Exploring the Five Koshas (body sheaths)

In yoga philosophy, we are definitely more than our physical body. In fact, our being is broken down into five separate ‘koshas’ or sheaths, nested within each other like Russian dolls. Right at the centre, at the heart of our five koshas, rests Atman, our true nature or our soul, sometimes described as pure consciousness or oneness – the stuff that’s beyond words basically!

Anyhow, looking at our being through the lens of the five koshas can be a useful way to explore the totality of our beings, and shift our perception beyond the limitations of the purely tangible and visible. Much of the practice of yoga is designed to shift and expand our perception in this way. I like to use the five koshas as a practical way to explore our holistic self-care too – it’s kind of like a useful check-list, to make sure we’re not neglecting a part of our being. And, really, the more you explore, the more you realise that all the layers are of course interconnected; really it’s impossible to look at any single one in isolation. And, as with every interconnected system, if just one part is out of balance, then the whole is affected, so it’s really just another pointer towards the wisdom of taking a holistic approach towards our self-care. Over time, working with the koshas helps us gain a more comprehensive sense of ourselves, which gives us more empowerment to make good decisions for ourselves.

So, here’s a brief look at the five koshas, with some ideas about how you can investigate and tend to them in your own life. If you’re interested to learn more and dive deeply into an experiential day all about the koshas, then join me on my up-coming, ‘Journey Through the Koshas’ yoga day retreat in Warwickshire, central England on February 22nd 2020… 🙂

1. Annamayakosha – the ‘food’ body or physical body.

Annamaya kosha is the outermost layer of our being, the most ‘gross’ (as opposed to subtle), in that it’s fully perceptible by our five senses. We can see it, touch it, feel it, smell it, taste it (?!) and hear it. The phrase ‘we are what we eat’ sums up how we can best tend to this layer of our body. Our bodies manifest visibly for us the sum total of our treatment of it through our lives, as well of course showing us our hereditary traits. For example, if we have eaten a diet of daily pizza for the last ten years and mostly sat on the sofa, then our food body will show this very clearly. Conversely, if we’ve adopted a healthy diet and partake in regular physical exercise then the food body will look much more balanced. The yoga asanas are designed in large part to purify and balance the annamaya kosha. We first begin to work at this ‘gross’ level in our yoga practice in order to eventually access the more subtle layers. For example, until we’re able to sit still relatively comfortably for a sustained amount of time, meditative practices remain pretty challenging for us.

2. Pranamayakosh – the ‘prana’ (life force/energetic) body.

Now we are accessing the next most subtle layer of our being, our life force energy, which animates all of our actions. One way of looking at this is through the lens of the breath although, in truth, it’s not this straightforward. It’s really about the fact we are energetic beings and, separate from the state of our physical bodies, our energy levels can fluctuate a lot, depending on a variety of factors, not least our interaction with other energies in our external environment, such as other people or places. Life force energy or prana animates everything, not just humans, and we are all interconnected on some level. So, practices that help you become more sensitive to your experience of your own energetic being, and how and why this shifts, become a natural part of the yoga journey, and becoming aware of how you use your own energy and allow yourself to be affected by external energies becomes more and more important, the more your sensitivity and awareness of this layer of your being increases. Personally, I spend just as much time on energetic self-care as I do on physical self-care these days. I have to, to remain balanced and happy. As a good starting point, pranayama techniques begin to help us focus on our inner world and, along with intentional-based meditation practices, we can improve our ability to consciously move prana around the body, for health and healing, and strengthen our pranamaya kosha.

