Balancing Koshas with Asana Practice
A question came up recently that I thought I would tackle, that being which Asana or sequences are relevant to balancing the five Koshas. Koshas in Yoga lore are known as the sheaths or 'bodies' that are layered together a bit like an onion. Presumably our true essence is found in the center somewhere a bit like layers of clothes covering a person. From my angle I can't quite get that, I rather go with the idea of our consciousness as completely non-localized and projecting into these 'bodies'. This goes beyond the so-called electro-magnetic field. Various studies have revealed that for example any decision that we make is registered in electrical activities up to seven seconds before we 'consciously' make the choice.
Most folk now-a-days are familiar with the presence of a field around our bodies and extending below and above. Let me hasten to say that this form of electro-magnetism is dis-similar to the commonly known form in our electricity and techno world of today. The so-called aura of our bodies is generated by life-force or Prana. This is also called Ki, Qi, Ether and others. It's probably worth saying that this field creates our physical body rather than the other way around. Prana itself absolutely extends throughout the conceivable universe and I believe the life-force that animates us is engaged by the luminous shell that in turn creates us physically.
In terms of Koshas, we have a sheath (field) of Prana, a Physical sheath, Feeling/Emotional sheath, two mental sheaths - Wisdom mind and Observing mind.
So sure, we can take various asana sets or a specific pose for re-balancing, and this is all good and helpful.
In my own practice I do tend to work with the subject a little differently.
The first thing we need to do is just get quiet for a moment and focus our attention on the feeling of the physical body. When we do this we immediately get in touch with sensation. That may be warmth or coolness, comfort or discomfort, flexibility or tight feelings, tired or energized and so on. What we are coming into direct contact with is our vital energy. This vital force is absolutely electrical since every single cell, organ, bone and system in our physical layer requires voltage to operate. Naturally there are sub fields, more macro fields and all are inter-related and eventually inter-dependent.
More or less as soon as I'm connecting with my physical energy I begin using the breath more consciously. The breath should never be forced in any way, rather free style and comfortable. Just by the simple expedient of becoming aware of how our breath flows is already a harnessing of life-force into our attention. Natural flowing and connecting of the breath is always best. Once these first two levels of vital energy and breath are in our attention we will notice that it wasn't the rational aspect of mind that we used. In fact the analytical component is not required at all for this practice. So the aspect of mind that we do use is more the observing mind. 'I' as an awareness, directed by my 'Intent' became more aware of energy and breath.
What I have called the Feeling/Emotional sheath is also engaged here and so I came to gradually call this 'Feeling Awareness'. So this leaves the Wisdom Mind. Well, the wisdom mind is the aspect of mind that can discern, choose, direct. So along with the Observing aspect we are actually engaging this part too as a function of Will. Once again let me hasten to say that the true, discerning, spiritual 'mind' is not the rational aspect. Direct knowledge that bypasses the thinking processes arises from our Heart and constitutes True Original Mind.
Now if we take the natural knowledge of Asana that says forward folds are calming, back bending are stimulating, balancing poses are centering, jumping is invigorating, inversions are rejuvanating and so on we can apply a natural progression to our daily practice.
Self observance or Mindfulness is such an essential basic practice. Without that there are literally many folk around who are quite out of touch with their bodies, their energy, their feelings and more. The more we follow a pre-determined script or program written by someone else, the more we become prone to this. Likewise the more we try to automate our practice the same thing happens - we actually lose touch with our vital energy. It's as if it has been hijacked by the machine or the script, which amounts to pretty much the same thing.
To balance the anandamaya kosha or feeling layer, we firstly need to examine how we are fundamentally taking asana practice. If you are ignoring your feeling layer perhaps you may be driven Intent-wise by the need to present a deeper forward or back fold than the guy next to you in class. Or perhaps impress the teacher or if you are that teacher, to live up to a socially pre-determined image.
Ananda in sanskrit is 'bliss'. So not surprisingly, this is mostly associated with a state of awareness that is transcendent and is considered a high accomplishment of spiritual state/experience. But realize that that bliss is experienced via our Feeling faculty in the Heart. So when applied to asana practice, we need to first be in connection with our feeling faculty and then employ this into a greater awareness. Many are in reality connecting their feeling to the analytical mind and so experience the sense of competition and comparison with each other.
Assuming we are feeling lethargic and sluggish, naturally a program of movement with rolling and jumping actions is appropriate. Back-bending is also great for waking us up and building a quality of sharp awareness. Anxiety and stress responses can be calmed with forward folding and when we feel very scattered we can practice balancing poses. We should also remember that twisting actions tend to promote energy flow since all energy moves in spirals. Twists can also be part of de-tox program.
Generally a good yoga session will release endorphins and serotonin and often fosters a sense of community as well which further helps.
So you can likely see by now that a reliance on a specific posture to 'do' something for us, although to a certain extent accurate, is not really sufficient. Without using our attention and therefore a consciousness we create skillfully we will likely simply be doing an exercise form such as gym or jogging or tennis, and that's fine so long as we are aware and that's what we want to do.
To genuinely balance the koshas into a deep harmony, we have to also consider the role and function of each major cakra in our energetic/physical body. No amount of practice of a sequence or pose will be able to work properly if we keep on with the thoughts, behaviors, attitudes and so on that unbalance the cakra in the first place.
So I do hope this has shed a little light on the subject. There is a lot more to say, but perhaps for another article.
