Pranamaya Kosha – Our ENERGY Body

Prana is Vital Energy

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

Read more about the Koshas on my other website.

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.

Managing and Moving Your Energy

Moving Energy – Expansion or Reduction?

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.

  1. Describe and Assess. The first step in Yoga Therapy is to determine which area or Kosha needs to achieve a greater balance of energy.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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
  • Increased metabolism
  • Stimulated nervous system
  • Sympathetic nervous system “dominance”
  • Stimulated mind
  • Heated body
  • Energized and engaged

Langha means to reduce and “fast.”
The effects of Langhana-styled Yoga Asana and Pranayama practice include:

  • Cooled and eased
  • Slowed metabolism
  • Relaxed nervous system
  • Parasympathetic response
  • Calm mind
  • Relaxed and refreshed

 

 

 

 

Pranayama: relearning to breathe

Breathing – what’s the big deal?

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.

References:

Nestor, James, “Breath: the New Science of a Lost Art,” Riverhead Books, May 2020. More at mrjamesnestor.com/breath

Mayank Shukla, Diksha Chauhan, Ritu Raj, “Breathing exercises and pranayamas to decrease perceived exertion during breath-holding while locked-down due to COVID-19 online randomized study,” Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, Vol. 41, November 2020

Pooja Agrawal, Abhishek Sinha, Rinku Garg, “Effect of 4 weeks of Pranayama training and 6 min walk test on blood pressure in healthy subjects,” International Journal of Scientific Research, Vol. 9, No. 8, August 2020