3. Manomayakosha – the mental body.

Well, I think we are all VERY aware of this sheath in the modern, western world! This is the layer that comprises the mind and how it processes the information that we gain from the five senses. Basically, the mind is always receiving sensory information, comparing this to previous experiences and putting out a decision of the experience as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ based on this, with associated instructions in how we need to behave. It is useful for survival in certain situations but, as we are pretty stuck in this layer compared to our other koshas, it can also be a hindrance to the health and happiness of our total being. If any of the five koshas becomes dominant, the others will become proportionately suppressed and, as previously discussed, the interconnected whole suffers. So, one of the best practices we can do here is watch our thoughts. There are hundreds of different mindfulness-based meditation practices that can help us do this but, in truth, over time we can become better at doing it in every aspect of our life – life has the potential to be a moving meditation eventually. Through disciplining ourselves to regularly watch our thoughts, we soon see the utter madness of our mind when it is overused, as it is in current modern society. It jumps around, contradicts itself frequently and often tells us complete nonsense (especially when we talk to ourselves about ourselves – have you noticed this?). Over time, through continued observation, we are held less in the thrall of the mind, finding ourselves able to change habitual and unhelpful thought patterns and associated repeated behaviour (called samskaras in yoga philosophy). Then we are free to connect more with the truth and wisdom held in other layers of our being, to counteract and balance out the mind-dominance. And we of course feel better as a whole as a result.

4. Vijnanamaya kosha – the wisdom or awareness body.

I love exploring this kosha alongside manomaya kosha – the two are so interwoven. Exploring vijnanamaya kosha involves dropping into a more subtle layer of our body still, which is sometimes called the inner observer. In order to watch our thoughts, we have to connect with vijnanamaya kosha. It is a wiser part of our being, able to discern right action aside from the reactive mental reasoning that we do as a default in every situation. I feel it as a non-judgemental and very loving, wise being that cares about me and sits somewhere deep within me, offering gentle guidance whenever I take time to listen. This layer is also the realm of insight and intuition – that inner knowing that is always within us, and those glorious ‘aha’ moments of genius that we sometimes experience. Through committing to regular quiet time for meditative inner listening, over time we find it easier to tune into this quiet, wise part of us, above the noise of the mental chatter, and we learn to trust it more and more. And, again, we come back to balance. I also like exploring how this kosha is so interwoven with the more ‘gross’ layers of the physical body and pranic body, both of which contain deep, deep wisdom that we can tap into through connection to our wisdom body.

5. Anandamaya kosha – the bliss body.

Aaah, how nice it would be to be here more often! Anandamaya kosha is the seat of bliss in the body. It is always a part of us but, as you can see from the drawing, it’s the closest to our centre and usually depicted as the smallest layer and so you can understand that, for the average human being, it’s the most difficult layer to access and have direct experience of. Most of us have to do a lot of work to balance and nourish the outer four layers before we can rest in our bliss body with ease. But, all of us will experience it at certain times of our life – perhaps during a sublime moment in nature, or an intimate moment with a partner, or at the birth of a new child. Through commitment to regular self-care, healing and consciousness expansion through holistic practices such as yoga, most dedicated practitioners will eventually find increasing experiences of the bliss body, often felt as the heart seemingly exploding with love for everyone and everything around you, and sometimes in a more subtle way of simply feeling deeply connected to the calm, happy truth of who you really are. Savasana, at the end of a yoga practice, is often a space where people can drop into the bliss body, even for a moment. That’s why it’s so important to take these still moments of integration whenever we consciously work to balance the totality of our beings. It is in these moments of stillness and quiet that we are most likely to drop to the centre of our beings. And, who knows, maybe one day we even have an experience of Atman – but I will have to leave you to your own explorations here, as it truly is beyond words I guess; beyond all polarity, duality, beyond everything…

Happy exploring, and I would love to share more with you at the workshop on February 22nd – get in touch to book on!

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Ikigai – what is your reason for being?

At this time of my life I feel I’m moving into a new chapter of service, and so I am really taking time to ask myself lots of seemingly old questions in a new way, wanting to crystallise who it is that I want to be in the world, and what it is that I want to share with the world. These are good questions for all of us to ask ourselves at certain transitional times of our life – kind of like a ‘life review’, a check-in that we feel we’re on the right path, that we are consciously choosing the life we wish to lead rather than finding ourselves floating along passively.

A friend recently shared with me a concept that comes from an ancient Japanese culture, which focuses on the concept of ‘ikigai’, which translates roughly as ‘reason for being’, which has been a helpful tool for me to understand where I wish to place my professional energies. I see this concept as similar to the yogic concept of ‘dharma’ and the Chinese daoist concept of ‘ming’. All of these terms kind of mean the same thing – the mysterious pull on our soul, that keeps us on the right path when we are attentive, and leads us to the activities that bring us the most peace, fulfilment and happiness. Another idea I like is that we all came here with some kind of soul plan, an intention for the evolution of our soul in this incarnation. When we are aligned with this we feel good, and when we move away from it we feel restless, unfulfilled, a strange sense that something is wrong or missing.