Use this meditation to create balance and harmony in our three major bodies - physical, astral and mental. Spiritual insight, wisdom and general evolution of our being tends to be a natural by product of regular practice. The higher levels of Spirit work downwards, so to speak, into the mental, emotional and physical levels.
All of the materialized plane is governed by the natural elements of fire, water, air and earth. There are actually only two true elements – fire and water, with the air and earth as subsidiaries. The fifth element, the akasha, is properly an aspect of Spirit. Akasha is the emptiness or vacuum underlying all form. This has an infinity quality that contains all the etheric blueprints for all forms.
While doing the balancing meditation it is essential to have a background intent to create equanimity within each element as well as collectively, including from the akashic realm.
Sit comfortably but steadily in your meditation posture with the back straight. Maintain an upright sense but stay as relaxed as possible in limbs and joints. Our spine should be well connected into the heaven earth axis via a background attention. Become aware and turn your attention towards the background life force energy of the body and mind. By connecting with feeling we already include the Astral level. So mind via attention, physical and feeling sensations, all come together. Keep releasing, softening the face and skin generally. Loosen out any residual tension you find as you focus on this level of body and feeling sensations. Now connect into this awareness, the activity of gentle in and out breaths. Guide your whole physical feeling and skin to expand slightly as you gently breathe in and return or contract slightly as you breathe out. Continue this for a few minutes. Use the gentle exhalation to further release tension and bothering thoughts or unwanted feelings and emotions arising. We should know as we enter into this deep practice, that the elements express real elemental beings whom we shall be engaging. So, an attitude of warm greeting, salutation, honoring and respect needs to be present at the start. We pay our respects via attention, awareness and a genuine feeling. This should never be false or omitted. This is one of a few rare exceptions when dealing with beings in the astral layer, where we take the initiative and greet with honor and respect. In the majority of interactions in the astral plane, the other entity should take the initiative in greeting, not us. If they do not take the lead, they may be hostile towards us or disinterested in interacting. Should the entity be in some way hostile towards us, by initiating a greeting, we open a door, so to speak, for engagement to occur and we may have to deal with an unpleasant interaction. Now turn your attention to the fiery principle in the head. Image a huge flaming sun with extreme heat and blinding light. Use the full power of the senses to embrace this fire. Allow every aspect of your being to merge into the fire. Now expand this to imagine the entire universe is an infinity of fire. All of the old familiar self has been subsumed into the endless fire of heat and light. Don't hold back whatsoever, no harm will come with this practice, rather we are using the literal face of the element of fire to contact and commune with the living elemental being that is animating the fiery principle in the universe. This fire is the electrical quality of animating, getting things done, instigating/initiating actions. This is the masculine principle of creating, taking the lead, giving the method and so on. This is the hot cosmic Yang principle descending as it streams down the axis between the heavens and the earth. Always remember to hold a sustained but gentle, background intention to balance the element within one's own body and life. Now move on to the great water elemental in our belly area, seat of creativity and emotions. Concentrate here for a while and breathe gently. Imagine the glory of a huge waterfall. Hear the roaring sound, notice the fresh, clean scent of humid air, feel the cold spray and mist, taste the clean, pristine water. Now merge with this gigantic flow of water. The falls. The river, the pools and cascades. Be the water as it flows and tumbles, washed clean and hold formidable power. As your concentration deepens, bring in the infinity quality. Imagine you have merged with the entire universe of water. You are the great water and the great water is you. Water symbolizes pure love and is nurturing, life supporting, cleansing and is the life blood of bringing creativity to materialize. Realize that all rich, fertile soil in Earth can only ever be so by the action of water. Remember to hold the intention of equanimity and restoration of the element in your body and life. Now we move to the great element of air in the chest. Breathe gently for a while as you engage this mediating principle between fire and water. Imagine you're on a high mountain top viewing out into a vast valley. Spacious awareness is dominant. Water and space work hand in hand. Now merge into the fresh, pristine air. Feel the expanding quality as you breathe your way to an infinity sensation. Merge with and 'be' an infinity of air. Air is clarity and clear perspectives. Blowing the cobwebs away. Sweeping out old, stagnant, no-longer-serving dust and debris. Air helps balance and mediate fire and water. Hold the gentle but firm intention to balance the air element in one's body and life. Now we move to the great earth elemental. Earth is heavy and dense like stiff clay. Earth can be rich fertile soil and strong solid rock. Earth can be sandy barren soil and crumbling rock. Earth is is the vast cauldron where the fire, water and air mix and bring every-thing into materialization. Become the earth element as you expand and breathe and move into the infinity quality. Hold the intention of balance and harmony, peace and success, joy and fulfillment. Now hold the intention of balance and harmony with all the element's working together as you contemplate gently on the four elementals. Notice the underlying emptiness, the vacuum quality beneath each elemental. Breathe into this akashic quality and expand into the infinity principle, tangibly, in feeling and mentality. Balance the akasha as the master, governing element, the formless blueprint beneath every form. Now it's time to honor, acknowledge, take ownership and 'be' in resonance, the original spirit behind all these levels and qualities. Take full ownership of this identity as a universal being rather than a small self on the physical plane. To finish this meditation, come to rest your attention peacefully into the solar plexus. This great inner star becoming that you are. Rest attention here in this natural still point between heaven and earth, yang and yin, rising and descending forces. Stay here for a while breathing very quietly and cultivating the deep stillness arising from the practice. This stillness is the expression of emptiness, the akasha p
Paul Carlos is the founder of Sacred Spiral Yoga.