Saturday, May 13, 2006

The 5 Koshas

The 5 Koshas (Sheaths) are a great way to examine our practice and develop our "witness consciousness," in the beginning stages of the practice. Like many paths and lists that lead the way for a practioner, we learn it, become aware and then hopefully move on to experience all 5 levels and beyond! In my personal experience, the 5 Koshas are not an entirely linear path, as in stages that literally happen from 1-5, although initially this may seem the case. You may find, depending on the day, or moment, that you jump from one to another, or may even experience all of them simultaneously.

First, what are the sheaths covering? Your Self! These are the gross to the subtle layers we travel on the path to self-realization in our practice.

1. Annamayakosha - The Food or Physical sheath. In the beginning of our practice we confront our bodies and the gross form of ourselves through asana in ways we might never have suspected. Initially we discover blocks in our body in the form of mis-alignment, tension, contractions and we even experience joy, freedom of movement and flexibility. A large part of the practice is connecting and bringing deep awareness to our bodies. To truly embody our bodies!

2. Pranamayakosha – The Vital Force or Breath sheath. Through our bodies to begin to connect to Prana - our breath. Whether to relax, to move with mindfulness or to make our practice connected in a moving meditation, the breath is the link from our physical form to the next kosha - our mind.

3. Manomayakosha - The Mind sheath. Our thought and mind-state affects > Prana (breath) which affects > the body. Equally, bringing mindfulness to the body and breath leads to the mind. Developing "witness consciousness" or awareness to the quality of our thoughts - positive or negative, our belief systems, etc. we begin to bring focus to our mind.

4. Vijnyanamayakosha – Wisdom sheath. As we develop a clear view of our body, breath, mind / thought process, all previous 3 koshas lead to a deeper knowledge of ourselves. This is true and collective wisdom of ourselves. In this state we can direct our aims toward self-realization.

5. Anandamayakosha - Bliss sheath. A level of spiritual experience and individual consciousness. When we reach a meditative state we move toward a glimpse of union or oneness. In terms of our practice, it is usually a time when we experience freedom, pleasure and joy in our practice.

and Beyond — In class we were discussing the Bliss sheath which is still a "sheath." This is because it remains a very subtle layer between our individual consciousness and universal consciousness (samadhi - union, oneness.) Our beyond is Samadhi - to be experienced by the practioner.

Ida and Pingala Nadi

As we start to focus on the breath, Prana – our vital life force, we're drawn to the subtle aspects of ourselves. Breathing through the right and left nostrils, Ida and Pingala Nadi, have profound affects on our energy and mind state which fluctuates throughout the day.

A Nadi is an energy channel. There are many in the body and the gross form of the Nadis are the arteries, veins and the nervous system. Ida Nadi is found through our left nostril, affecting the right brain and flowing in a spiral from the root (1st) to the third eye (6th) chakra. It is represented by these qualities: lunar (moon), feminine, inspiration, vision, calming, sensitive, emotional, receptive, creative, passive, cooling. Pingala Nadi flows through the same chakras through the right nostril and affects the left brain. It's qualities are: solar (masculine), motivation, drive, determination, knowledge, perception, rational, active, heating. Thus, each person has the qualities of Yin/ Yang, Shiva / Shakti, Sun / Moon, masculine / feminine which call for balance.

Throughout the day our breath fluctuates from right to left nostril at different times of the day. To manipulate these channels to our benefit, try laying on the left side in the morning and breath deeply through the right nostril (Pingala) to energize yourself for the day. At night lay on your right and breath through the left (Ida) to relax. Or take a few deep breaths through the corresponding Nadi when you want to evoke a certain mind state.

For an optimum state of being, try Nadi Shodhana Pranayama (alternate nostril breathing) to open both passages equally. When both are flowing freely and our chakras are in a clear state, we open a third channel called Sushumna Nadi, allowing for full awakening of consciousness. When Kundalini (dormant energy at the base of the root chakra) rises, it is meant to travel through this Nadi and lead to awakening / self-realization.