Whichever concept you choose to apply to your own questionings, I encourage you to contemplate the ikigai venn diagram below, as it provides a comprehensive framework for such a self-analysis process. The concept is refreshingly practical and complete, providing a useful tool for analysing where you’re at on your path, and where you wish to go.

The diagram breaks down ikigai into its different components: your mission in the world, your profession, your vocation and your passion. It is fairly self-explanatory. When we are right in the middle, satisfactorily meeting all the different elements, we are living with Ikigai, our reason for being (or ‘raison d’etre’ as the French say). When we miss even one element, there will be some kind of missing piece, and the diagram describes the various flavours that this can take beautifully, depending on which piece is missing.

So, rather than me attempt to explain more here, just have a go at applying this structure to your own professional life, and let me know how you get on – follow your intuition and enjoy the process… 🙂

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Healing from the heart

I am currently delving into my work as a Thai massage therapist in a much deeper way than ever before, having found an inspirational teacher, and I am really enjoying this journey. It has caused me to reflect on why I am finding giving the massages so much more enjoyable than in the past – time flies, I feel super-energised and upbeat afterwards and my body feels great, whereas in the past I could sometimes find myself clock-watching, my body often complained afterwards, and my energy felt depleted.

I have come to the conclusion that, like everything it seems, it all comes down to self-love! I have been on such a journey this year – diving back down into depression, feeling utterly hopeless and bleak about life, but then re-emerging feeling like a butterfly ready to spread its wings and fly happily into the next chapter. The depression was just my resistance to letting go of the last chapter. Change always come with loss, and loss always comes with grief.

But, I know very well by now that, when we move through a dark period of our life with even an iota of consciousness about the ‘bigger picture’ that this period represents (i.e. the death of a part of ourselves so that something new can emerge) there follows a joyful period of light, ease and flow. I’m in that period right now, and I’ve noticed how a big hallmark of this is how much I am feeling the love for myself! It almost seems like a taboo in this strange world we live in to admit to this kind of self-love. We are usually quite OK with bemoaning our various perceived flaws and issues to each other, and putting ourselves down left, right and centre but, when it comes to celebrating ourselves, this can often feel difficult. Well, at least this has been my experience.

But, my self-love is so present at the moment that, actually, it’s irrepressible; it’s just bubbling up at gloriously frequent moments during the day – I feel so grateful to the wisdom of my soul for getting me this far, for my body for carrying me through my days with so much grace, to the beauty of nature and to all the amazing people and opportunities I have in my life. After the long low, life feels like such a gift again, and I know this is my natural state of gratitude and celebration. In fact, I believe it’s the natural state of all of us, beneath all the energy blocks and wounds we carry – I feel we are truly here to thrive, celebrate and enjoy this life, but it seems that most of us have to dig deep to return to this natural state, or it comes in brief moments – well, again, this has been my personal experience.

Anyhow, it is this self-love that has caused me to revisit my Thai massage training in a new, deeper way. I was always aware, from my first amazing teachers, of the sacred nature of this massage modality, and indeed any bodywork, which requires us to come into intimate relationship with another based on trust and respect. The Thai massage tradition is very much based on ‘metta’, which translates as ‘loving-kindness’. But, I am so aware now that loving-kindness has to begin with ourselves. I just didn’t love myself enough until now to truly connect to this fundamental aspect of the practice. Of course, we fake it until we make it, and my motivation for learning to give massages originally came from a sincere desire to help others and contribute to their healing, but I see now that actually I was still relatively early-on in my own journey to help, love and heal myself, and although the will was there, the love just wasn’t bubbling up in the way it is now.

So, with all this love flowing, I had a real sense that I wanted my massage treatments to really come from the heart now, so I can share this love I’m feeling with others. Love breeds love to infinity, it has no limits, it doesn’t need to be rationed – the more you feel, the more you share and the more you receive back – it’s a beautiful thing! And, of course, the perfect teacher stepped into my life at that moment – someone so full of his own self-love and self-honouring that this just spills over into his interactions with those around him. He told me that, when I’m enjoying the massage, the receiver is sure to be enjoying it too. So, really the massage treatment becomes another exercise of self-love – I do it because I love it, and I can rest in the knowledge that the receiver is loving it too! It’s a change of focus, and one that really resonates with me now. When we deflect from our own self-care, self-love, self-honouring, then the authenticity of how we offer this to others is compromised.

