To Peel or Not to Peel? (Hint: You Need to Peel)

Quick Experiment: Point to yourself.

DO NOT SCROLL DOWN YET

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Where did you point?

I’m going to guess that you pointed at your chest, more specifically, the heart center. Why didn’t you point to your brain?

You pointed to your heart because you are a being created in love, driven by heart, and haunted by a mind of incessant thinking. You are not your thoughts; you are not your brain. Who is the one watching you think? Who is the thinker and who is the witness?

Study of the Koshas in Yoga philosophy can give us a description of what we are doing through practice and where we are headed if we stick with it. Without actually practicing, it means squat. 99% practice.

I drew this in teacher training. My meditation man is winking at you.

I drew this in teacher training. My meditation man is winking at you.

 

This photo is a little misleading (I’m not the best artist) – we aren’t really sitting under a rainbow of layers, all the koshas (energetic layers) weave into one another like a great tapestry. However, breaking them out in this way gives you an idea of how we practice through the layers.

Annamaya Kosha

  • Physical Layer – Earthy, Matter
  • Literally translates to “Food Body.”
  • Penetrate and purify this layer or aspect of ourselves with physical practice like yoga poses, exercises, clean eating, relaxation, and sleep.

Pranamaya Kosha

  •  Energetic Layer – Water, Fluidity
  • Prana means “life force,” so this layer is all about what moves in your body: blood, air, luymph, elimination systems.
  • Work with this layer through pranayama (breath control)

Manomaya Kosha

  • Mental Layer – Thinking Mind
  • Mind is manipulated by our thoughts which turn to words and then actions. We become an accumulation of everything that has come previously through our system and then react according to memory and habit.
  • Purify this layer with meditation especially on aspects such as compassion, selfless service, and forgiveness.
  • This layer causes us deep stress, anxiety. It is difficult to penetrate this layer without the foundations of asana and pranayama.

Vijnanamaya Kosha

  • Intellect and Discernment, Insight and Wisdom
  • This is deeper than just the conscious mind, this is latent, intuitive knowledge
  • This is not what you read in books or others ideas, it is what you experience and know through direct perception.
  • The difference between thinking and knowing is wisdom, vijnana.
  • Deep self-study and reflection on ancient scriptures and philosophy help tap into this layer.

Anandamaya Kosha

  • Bliss – Joy
  • There is a difference between pleasure and joy, pleasure arises from passing experiences and material objects, joy is a state of being, in which you can be joyful when something is difficult and not necessarily experience pleasure.
  • This is the heart center – the very place you pointed when I asked you to point to yourself.
  • All the yoga practices bring us to this place over time and consistent practice. It’s where we discover our personal truth and where we can hear our purpose most clearly.
Maybe this is a more accurate Kosha diagram - peeling back the layers until you get to your heart center - like an onion, you'll probably cry as you peel.

Maybe this is a more accurate Kosha diagram – peeling back the layers until you get to your heart center – like an onion, you’ll probably cry as you peel.

 

Yoga is a never ending journey. Just when you think you’ve mastered something physically, you can come back and add on another layer of work in order to peel back another layer of illusion. Eventually you have revealed your true self. When you wonder just who you are, point to yourself to remember.

 

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Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm – Feel the Vibrations

Vinyasa MeansThere is a certain power in the chanting of Sanskrit. This is not the incantation of spells or any magic – it is simply the use of our human ability to create unique sounds by movement of our mouth, tongue, and throat in a special way (which is a VINYASA!). On the physical level, one can easily feel the vibrations of resonance through the body simply by putting the lips together and humming (do it now – no one is watching you).

This technique is called Bhramari Pranayama and is a valid practice all on its own. If you are in need of anger management, feeling frustrated, or suffering anxiety – this is a good and simple technique you can do anytime, anywhere with no contraindications.

Why even bother making sound at all?

How does a good beat and good hook catch you? It resonates in your body and you feel something, a connection, an emotion – sound is one method of taking us out of the swirling mind and into a clear, present moment.

Why the need for a Sanskrit chant or mantra when there is plenty of music to be found?

One reason would be that we have no associations with the Sanskrit language. None of our memories or human conditioning have happened in Sanskrit, we have no preconceived notion of what it means when we hear it. Sanskrit is a perfect blank slate for most people – we can learn it from our teachers and then it becomes associated with practice and a great tool for meditation. The meaning we infuse is one of practice, peace, and presence.

Sanskrit is also a vibratory language, it is closely aligned with primordial sounds and each letter produces a specific resonance within the body meant to vibrate in specific areas or energy lines (nadis).  One could think of it as the Paleo diet of language.

This is also why it is important to learn the names of our asana and to hear it said in class, the names of the asanas carry the same energetic qualities as the poses themselves – layering on the proper name is important. Consider for a moment how you feel when not called your proper name – yoga tradition is similarly to be respected.

