Light on Life. Iyengar, the Koshas, and Yoga.

The appearance of the infinite varieties of happenings in this world and in this body make it seem as if chaos prevails. As a result the yogis asked, is there a possibility that all of this phenomena is somehow orderly? The Kosha, which can be translated to mean veil, sheath or covering, is the explanation describing the order and structure of our being. The yogis were looking to peer beneath the gross matter into what they termed: Chit Akasha, the vision of inner space itself. Chit Akasha is the non-physical reality, which unlike the ever-changing phenomena of the body or nature (prakriti), is eternal or never changing.

Iyengar, in his thorough and informative text, “Light on Life” describes that which is real or unchanging as being like North to a compass. Our Self is north; this aligns our individual self to the universal Self.

“Spiritual realization is the aim that exists in each on of us to seek our divine core. That core, though never absent from anyone remains latent within us. It is not an outward quest for the Holy Grail that lies beyond, but an Inward Journey to allow the inner core to reveal itself.”

We can use alignment in the yoga practice as a means of exploring the Koshas. Iyengar reminds us that alignment of the outer most sheaths or Kosha of our body points us to the innermost world or the universal reality.

Abiding reality which is the soul, is selfless love founded in a perception of unity, not separation. This is the yogic definition of the soul, which is a word that can be seen as contaminated in our culture through a persistent flattening, simplifying, and packaging of the rich and complex metaphor.

 As Walter Brueggemann says,

“If we want a God healthier than that we must add these mysterious metaphors to our meditation, practice and prayer in order to make them accessible. Then they are available for us to explore, chew on and receive the gifts their infinite nature keeps on giving.”

  According to yogic philosophy, the soul is no possession, no me, no my, no I; it is unchanging. The whole practice of yoga explores the relationship between Prakriti and Parusha. (Nature and Soul).

The yogic practice equips us to learn to live between the earth and the sky.

“ To a yogi (or indeed a Taoist master or Zen monk) the path toward spirit lies entirely in the domain of nature. It is the exploration of nature…”

Stability (asana)

Anamaya Kosha, the food sheath

Solidity, shape, firmness, and strength are the primary characteristics of our body. We can understand the true nature of our physical being. We can open the gates of our soul through the exploration of the body. Asana must harmonize all the sheaths of the body and provide integration. Awareness is the tool we use in asana to sculpt the mind. Bodily consciousness allows the mind to be alert and passive which regenerates the mind and purifies the body. Extension is from the brain and expansion is from the heart. When the two meet, this is the beginning. It is important to be know where you are stretching, in your body and in the world. Extension is attention. Expansion is awareness.

Over stretching and under stretching is wrong. In every pose there should be repose. Inhalation is tension. Exhalation is freedom. Iyengar says all movement should arise from the exhalation, the root. There is lightness in the body and a freedom in the mind, extend from the center. Think of yourself as graceful and expanding, lifting the chest and opening the mind.

The gunas exemplify balance in the practice. They are the three qualities of all things in nature.

The three qualities are Satva, Rajas and Tamas. These three qualities exist in all things. Iyengar defines them as

                 1. Luminosity,

                 2. Vibrancy and Dynamism 

                 3. Mass and Inertia.

Richard Freeman describes the gunas in terms of ripening fruit. As a fruit is growing it is filled with rajas, the urge to sweeten. This fire of movement propels its ripening but at some point the fruit is at its sweetest, its most perfect state. Satva. But as we all know you cannot hold onto ripe fruit forever, the satvic state of ripeness is as temporary as the fruit’s ripening. Soon the fruit begins to get overly sweet and its sugars begins the process of decay or Tamas, the fruit begins to loose its luminosity and work its way back into the earth, its becomes heavy and inert. These are gunas and all things cycle through these qualities again and again. Om Shanti, Shanti, Shantihi. 

In postures Tamas dominates, because in the body Tamas dominates. This is a good thing because Tamas keeps us on the ground and keeps us upright and stable but in the mind Tamas must be minimized. As inertia in the body is overcome, lightness of the mind follows. Good practice brings a feeling of lightness. We work from the periphery to the core. We work with Anamaya Kosha to build a strong container. This crucible will be capable of handling the increased energy of awakening.

Vitality (Prana)

 Pranamaya Kosha, the energy sheath

Iyengar teaches us that muscular energy, nuclear energy and electrical energy are all one energy like there is only one God. Nestled inside anamaya Kosha is pranamaya Kosha. Remember all maya is illusion, or is it? All vibrating energies are Prana: heat, light, magnetism and electricity. Power, life, vitality and spirit are all Prana.

 Iyengar says that Prana is breath and breath carries awareness. Prana is a subtle but powerful force that will carry your awareness anywhere you want to take it.

“The breath, working in the sheath of the physical body, serves as a bridge between body and mind…. Move your awareness from the outmost edges of the universe to the outmost cell of your big toe.”

 Iyengar goes on to define pranayama as the fusion for the antagonistic elements of fire and water. The Pranamaya Kosha is where an awareness of the five elements comes into play. The physiological body is water and the mind is represented by fire. They do not easily come together. Air is the element that allows the fusion of such seeming opposites. This fusion produces the energetic current of Prana. The earth element is the physical body and provides a medium for the relationship to occur and the fifth element space provides room for the current of Prana to occur and be distributed. Watching the breath is the best gross vehicle for learning stability of the consciousness and concentration. Concentration allows you to use your energy wisely and well.