So, I see now that with each treatment I give, as I dive deeper into this heart-space of genuine metta, in truth I am healing and loving myself and, in so doing, spreading this healing love vibration to another, trusting the magic of this will unfold in the way it’s meant to. Less mind, more heart – and it feels amazing! It’s a reminder of the oneness that we all are underneath the superficial separation. We heal ourselves to heal the world. It is a sacred practice indeed.

Posted in awakening process, Buddhism, chakras, evolution of consciousness, Inter-connectivity, Love, Mindfulness, Positivity, Power of change, Reiki, Self-love, Shamanism, Spirituality, Thai yoga massage, Turning fear to love | 1 Comment

We Are Not Forsaken

Great mother writhes and moans on her sickbed,
Hoping her discomfiture will jog us awake.
Wildlife waits in the wings,
Wondering if we will answer the call.
The wind gives the trees their voice,
Remember yourselves, remember yourselves…”
The buzzard screeches down from above,
It’s not too late, humans!”
The world holds its breath, watching our every move.

Then…

We lift our heads, deer-bright eyes lock in wonder,
Our hearts entrain with an urgent pulse,
A critical mass of knowing is reached.
Great mother roars, the world sighs as one,
And, in a tsunamic surge of grace,
We are born anew, awash with wildness.
We gaze out from innocent eyes, that have seen it all before.

Thank you, mother,
Thank you.

Posted in awakening process, Connecting with the natural world, Deep ecology, divine feminine, Earth-based wisdom, ecology, evolution of consciousness, Inter-connectivity, Love, nature connection, Positivity, Power of change, Shamanism, Spirituality, Turning fear to love | Leave a comment

Warrior of Love Post-script (AKA It’s OK to be Face Down in the Dirt…)

Although the last piece of journal writing that I shared felt like a truth that wanted to emerge, it’s been niggling me somewhat. I didn’t quite tell the whole story. I’m always trying to integrate my ‘spiritual’ seeking, questing, oh-so-virtuous side with my earthy, flawed human side. Both are beautiful, both are equally worthy of being loved and honoured, but so often I skirt around or brush over the messy human-ness that is a huge part of who I am, why I’m here in fact. It’s crazy – spiritual by-passing at its finest! My mantra these days is, ‘own it all’, so to honour that, here’s the missing part from my last post, Warrior of Love

Yes, a warrior of love will get swiped down by a sword to the heart many times during the battle that this human life can feel like sometimes. And, what happens between the blow to the heart and the picking yourself up again to rejoin the fray, heart wide open? Well, many things can happen, and most of them aren’t that pretty. The first is that, as you face-plant into the soil, you’re likely to get some kind of ‘spiritual concussion’ and forget that you’re a warrior of love at all. In this place, you’re more likely to feel like a fragile, vulnerable human being, scared and alone in the dark, writhing in the mud to avoid the trampling boots and hooves of those still battling it out above you. All kinds of paralysing emotions swirl through you – shame, fear, anger, frustration, disappointment, guilt, blame, rage, sadness, depression, jealousy, self-loathing… The wound to the heart is bleeding copiously, you’re not sure if you’re going to make it. Perhaps hopelessness takes hold, and maybe even an eventual surrender to what seems like the inevitable end.

But then… what usually happens is something occurs that reminds you of the warrior of love that you also are, alongside this vulnerable human being. This occurrence could take many forms, for example the glint of sunshine from above the fray enters your eye and you remember the sun, you remember there’s something beyond the battle. Or a fellow warrior of love reaches their hand down to touch your head or heart, or you hear a distant battle-cry of ‘Remember love!’ from across the battlefield. Something changes… A remembering stirs. “Why was I here in the battle in the first place?“, you might whisper to yourself. Then the answer emerges like a leaf softly landing on your tired mind, “to learn about love, to grow the love in my heart...”