 

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Pranava of Om

You don’t have to believe me, experience it. Try an Om, the most well-known of the mantras. It is pronounced A-U-M; the aaaaaaaaaaa resonates in the belly, the uuuuuuuuuuu vibrates into the chest, and the mmmmmmmmmm is felt in the head. Although there are many meanings attributed to Aum or Om, it’s ok to enjoy it as a feel good vibe and respect the simplicity.

Breath Mantra – So Hum

Another easy mantra with no religious connection would be So Hum. This is simply the sound of your breathing. Take a moment to listen to your breath.

On the inhale – can you hear the whisper of breath saying So? Can you hear Hum on the exhale? What is the purpose of chanting the breath? To further connect to your true self and to disconnect from your ceaseless and noisy mind. So Hum is an excellent way to develop a meditation practice.

This is How We Do It

In learning to chant or use vibration, it is taught that you say the chants out loud – this occupies the senses of hearing, feeling, and even tasting as the tongue is involved.   We close our eyes and restrict the sense of sight.  All brings us closer to the yogic state of sense withdrawl (Pratyahara) Knowing our brains to be poor multi-taskers, chanting aloud gives more opportunity to quite the mind. You will notice it is near impossible to chant and think at the same time.

The next stage would be whispering the chant very softly. You will notice that if you are not yet well-trained in meditation, it is easy for the brain to get louder than the whisper, hence why it is the second stage.

The final stage is silent repetition in the mind only and this is the most difficult. It can be easy to go on auto pilot and sink back to thinking mind. If this happens to you, go back to repetition out loud to reconnect with the meditation. The purpose is quieting the mind to reduce distracted thought and allow creative, expansive, clear thinking to arise so that we might know our own gifts and share them.

Mala Beads

Frequently you see the use of mala beads – this helps to count the repetition and becomes a sort of time-keeper for your practice. In general, there are 108 beads and you repeat your mantra 108 times. Look for me to post more on the significance of 108 and mala beads in the future. But for now, the use of the beads is another good way to occupy your mind from thinking and anxiety, the mala is a great meditation companion.  Lotus Seed Mala Beads

Personally, I enjoy using mantra and sound in my asana practice. It is an enhancement to your routine and produces a palpable energetic effect as it naturally regulates your breathing. Many traditions of yoga utilize a mantra during asana as a way to time the breath and track the sequence.

Practice

Now to bring it back to the simple breath chant – So Hum. Try this right now – using a mala or a timer (try 3-5 minutes), sit on the floor or your mat, cross legs or lotus, and focus on your breathing. Add the So and Hum out loud as you breathe. How do you feel? Share your experience in the comments.

Gratitude

With respect and recognition, I salute my teachers that have helped me on this path.  For this love of mantra, I want to recognize teacher, Dr. Indu Arora, who illuminated aspects of this practice so I could understand and hope to share.  Namaste to you readers, thank you for spending this precious time with these words that flow through me to you, for you.

 

Anjali Mudra – Reflect to Receive

“Each of us shares a unity with Spirit and all life,
and simultaneously each of us is an individual with free will.
There is a duality to us as separate and as part of the whole.”
~Jonathan Lockwood Huie~

Mudras as an overlooked aspect in modern yoga, especially in the West.  They are not frivolous hand gestures or esoteric spiritual wish sign language.  They are literal energetic connections between two points creating a circuit of energy.  You don’t have to “believe,” in them – they are scientific, in the same way that you don’t “believe” in plugging in a light bulb, you know the plug goes into the socket and links the energy to create a circuit.

One aspect of my personal yoga practice as well as my teaching, is utilizing mudras.  Just as I began with Sutra 1.1, I begin with the most basic of the mudras – Anjali Mudra.  You have probably even done this mudra, but given it little thought.  A simple joining of the hands together in what looks like a prayer – see below.

There are probably thousands of blogs and articles out there on this mudra, so I will share what was given to me as a personal teaching.  Consider that the hands, held in this manner, look similar to a candle flame.  In yoga philosophy and in many religions we are taught that there is a spark, a light, a oneness with Spirit/God/Creation inside us, we are a reflection of God’s image.  To me, this is the light.  When I hold my hands at my heart center, it is a prayer or an affirmation that I recognize a unifying spirit in all things.

In general, we open/close a class with Namaste.  This Sanskrit word has many meanings, my personal favorite is:

The light in me sees and reflects the light in you.

There it is again – CANDLE FLAME!

And if you aren’t into God or Spirituality – think of it as a very basic anatomical reminder – lift your sternum.  Stand taller, chest up, shoulders back.

Until next time, Namaste – lead with love, follow your passion, let your heart come before your head.

The light in me, reflects the light in you.

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Alignment Authenticity Anatomy Junkie Spiritual Flow Mantras Mudras Continuous Education Practice What You Teach Progress Not Perfection Guiding Teachers: BKS Iyengar Pattabi Jois Shiva Rea Daren Friesen (Moksha Chicago) Marinda Stopforth (Prairie Yoga - Lisle, IL)

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