Brain Mechanisms Supporting the Modulation of Pain by Mindfulness Meditation
“After 4 days of mindfulness meditation training, meditating in the presence of noxious stimulation significantly reduced pain unpleasantness by 57% and pain intensity ratings by 40% when compared to rest.” This study also explored the impact of the practice of mindfulness meditation on brain areas associated with pain modulation.
Insular Cortex Mediates Increased Pain Tolerance in Yoga Practitioners
Together, these findings suggest that regular and long-term yoga practice improves pain tolerance in typical North Americans by teaching different ways to deal with sensory inputs and the potential emotional reactions attached to those inputs leading to a change in insular brain anatomy and connectivity.
Yoga and other meditative movement therapies to reduce chronic pain
With an aging population and serious concerns regarding controlled substance abuse, the search for alternate therapies for treatment of chronic pain has gained momentum over the past 10 years. Based on this review, we conclude that it is safe to prescribe a gentle exercise program, such as yoga, as adjuvant therapy for those who suffer from chronic pain syndromes
4 Ways Yoga Fosters Respiratory System Health In general, yoga exercises can reverse changes by: 1. Improving your posture by strengthening spinal muscles. 2. Increasing movement in your chest and spine by regularly stretching your chest muscles all directions. 3. Improving the flexibility and strength of your respiratory muscles and fascia by regularly practicing a combination of well-balanced asana sequences and breath practices.
Yoga in Rheumatic Diseases This articles summarizes key considerations for yoga in rheumatic diseases, including clear guidelines to help healthcare practitioners find qualified yoga professionals. It concludes that a growing body of evidence suggests that yoga is a safe, feasible option for many living with rheumatic conditions. Furthermore, “This holistic approach to exercise with an emphasis on mindfulness and stress reduction may also offer additional opportunities to enhance psychological well-being, reduce pain and enhance function and participation, as part of a comprehensive disease management approach.”
Mind body practices for PTSD Mind-body practices were found to be a viable intervention to improve the constellation of PTSD symptoms such as intrusive memories, avoidance, and increased emotional arousal.”
Warriors at Ease Research on Yoga and Meditation “Warriors at Ease is committed to raising awareness about how yoga and meditation can support the health and healing of service members, veterans, and their families….[read more about] evidenced-based, trauma-sensitive practices supported by research.”
Blood Pressure Response to Meditation and Yoga: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis While acknowledging the limitations of this research due to the differences in BP and the participants’ ages, meditation and yoga are demonstrated to be effective alternatives to pharmacotherapy. Given that BP decreased with the use of meditation and yoga, and this effect varied in different age groups, scientifically measured outcomes indicate that these practices are safe alternatives in some cases.
Can lifestyle changes reverse coronary heart disease? Dean Ornish’s team has many years of research to support the efficacy of a multifaceted lifestyle program—including yoga, meditation, nutrition, and social support—in improving cardiovascular outcomes and even reversing heart disease.
Sleep (inclusive of Insomnia)
The Connection Between Yoga and Better Sleep Some types of yoga can be energizing (like hot yoga and vigorous vinyasa flow), which won’t help you relax as well as restorative styles of yoga like hatha and yoga nidra. A yoga therapist can help you choose the right tools.