The four Pranayama are

1.     Puraka - inhalation

2.     Antar Kumbhak - retention of breath after inhalation

3.      Rechaka - exhalation

4.     Bahya Kumbhak - retention of the breath after exhalation.

Pranayama takes us away from the external world of AnamayaKosha. We cannot be aware of the external world and pay attention to the subtleties of the internal world.

Clarity (manas)

Manomaya Kosha, the mind sheath

Nestled just inside the breath body is the mind sheath, Manomaya Kosha. You cannot hope to experience inner peace and freedom without understanding the workings of the mind.

Iyengar, though he is known in yoga for his precise approach to postures and alignment, says clearly in the fourth chapter of Light on Life,

 “In the mind lays the heart of yoga.”

 He makes the point that in yogic philosophy there is a difference between the mind where incessant thoughts of life occur Manomaya Kosha and the intelligence and discernment of Vijnanamaya Kosha.

In Manomaya Kosha thinking, brain, memory, ego and sensory perception work together to cause suffering, (klesha) and not cause suffering, (aklesha).

Iyengar uses the imagery of a lake to describe this odd pairing.

"A lake can reflect the beauty around it (external). Clean water and a still bottom allow one to see the floor of the lake through the water (internal). He reminds us that we all know what pollution can do to the water so one has to keep the waters of the lake clean. Yoga is the process of keeping the water of the mind clean and calm."

Three parts of the mind and or consciousness:

Manas (mind) seeks pleasure and avoids pain

Ahamkara (ego or small self) no I no me no my

Buddhi (Intelligence) allows discernment, which can free us from habit


Wisdom (Vjanana)

Vjanamaya Kosha, the wisdom sheath

Intelligence ultimately leads to wisdom. As we begin the process of self-control and awareness we can also embark onto a journey of uncharted waters, mystery. As we transcend habit we can begin to find freedom, which art times may feel scary? In yoga, the wisdom sheath provides contact with the spark of divinity (jivatman), the individual soul. This is the place of dissolving barriers around I, me. Mine.

Iyengar calls this realm,

“the beginning of the end of loneliness.”

 This is mediation, no more separation between object and subject.

Consciousness has three functions:

1. Cognition- perceiving, knowing, recognizing

2. Volition- impulse to initiate action

3. Motion- action usually taken

As we act in awareness, we increase consciousness and concentration. We can utilize consciousness to harness action. As we harness action we can undo habits (samskaras) and we can stop creating new ones that do not serve us.  With increasing focus on equanimity and awareness, meditation is possible. Mediation is the stilling of the fluctuations in the mind.

 Iyengar then goes on to say that

“the still mind by definition is pure. The ego is still there in the pure mind but silence and retention of the breath dissolves the ego. Through retention after inhalation you are able to experience the journey from the inner core of being to the outer expanses of being. Like establishing your mind in the completeness and the grandness of the mansion of yourself. Often times we are one bit of our being or another but to experience the totality of being is to be in every room of the mansion at once with light streaming out of every window.”


Bliss (Ananda) Ananda Kosha, the bliss sheath

The bliss sheath is our connection to the universal soul.

Iyengar reminds us 

“we can only connect to this Everything by remembering the role of "I" as being in a flux and a flow, ever changing and impermanent.”

With this remembering we are less likely to be caught up in the story of the temporary that is often a source of suffering. Instead we are free to step aside and see the temporary dwelling in the permanent that lies within.

The five kleshas or affliction which cause suffering are:

1. Avidya, ignorance

2. Abinavesha, clinging to life for fear of death

3. Smita, pride

4. Raga, attachment

5. Dvesha, aversion

The Anandamaya Kosha is surrender. Mediation is the way out of the kleshas; it only comes when the ego is vanquished. In the Vjanamaya Kosha we work with the individual soul experiencing expansion and the journey inward. It is a creative expansion of awareness.  A fusion of the individual self with the universal ocean of being. A dissolution.

 Related to the exhale and breath retention at the bottom we dissolve in the ocean of being. With retention after the exhalation you hold not only the breath, according to Iyengar, but also the soul.

He says,

“There is space between surrender and acceptance. You surrender to the lord and the lord accepts your surrender. This is retention.”

He goes on to say....... and this is my favorite line in the book:

“If evolution or spreading ones wings is preparation for yoga, then involution or a folding of ones wings is where yoga actually occurs.”

He insists on the three steps along the yogic path:

1. Stopping self-destructive habits through asana and awareness.

2. Use of our will to favor the struggle.

3. Invoke divine aid in an act of surrender and humility.

If this seems too esoteric, Iyengar describes the physical alignment that permits these states of awareness without any other effort.

Align the brain stem, the location of asmita, beneath the hypothalamus, (the neurological nexus of the body) Patanjali referred to the hypothalamus as the seat of the moon.

This alignment corresponds to the navel, which is the seat of the sun.

When the two act as a spindle to hold the 4 quadrants of the brain steady and free union or hatha yoga occurs.

7 Inner States of Transformation:

1. The observation of emerging thoughts

2. The ability to nip them in the bud

3. The calm tranquil state that occurs from restraint of the thoughts

4. One pointed concentration on the object of choice

5. The cultivated and refined consciousness that results from the combo of the restraint and power

6. Fissured consciousness

7. Divine consciousness where the practitioner is alone with everything.

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