Each day, we either eliminate or grow the distance between us and our bliss.
This distance is tangible. When we’re far from feeling like ourselves, we disconnect from others, eat empty calories, spend inordinate amounts of time feeling like day-tripping tourists in our own bodies.
When we arrive closer to our core, we’re in our most creative flow, lose track of time, and don’t need to convince ourselves that we are enough — we just know.
Our daily thoughts, actions and conversations contribute to whether or not we delight in our life or see it as a struggle. Meditated today? Yelled at someone you love? Went against your intuition? Ate a salad?
Some days, the pendulum will swing wildly from one pole to the other. It’s the balanced center that is much more elusive. It’s the balanced center that we crave.
You’re probably intimately familiar with your ups and downs, but how in tune are you with your outer to inner selves? In the yoga philosophy, these are called koshas, Sanskrit for “sheaths.” Like the layers of an onion, they are the five layers that surround our core. From outer to inner the five koshas are:
- Physical – Annamaya kosha
- Energy – Pranamaya kosha
- Mental – Manamaya kosha
- Wisdom – Vijnanamaya kosha
- Bliss – Anandamaya kosha
Remember maya? The Sanskrit word for “appearance” and “illusion” is present in each kosha’s name because these layers of ourselves are exactly that — appearances. They give the appearance that they are us, but they are not our core, and not our Self.
So why does it matter that you have different layers to yourself? Because when you see where you spend the most time, you gain clues into how you can become more balanced, using all the talents of being human to overcome your worries.
At its most simplistic and practical, let’s take a common issue and apply the koshas to work through it: A conflict with a loved one, where you believe you are right and they are wrong. If you want, you could think of a specific time when this happened to you, and follow along to see how you might have handled it with more ease. This is how you get closer to bliss, even when you argue.
1. Am I physically feeling well?
When you’re not taking care of yourself physically — getting enough sleep, movement, water and healthy food (the “anna” in annamaya kosha means food) — you’re creating an obstacle against harmony. In other words, how many times have you quarreled with your loved one, only to realize it was because you were hungry or sleep-deprived?
2. Am I breathing deeply?
When you’re not breathing deeply from your diaphragm, it’s easy to feel anxious, upset and say things you don’t mean. In pranamaya kosha, prana (energy or life force) moves through the whole body, not just the lungs. During conflict, we can energetically tap into a deeper breath, stalling the impulse to get angry. Can a deep breath really prevent you from going off the deep end? With practice, yes.
3. Are my needs and desires being met?
Many of us tend to live solely in our mind (or mana) body, so it’s understandable that we naturally dislike being wrong. The entire nervous system and the mind make up manamaya kosha, the third sheath, and when we’re in conflict, we feel it, everywhere in the body. This is where you need to ask yourself: Is being right allowing your needs and desires to be met? Or, are you simply ashamed to apologize for being wrong?
4. Do I even need to be right?
This is where things get interesting with our conflict example of needing to be right. Vijnana means the power of judgment or discernment. In vijnanamaya kosha, we connect with compassion. We move from “I am-ness” to “One-ness” and begin to see our loved one’s point of view as equal and as important as our own. Often, you can dissolve the conflict right here through compassion and forgiveness, as long as you both feel heard and affirmed.
The fifth kosha, Ananadamaya kosha, is bliss. It is the most interior kosha, surrounding the Atman, or the Self. But it’s not the enjoyment or bliss you feel after resolving a conflict. It’s the realization that the core of you is always calm, even and unruffled — even when you’re arguing.
The koshas are a roadmap to Self-awareness. When you’re more aware about how you might be contributing to conflict in your life — whether with someone else or yourself — you can navigate through issues with more ease.
The goal is not to eliminate conflict or tough conversations — it’s to eliminate the distance between you and bliss during those interactions. That’s living your yoga. After all:
“Yoga does not just change the way we see things, it transforms the person who sees.” —B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Life
Asana Practice: One-Legged Frog Pose, Eka Pada Bhekasana
When we’re deep in defending our story to someone else, often what’s missing is our ability to see things from anothers’ perspective. This pose will help you tap into the annamaya and pranamaya koshas so that you can peel back the layers of you to open up to and consider new views outside of your own.
- Lie on your stomach on the mat. Place your elbows underneath your shoulders for Sphinx Pose. Separately your knees slightly, bend your right knee in and reach around with your right hand. Place your palm on the toes, with the fingers facing back toward the heel.
- Exhale and guide the foot to the outside of the right leg, keeping the heel pointing straight down to the ground. Root down through both legs evenly, ensuring you’re not rocking the weight onto your left side.
- As you draw the right foot down, engage through the left forearm and palm to lift your chest high. Engage the abdomen and feel for descending the tailbone to protect the low back from strain.
- Take five breaths, then gently release everything down to the ground. Pause to observe the effects of the pose before practicing the other side.