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Somatic Yoga Therapy and Understanding Kosha

Introduction to the Kosha

The word kosha means layer and this term refers to the 5 bodies of the Self. These layers are the physical body (annamayakosha), the emotional body (manomayakosha), the energetic body (pranamayakosha), the wisdom body (vijnanamayakosha), and the bliss body (anandamayakosha). The vayu run through the pranamayakosha and we use them during asana practice and breathwork to enhance our experience. We tailor our practice based on what is happening in the emotional and physical body. We develop the wisdom body through meditation and self-study and the bliss body is what we arrive at when we allow ourselves to fully experience all yoga has to offer.

Annamaykosha – The Physical Body

This is our physical layer, the muscles, bones, tendons, and ligaments. Containing the network of connective tissue (myofascia) that holds our body together, it is the container that holds our emotions and energy physically. (The Physical, Emotional, and Energetic bodies all make up the subtle body.)

Manomayakosha – The Emotional Body

This is the emotional layer of self. Here we feel, experience, and store our emotions.

Vayu and the Pranamayakosha – The Energetic Body

The pranamayakosha is the energetic layer of the body through which Prana (lifeforce) moves. The word Vayu means ‘wind’ and refers to the five directions that prana, (energy) moves in through our bodies.

Prana vayu is the pathway via the sense organs by which energy enters the body.

Samana vayu is the pathway of processing and digestion.

Apana vayu is the grounding force by which anchor ourselves or release things we do not need.

Vyana vayu is the pathway of circulation by which we disperse whatever we have taken in, whether that be molecules from food or thoughts.

Udana vayu is the resulting upward movement of energy where we express whatever we have been processing.

Vijnanamayakosha – The Wisdom Body

Perhaps we are most wise when we are born and as life progresses we forget the amazing and beautiful being that we are. If this is the case, you could say that your whole yoga practice is based on removing the layers that have encased you over the years so that you can go back to this original ‘knowing’ that you were born with. In its simplest form, we experience the energetic body in the form of this ‘knowing’. It is our intuition and our decisiveness that goes beyond understanding. We cultivate this body in the form of sangha (community), svadhyaya (study of wisdom and study of self), and meditation.

Anandamayakosha – The Bliss Body

This is who you are in your most pure form – deep, unwavering joy. This is your true nature beyond imbalance, hurt, and difficulty. Your yoga practice is mainly about awakening to knowing this version of yourself in its fullness. Yoga is not a linear or hierarchal climb. It is a circle, a circle that we all enter at different times and at different places. Some of us travel left and some of us travel right, but we all spiral toward the center (sukha), where we are content and whole.

Because Mandorla Yoga is rooted in Somatic Yoga Therapy, the Kosha are one of the main tenets of our practices. When we step on our mats, it is not just our physical body that we wish to feed and support. We start by finding a place for us that feels physically safe and delicious and begin the process of inquiry and listening. We invite ease into the physical body, exploring those areas where we feel spacious and well. We practice a relationship with Self and feel what our physical body is needing at this moment and then we respond with movement or stillness. Honoring what our body has communicated to us and strengthening our ability to listen to our inner voice. Using our knowledge of the Ayurvedic elements, we fine-tune this process further by leaning into postures that evoke certain qualities that we feel we may need at this moment.

From the body, we move to the breath, inviting ease into the face, chest, and abdomen. We allow the body to soften and support our ability to breathe freely. The breath is part of our energetic body, as we lean into the breath, we may become aware of how we feel energetically. We may feel heavy (too much apana and not enough samana), spacey and our mind is racing (too much udana, not enough apana), and many other combinations. We learn how to direct the breath and move energy within the body to nurture our energetic body.

From the breath, we move to our mental and emotional bodies. We do this in a gentle way and simply listen for what our bodies may be communicating to us. If we feel an emotion or have a thought and it feels safe for us to acknowledge that emotion or thought, we hold space for ourselves and allow it to move through us. This is not a structured segment of the practice. Sometimes we have these experiences on the mat and sometimes we do not. We simply hold space for these occurrences when they arise, knowing that we always have the freedom to tell our bodies that we don’t wish to go there today. We can always hit the pause button in our practice at any time. You can have your eyes open, you can come out of the pose, and you stay in a pose longer even though everyone else has moved on. You can even take some time and leave the room. You never have to go into an experience that doesn’t feel safe for you. The practice is a practice of learning to listen to what your body is communicating to you and it is a relationship. You have the right to communicate back to your body too. When we do feel ready to move through something, this is where the deeper practices can come into play; pranayama (breathwork), meditation, mantra (repetition of empowering words), mudra (energy work that we do with our hands), and ayurvedic marma therapy (energy work that can be done by a practitioner or that we can do within the context of asana).

As we learn to listen to our bodies in this way, we develop a deep and loving friendship with ourselves. Over time, this relationship grows. We become masters of our own body's language and needs. We learn to recognize those needs at the beginning of the storms, instead of finding ourselves helpless in the midst of difficulty. We become emotionally and mentally articulate and fine-tune our ability to invite and practice the cultivation of healthful emotions into our daily lives (Rasa Sadhana). We become aware of the tension that lies in our bodies and become masters of letting that tension go and we find ourselves breathing more fully. Because prana rides on the breath, we become yoginis, which by its definition, means ‘one whose energy is contained fully within the body’. And from this place of clarity, we are able to tap into that final layer of Bliss, the anandamayakosha, where we uncover meaning and purpose within our lives through dharma (purpose), artha (financial health), kama (true joy, contentment, and pleasure) and moksha (liberation).

This article is an excerpt from Somatic Yoga Therapy by Stefani Wilton. Stefani is the director of Somatic Yoga Therapist Training at the Mandorla Yoga Institute in Calgary, AB, and is on faculty at the Institute of Integrative Somatic Therapy in Vancouver, BC.

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