This was originally published in The Samarya Center Newsletter. One of our students and fellow Central District neighbors suggested we post it here. We hope you enjoy!
The Koshas: a multi-dimensional perspective
Have you ever felt squooshed? I mean squooshed psychically, energetically, emotionally. As if everything is squeezing you and you are not sure which way to turn? I bet you have. We all have at some time or another. Life can be tough, we face difficult challenges daily. Some are small and mundane, like a traffic ticket, some are bigger and take up more of our space, like having your car stolen, and some are really, really big, like facing a serious illness, or being with someone at the end of life.
Last Saturday night, someone walked into my house, stole my car keys and drove away with my car. I was so angry, I felt like I was going to explode. I felt physically ill, exhausted, betrayed, violated, disconnected and just generally baaaaaad.
On Monday, my car was found, intact, in the U District, filled with someone else’s clean laundry, CD’s, cell phone, crack pipe and lots of crack cocaine. Oh, also a bus ticket with (presumably) the thief’s name on it. OK, now my anger changed from the exhausted weepy kind to the vigilante justice kind. I became consumed with figuring out how I was going to find this person and make him pay. As I plotted and planned, I ate. And ate. And ate some more.
On Wednesday, I had my car detailed, cleaned cleaner than it’s ever been and burned a small mountain town’s worth of sage in and around it. Got to get the energy out. I parked it that night with the battery pulled out and the steering wheel connected to the door handle with a bike chain. Just try to come get my car, MY car.
On Thursday, I had it rekeyed. And on Friday, today, it is mine again. I’m sleeping, feeling optimistic, normal, happy, grateful, grateful, grateful, and not quite so hungry. Ahhhh. Equilibrium.
So what does all that have to do with yoga, and specifically with the koshas? Well, the kosha model is a perspective in yoga that posits our existence on at least five different and discreet, although interconnected, levels. The word “kosha” means “sheath,” and refers to the different layers of our being. In this model we exist on a physical, energetic, emotional, “witness,” and spiritual level. These different levels affect one another, but are also distinct enough for us to see ourselves as multi-dimensional, with a spaciousness that invites optimism, courage, and strength.
Consider some of our students who are at end of life. If we, or they, see themselves just as one compact physical being, then there is not a lot of opportunity for hope and healing. However, if we, and they, see them as multi-dimensional beings, then there are plenty of places to find transformation and peace. Healing can occur, even in the darkest days of a terminal illness, in the realms of energy, emotion and spirit. Spaciousness allows us to breathe, physically and metaphorically. And breathing invites us to find peace.
Each one of the bodies is “made of” something, which is noted in its name. The physical body, annamayakosha, is the body made of food. Perhaps one reason why we eat, (think “comfort food” ) when we need to ground, when our emotional and energy bodies are out of balance. The energy body, pranamayakosha, is the body made of “prana,” or life-force. This one often gets depleted in challenging times, when we feel tired, weak, “low energy,” and just not ourselves. The emotional body, manomayakosha, is the body made of feelings and thoughts. This can be a powerfully persuasive distractor and catastrophizer, with a proclivity towards rage, despair, justification, longing, and aversion.Vijnanamayakosha provides a counter to the wild ride of the emotions, being the body made of “special knowledge.” This is our “witness,” the part of us that can be objective, all loving, spacious, encouraging. This is our kindest and most forgiving mirror, inviting us to see ourselves, as we are, without judgement, to realistically assess all possibilities. And finally, we exist on the level of anandamayakosha, the body made of bliss. Self-realization, God-consciousness, connection. This is the subtle body that we too easily ignore in our day to day lives, but with which we often connect deeply, in times of trial.
Having my car stolen, in the grand scheme of things, was not such a big deal. In fact (and especially because of the car’s return), I might also choose to see it as a gift. An opportunity to practice my yoga. To see myself in all my dimensions and imbalances, as sometimes only crisis can truly illuminate. To have this opportunity to watch myself act out all of the complementary energies of life and struggle, and to continually be able to find some place of light, affirms my faith that this life is a function of how we see it, and ourselves and each other. To allow ourselves to truly experience all of who we are, in the spacious way this kosha model suggests, is to give ourselves unlimited hope for understanding, compassion, healing and progress.