I start a class asking everyone to check in with their ‘koshas’, or layers of being. Specifically, I direct people to feel into their physical, emotional and mental layers so that they have an awareness of what they have walked into the class with. There is much written about koshas already and I see no reason to reproduce what others have done really well: here’s a great article if you want more detail on koshas. What I would like to use this space for is exploring how we can connect with these layers to make life richer.
When I ask about the physical layer, anamaya kosha, I am asking you to feel into your body and notice where it is calling your attention. This might be a tight neck, aching shoulder, or sore foot. If you stop long enough to notice that’s a great start; next, explore what you need to do about it. Is there something you can do immediately to relieve the discomfort? If not, is this something you need to address as part of your overall health plan to bring balance back into your physical body? It could be a postural adjustment and by bringing your awareness to it you can easily adjust and get some relief. It could be you discover that your sleeping position causes you some discomfort upon rising and changing your pillow might help. Maybe it’s an ergonomic issue of how you sit at work, whether that is at a desk, driving a vehicle or standing for long periods on hard surfaces. It really is worth taking the time to feel, explore and hopefully fix some of the issues.
If we are exploring the pranic layer, pranamaya kosha, then we are checking in on our energy levels, how energised we do or do not feel. How are we breathing? How is our general energy level? By bringing our awareness to the breath, it changes and gives us the opportunity to breathe a little deeper and spend a moment connecting deeply to the breathing process. The benefits of this are so huge that it is well worth the few minutes of your time to practice. You could do this before you even get out of bed in the morning. Deepen your breath and feel like you are charging up your body for the day ahead, bringing fresh prana into all the cells of your body, oxygenating your blood, loosening up fascia (the connective tissue beneath the skin) and getting an overall kickstart to the day before you take a step.
Then there’s the emotional layer, manomaya kosha, and it really is valuable to check in with how your heart is feeling. This incredible organ pumps continuously for us to keep us alive and would greatly benefit from some loving attention throughout the day. Check in with how you feel, your emotional state of being, so that you can respond appropriately. Again, by noticing, we get more in touch with our feelings and can then choose what to do about how we feel. For example say you got up and noticed you were feeling a bit low and you were aware that this was from a recent loss where the sense of grief comes and goes. On those days you notice this you may be able to be kinder to yourself, have an easier day and fit in something that you know nourishes you deeply. It is about honouring the ebbs and flows but if we don’t take the time to notice then we often charge on and numb out the feelings, which over a period of time will create problems.
What about the mood you carry around with you? Are you aware of what mood you take to work, take to a meeting or walk into your yoga class with? This is the mental layer or vignanamaya kosha and you may well be unaware of what you are carrying around with you for the simple reason of not taking the time to inquire.
Raising your awareness of the koshas will evoke change and make your life richer as you make conscious choices of how to bring balance back into these layers. You will over time develop ways to change how you feel, to change your mood if you notice a black cloud hanging over your head. You’ll develop your own effective tools that will help you live life more fully.
Here are some quick tips for working with these layers:
Physical: move your body, stretch, walk and get a drink of water
Pranic: breathe deeply, take one big breath sighing the breath out and pausing at the end of the out breath. Do this three times and notice the difference.
Emotional: stop what you are doing and feel into your heart, notice the breath flowing in and out and imagine this is flowing in and out of your heart like a light bringing loving kindness to your heart.
Mental: notice your mood, name it and if you don’t like it change it by doing all the above! If you feel stuck and can’t change it then get out in nature, walk around the block, call a trusted friend who will let you have a rant then hopefully you will feel better for the release. Make a deal with yourself that if you have a story that keeps coming up, tell it, vent it and let it out but if after three story-telling sessions you still feel you need to tell it some more, seek some professional help – that way you can explore the situation productively and keep your friends!
The practice of regularly checking in with your koshas is a practice, and responsibility, worthy of your attention. Could you allow enough time upon waking to reflect on how you are about to start this brand new day ahead of you? We’re not talking about an extra twenty minutes out of your day, merely five to six minutes reflection before jumping out of bed to stretch, breathe deeply, notice and be aware of what you are about to take out and share with others. Then perhaps you could check in a few times throughout the day. If nothing else you will have stopped what you are doing, started to breathe more fully and maybe even stretch the body to see what is going on.
Enjoy the journey.