Dance With It

23/11/2012 18:26


I feel like today was pretty packed with information. So here's an attempt to break it down once more.


This morning Stephen lectured about the loops of energy in the body, a great tool to set up our alignment in the asana practice. However, finding the loops of energy in your “set up” and striving towards correct alignment is not an end to itself. It mainly serves the purposes of putting the body into a shape that is stable yet spacious, so the channels are open, we can breathe freely, and if you like, prana can flow.


This explanation begins to make more sense as we dive deeper into the physical and the energy body and its underlying layers in the afternoon lectures. Finally, Stephen is introducing the trainees to one of my favorite subjects of yoga philosophy: The Koshas, sheaths or layers in English, that make up our whole being.


On the outermost layer is the physical or gross body, called Annamaya Kosha, which we influence with everything that is also gross, like the food we take in or our Asana practice. Then underneath is said to be the Pranamaya Kosha, the subtle or energetic body, where the rivulets of the nadis run, carrying Prana to this second sheath. This sheath is influenced by our Pranayama practice – what else. Further or deeper in is the mental body, the Manomaya Kosha. This is where Manas (the senses) and the Ahamkara (ego) reside. Here we can dig in through Dhyana (meditation) or Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), but also it is said by applying the Yamas and Niyamas or, really, any way to train the mind. Even deeper in, we find the Vijnamaya Kosha, the astral or wisdom or knowledge body, where the Buddhi, our higher intelligence, sits. The innermost layer is eventually the bliss body, the Anandamaya Kosha, which we can only glimpse once all the other layers have been made light, harmonious, sattvic and porous, so the nucleus will shine through.


I have grown to love the way yoga philosophy explains the restlessness of the mind, because it makes a lot of sense to me. The senses bring in the information, like a camera filming a scene. The ego immediately takes that (so far objective) information and creates a story around it – just like the commentator on TV. The commentary always draws on past experience, on the storehouse of memory, which really only provides two basic types of insight: “This I like – more!” or “This I don't like – get rid of it!”. All our past experience, from this and maybe even previous lives, are stored in our memory. These experiences have been registered by leaving imprints on the surface of our consciousness. Since we like to repeat the same pattern, either like or dislike, over and over again, these imprints are dug deeper and deeper until they turn into grooves, which the yogis call Samskaras. The deeper the groove, the more difficult obviously to get out of that repetitive behavior.


Often our issue is that we instantaneously react to the information that senses deliver. For instance, someone stands to close to me on the tram and keeps bumping into me. My mind immediately connects: too close – getting into my personal space – annoying or threatening – dislike – get rid of it. In the past, I have made the experience that someone standing too close is unpleasant, I lose my personal space, so I have created a Samskara, a repetitive pattern, of reaction. Now that this situation presents itself again, I immediately short circuit and go right into my default reaction: aggression. I vehemently tell the person to back off. Or let's say I have created a different Samskara in the past, based the experience that if I defend my personal space people are going to think I'm selfish and arrogant. So my default reaction will be to suffer silently and suppress my feelings, which can be just as destructive.


I had always been told – from a perspective of modern psychology – that patterns cannot be broken. Which is why it was a revelation for me to discover through yoga, that although they may not be obliterated, they can be attenuated: We can use the pause, the gap, the moment right before we go into default reaction to create a whole other chain of events. This is what is called the awakening of the Buddhi, of higher intelligence, that part of our mind which is smart enough to actually see what's going on.


I'm still standing on the tram and that annoying person is standing to close to me. I become aware that I am annoyed and that I really want to yell at this person (or that I really don't want to say anything because I don't want to seem rude). Let me say the most important thing: Becoming aware of what is going on inside is already AMAZING! Because that IS the gap, the space where you can evaluate and actually have a CHOICE of how to react. And then you can always decide what would be the respectful and compassionate thing to do with regards to yourself and the other person and everyone else riding on that tram. And maybe you decide to go into your usual default reaction mode – but at least you do so fully aware.


Now, I'm going to refrain from talking about the two innermost Kosha, the Anandamaya Kosha – I simply don't have enough experience with it. Last but not least, let me tell you why I love this model of the Koshas: They have confirmed everything I have believed in since I was a little girl, spinning across the floor of a ballet studio. The physical, energetic and emotional/mental components influence each other. Which is why we feel relaxed and blissful after an Asana class or why Pranayama can clear our head. It is why a somewhat relaxed mental state affects our immune and digestive system significantly. It is why things that worried us before an Asana class just seem smaller in the after-picture. It is also why it feels different to practice Asana after doing Pranayama, as opposed to straight into the physical.


Like Stephen says, the Pranamaya Kosha with regards to the Annamaya Kosha, is like the hand that comes into the glove. The glove comes alive and can move although it was certainly physically there before. But my all time favorite thing is how Pranayama affects the mental body, maybe because it has single-handedly changed my life. I used to be so impulsive, emotional, judgmental, irrationally angry, over-analyzing everything, very fiery etc. These tendencies are still there, and I don't kid myself, they will always be. But boy, have they softened! Pranayama has slowly taught me to relax my nervous system enough in order to be able to observe and every once in a while step out of the downward spiral. And every once in a while now, I find the gap. And before I lash out, before I react, I pause. I consider, what would be the compassionate thing to do, towards myself and others? Do I always succeed? Of course not. Sometimes even watching is hard work. You will not believe what the ego still has the guts to babble and advocate even when you are consciously eyeing it in disbelief!


But slowly, slowly the alignment of the mind becomes more spacious, just like the alignment of the body when you apply the principles of loops and spirals (coming up soon). And like Stephen said this morning (and this I loved), it's not about getting it. The loops are are opposing forces; if you get one perfectly, you automatically lose the other a little bit. If you watch too much, you lose your naturalness. If you don't watch, you end up hurting people. So the point is not to get it. The point is to watch, watch the funny dance of the ego and the Buddhi's attempted lead... And eventually, to dance with it.