Yoga in the Physical Body
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!