Last month I wrote about the body and how the yoga system outlines living in a healthy one. The month before I wrote about the mind-body connection and how we can sustain a healthy connection. This month, my goal is to introduce you to the idea that we can all connect with and heal our spirits with our yoga practice.
The original yogis saw our bodies as a vessel containing five separate parts called koshas (koa-shas). Each of the five parts plays a vital role in our well-being. They are the physical body (annamaya), the energetic body (pranamaya), the mental body (manomaya), the intellectual body (vijnanamaya) and the spiritual body (anandamaya). When they are all working in harmony, we do not suffer, according to the yogis. The very first time a new student meets me, we discuss the five koshas at length. My entire intake process focuses around these five levels and I do my best to explain them. I often liken it to an onion. It is easiest to work with and connect with the physical body most often. But, many practitioners never reach the deepest level, anandamaya. The goal of therapeutic yoga is to heal the whole person. Even if someone originally sees me for low back pain, we are going to work on all of them. This concept is one of the biggest differences between physical therapy and me. In my experience, 95% of my students have benefited from working on getting to know themselves on a deeper level holistically. The anandamaya level represents the part of us that educates and guides our attitudes and behavior, spawns our actions, and presents our lives with a sense of purpose and meaning.
The deepest, most profound and hardest to connect with kosha is the anandamaya level. It is our spiritual center and is located in the heart center of our being. If you choose to take your yoga to it’s deepest level, your goal becomes to live from and feed your anandamaya kosha. The work at this level is to eradicate the ego. This was the ultimate goal of the original yoga system. Truly you will not be suffering if you have connected with and are living from your highest, truest, purest form of self. For any of you who studied psychology, it is similar to achieving self-actualization on Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs.
I believe my teacher, Gary Kraftsow, sums up the spiritual aspect of yoga very eloquently...“At the level of personal practice, it is important to become progressively more aware of what can help to remind us of our highest values, to orient our lives toward achieving our goals, and ultimately to facilitate that ‘descent into the heart’ that enables us to awaken to spiritual awareness.”
The journey for each student is completely personalized, and although I am a teacher and guide, I am not really participating in the descent. At the anandamaya level, the student has taken full responsibility of their self-actualization. They see what is blocking them and work to remove the roadblocks through pranayama and asana practice, meditation, study of texts, mantra or chanting, and/or other rituals.