You do a bit of a body check and realise you’re still alive and well, your heart is still beating, your lungs are still breathing. A fellow warrior of love will probably notice you stirring at that point and reach down to help you up. You remember that there have always been hands to help you, you start seeing them all again and it’s like slaking the thirst of your startled eyes and bruised heart.

To be sure, it’s an effort to stand again. You will need those helping hands, and you will be unsteady for a while. But stand again you do, eventually on your own two feet, unsupported but knowing your tribe are close by, should you stumble. It might take time to feel ready to re-enter the battle, you might just stand on the side and watch for a while. But eventually the lure to open the heart again is too strong to ignore. And in you go, sword of love blazing, heart wide open once more.

We are all warriors of love and we are all vulnerable human beings face down in the dirt. It’s a never-ending cycle through this gift of earthly life. And no part of the cycle is more or less important than any other. It does me good to remember this. I salute those in the mud right now. I’ve only just got back on my feet myself, with the help of many fellow warriors of love, and so soon did I forget that time in the mud. But it was a precious time, a vital time, a time that cranked my heart right open, and now I am the one running into the heart of the battle again, shouting at the top of my voice, ‘Remember love!‘, and hoping that someone face down in the dirt will hear me, and will begin to remember again at that point why they are here…

Posted in awakening process, Depression, evolution of consciousness, Inter-connectivity, Love, Mindfulness, Positivity, Power of change, Self-love, Spirituality, Turning fear to love | 2 Comments

Warrior of love

Increasingly, I wish to just share what comes through me sometimes in my journal-writing, even though it feels vulnerable to bare my soul like this. I guess this kind of uncensored, ‘stream of consciousness’ journal-writing carries within it the purest gems of truth, as well as a lot of surface prattle padding! But, by drawing out the gems, where another, wiser aspect of myself suddenly surges through, often flipping to the second- or even third-person voice, there feels a deeper authenticity to my writing. At these times, I know it’s coming from the mysteries of my heart and soul direct to the page, not for an audience, just to express the truth that lies deep within me. So, here’s a gem from the other day… 🙂

Today I wish to celebrate myself, for refusing to close my heart down, no matter how many times it gets bruised or wounded. Many old relationships are re-entering my life right now, where there has been wounding from both sides, and all I feel pouring out of me is love, and a sincere desire to bathe each of those relationships in the love that I feel. Love breeds love, to infinity.

Warrior of love, your heart is open to all, your vulnerability is your sword. You will be swiped down from time to time, but always you arise and bless the sword that wounded you with your limitless ability to forgive and love. Beneath it all, love is the only truth, and you know this; this is the wisdom that you carry through your days. Every time you don’t feel love you simply pause and observe what is energetically happening here, what shadow within you is being revealed by this precious sword-wielding angel in disguise? And then back into the fray of love you go, heart wide open, shining like the sun, dazzling your would-be opponents, bathing the battlefield in rainbow jewels of hope.

Posted in evolution of consciousness, Inter-connectivity, Love, Power of change, Self-love, Spirituality, Turning fear to love | 1 Comment

The Power of a Woman

Yesterday was the full moon, and felt very powerful indeed to me. I am increasingly in synch with the lunar cycle and have started offerings women’s gatherings with each new and full moon, along with a gorgeously wise soul-sister. It feels like very important, meaningful work at this time to hold space to bring the sisterhood together, as women are being called to step up, become visible in the world, find their voices and own their power.

Anyhow, it was a timely day of lunar empowerment for me, as earlier that day I had become aware of myself slipping back into old, unhelpful energy patterns, where I let my power drain away. During my retreat in Scotland I had really stepped into my power. It mostly feels like a soft, gentle power of the mother energy, which can hold and contain everything with love and acceptance. But its gentleness does not detract from its great strength and depth, and the Kali energy of action is always there in the wings to be called upon when it is wise to do so; this is the fierce energy that destroys what no longer serves and that stands for justice and truth. Then there’s the wild, sensuous goddess power, which I feel when I dance, sing and drum – at these times I am simply a conduit to let different energies flow through me, yet conversely it’s when I feel I creatively express myself most fully. And then there’s the innocent, child-like energy of the elemental nature spirit who feels the joyful freedom of skipping through the wet grass in bare feet, chatting to the insects and animals and smelling the flowers, hugging the trees. And of course the irreverent, earthy one who likes to eat pizza and cake, drink cider and wine and who finds farts amusing and loves to belly laugh with gusto. The empowered divine feminine is all of these things and much more, she is multi-faceted, rich and complex. And the power comes from allowing all of these different facets to express and flow through us with ease and grace, without censor or control.

So, having really felt in my power in Scotland, and having felt the magnetic attraction of this to others, which arises through no conscious intent, just as a natural by-product that comes from inner fullness, inner acceptance and self-love, it was painful to observe how I was giving it away again yesterday. I was moving back into the space of not feeling enough and trying to fill the void within me from things and people outside of me. It was a sense of pouring myself into moulds that I thought I should inhabit, in order to be approved of, accepted and loved. There’s such an anxiety to this energy, as my mind tries to work out who I ‘should’ be, what I should do. There’s a fear of ‘getting it wrong’, failure and rejection. It’s old, old stuff, which has followed me into all of my relationships and jobs and which I am done with now. I let a lot of this go in the pine trees of Scotland, when I did a powerful burial ceremony, burying a pine cone to represent this old version of myself I was leaving behind. And I know this ceremony worked, most of this energy now lies as compost in the Scottish Highlands, being transformed into fresh, positive life by the earth. But… it’s like we’ve emptied the bowl of stodge but we still need to take a spatula and scrape the edges clean. We commit to releasing an old pattern, and the universe perhaps just likes to give us a few tests of our commitment to this new way of being, as echoes and residues of the old energy arise. To me it feels like tying up loose ends and affirming a resounding ‘yes’ of commitment to the universe.

So, this all feels very much part of the work I did during my rite of passage solo fast, where I committed to maturation, to stepping into full womanhood/adulthood. In this new chapter there’s no room for these old energies, so they must go now, and I am so grateful I clocked the echoes of the old yesterday and was able to harness the power of the moon and the sisterhood to help me transmute them.

To finish, I will include an extract from my journal entry yesterday, which documents my process of moving from old to new energy and reclaiming my power. Towards the end of the entry, as often happens, a different energy moved through my pen, a higher version of myself, and provided the cosmic perspective. I hope you enjoy… 🙂

Today I walked along the swift, swollen river, about to burst its banks, and was struck by how full it was. There was an alluring edginess to being so close to it – I wanted to draw near, to appreciate its magnificence, deep power and beauty. Yet I also knew that at any moment this river would spill its watery depths onto the land in an act of dramatic destruction, which would ultimately nourish and fertilise the earth with its fluvian deposits. I was attracted yet utterly respectful. And, still, the gentleness of water was there – swans slid gracefully by on its surface, unperturbed by the mighty power that surged beneath them.

This is the power of the divine feminine, which incorporates the ability to give and take life. It is why it is so attractive, magnetically so, yet also can be fearful and elicits due respect.

This evening, under a clear, full moon I felt a huge surge of powerful kundalini energy flow through my body and I felt like the river, utterly replete and full to the brim of my own authentic self. I howled, laughed, writhed my body in a strange, serpentine dance and chanted a mantra that came through me:

Flow like the snake, flow like the snake, flow like the snake up my spine.
The roots go down and the branches go up,
So flow like the snake up my spine.

This happened through me, because I was so full of myself, of my own power and self-belief in that moment, that I could become the circuit connector between heaven and earth. These aspects met in the fullness of me and found substance enough to meld and merge, express and create.

This is what the cosmos longs for, and this is what women are being called to embody now. To fill ourselves up with ourselves, for no audience, no reason, just because it’s who we are and it’s our God-given right to express this.

This is our power, our magnetic attraction, and all good things will be drawn to us from this place. I felt that so strongly tonight. The power is non-local, it ripples through the entire cosmos, as though we’re the spider at the centre of the infinite web of life, gently strumming the strings just through the simple vibration of our sublime, authentic essence.

This is how we’re going to change the world, sisters, simply through being our authentic, magnificent selves….

Posted in awakening process, Connecting with the natural world, divine feminine, Earth-based wisdom, evolution of consciousness, Inter-connectivity, Love, nature connection, Positivity, Power of change, Self-love, Spirituality, Turning fear to love, women's work | 1 Comment