21 August 2017

koshas 2

             Panchmukhi (5 Face Headed) Ganesha, Paatachitra ( Paata Painting), Orissa. Panchmukhi Ganesha is embodiment of all potencies. These heads symbolize the five kosha in the subtile anatomy experienced: Annamaya kosha: the flesh body made of matter. Pranamaya kosha: the breath body, or energy body. Manomayakosha: the mental body Vighnnamayakosha: the body of the Upper Consciousness Anandamayakosha: the body of Cosmic Bless                                                                               
             The God Ganesha - the five heads symbolising the five koshas                                

What is the energy of the pranamaya kosha?

So, what is the pranamaya kosha, the energy-life-force sheath, if it is not just the air that we breathe, the food that we eat, the reserves of physical, mental or emotional energy that we have?  Certainly, we can have increased physical energy, like an athlete does, or increased mental energy such as someone with a very high IQ has, or increased emotional energy, which of course can be passion, love...messy emotions... whatever.

The pranamaya kosha, the life-force sheath, is quite different from all this.

And although the prana, life force, that we breathe does "feed" our physical body, and our brain, "normal" breathing is not enough to wake up the pranamaya kosha.

Spiritual energy

What is necessary is spiritual energy. Sometimes equated with emotional energy - but no, it's not that. Nor is it being a "good" person, nor someone who "says", reads, thinks, or "does" the right things. Anyone can do these, and without the force of spiritual energy, and without honesty. However, to progress spirituality, at some point it is a must to develop the faculties of being a good person, who does say and do the right things. Without these ethics, the spirit does not shine so strongly.  But by actually living these ethics, there are less emotional blockages to hinder our progress.

Spiritual energy is quite different from other energies, and, like all energy, it can be developed, it can be increased, built up. It is this energy that feeds our koshas.  And this energy all starts with prana. You can feel spiritual energy. Sometimes it just radiates our from a deeply spiritual person, however  .... these people are few and far between.

The life-force of the annamaya kosha, the physical body, the physical sheath, is an important part of building up our spiritual energy. The practices for awakening the koshas do include the physical sheath. So, one starts with this layer, the annamaya kosha. The body is physically purified by the not-so-well-known practices of yoga, and, with the purification, the prana has more room to move within the annamaya kosha. This is such an indefinable thing, but it is how it happens.

The prana builds up via purification and by doing the correct practices for increasing our prana. But, there is a mysterious force at play which does hinder both physical and life-force circulating more freely. It is like a little secret.

Emotions and the annamaya and pranamaya koshas. 

I have read about the pranamaya kosha being tied up with our emotions. This kosha is not actually about developing emotion. And I have experienced, sadly, the blame game to do with having emotions. This is not part of yoga, nor any true spiritual system, but somehow, it was sneaked it and became mainstream. Having "negative" thoughts or emotions, have been considered to be a flaw in one's being, and a clear indication that such a person is "stuck" in the lower chakras.

I challenge this most definitely. This sort of thinking is destructive, and highly manipulative. On my next post we shall look at the very important aspect of emotions and the koshas.

12 August 2017



 What is a Kosha?

A kosha is like a sheath. There are five, (meaning pancha), so they are known collectively as the pancha koshas. They are an integral part of our being. An integral part of our spiritual journey. We can relate easily to these sheaths, as being like "bodies", although, strictly speaking, they are not. 

Each kosha has the word "maya" as part of it. Maya is often translated as illusion. And, illusion can have many meanings. Sometimes it refers to spiritual knowledge which reveals illusion. 

As one journeys through the koshas, much of what we believe, falls away, as we gain more and more spiritual wisdom. But, it is worthwhile knowing that maya can and does, have several meanings.

The physical body kosha

We have a physical sheath, which is our physical body. Although it is only one of our bodies, it is the one which people generally relate to as being the sum part of us, our whole being in this existence, whereas Vedanta says that we have a fivefold existence, and that fivefold is about the pancha koshas.

The physical sheath is known as the annamaya kosha. According to Gitananda Yoga, it is comprised of cells, cells being the maya aspect in this case, which are made from food, which is the anna part. Plus, the different parts of the body feed itself. The physical body is a complex working organism made up of so many aspects which are interdependent. 

Sometimes in yoga, the annamaya kosha is translated as the food sheath, and that we must eat special food to sustain it. Which is quite logical, and correct. Many translate it as veganism, others as eating special powders for health. However, if you remember that our body is part of nature, and the best food for us is untampered food from nature, you will be feeding the annamaya kosha as it is meant to be fed.

It is quite usual for yoga practitioners to become vegetarian, it just happens. However, the best food for your annamaya kosha, will always be the natural food which suits your own body, best.
                              Image result for green food heart

 We are not just the physical body

How do we come to realise that we are not just our physical body? And not just our thoughts and desires, likes and dislikes? Having the koshas reveal themselves is one of the primary ways. And no amount of talking, reading, nor musing, will have that happen.

And when we have an awakening of the next kosha, the pranamaya kosha, we do indeed uncover the realisation that the physical body is not our only "body". We shed yet another illusion. To be honest, having the pranamaya kosha "wake up", "reveal itself", is a big happening, and it is not unusual for a lot of illusion to release, then go away, when this momentous event takes place.

The prana/life-force body

As one progresses through the spiritual realms, one's energy changes. It becomes more intense. Our body seems to rejuvenate. How does this happen? If we are practising yoga, the asanas (postures) do indeed rejuvenate our body, and the breathing (pranayama) does give us sustained energy, and increased mental faculty. And meditation reduces stress. These three aspects of yoga, together definitely alter our physical and mental energy. They also increase our spiritual energy. 

What we are after, for a pranamaya awakening, is to build up our prana, or life-force, levels. It is generally accepted that we absorb prana via the breath. Life-force is indefinable. It is the spark, or sparks, of energy, contained within every living thing, especially within the air that we breathe. Those little dots of bright light that are easy to see on a sunny day? They are prana, and if you watch, you will see that they move. Like a dance.

                          Image result for life force

Prana is not static within us. It has a role to play. On the annamaya/physical body level, it does indeed “feed” the body. The more prana that our body has, the more vital, and healthier, we are. 

When we eat food that has absorbed life-force from the earth, such as root vegetables, and when we eat food that has absorbed prana from the sun’s rays, such as vegetables and fruit, we are also “eating” life-force. When we drink clean running water, that too contains life-force.

So, on a purely practical level, we can say that the annamaya kosha and the pranamaya kosha, work in tandem. Just as without air, we die, without prana, we cannot exist on this earthly plane.

However, the pranamaya kosha is far more than all this.



5 August 2017

Yoga, Trauma, and Healing

In my previous post, I wrote about meditation generally being unsuitable for traumatised people. There was quite a reaction to this, it was shared on facebook, but on my page you can see some of the comments.

As a yoga teacher, what can you do about trauma? You don't know when someone comes to your class what their background is. Unless, of course, they let you know, and I'm quite sure that most will not let the teacher know. After all, yoga was not originally about healing, it was about the internal journey to enlightenment. And the guidelines for personal and society behaviour and attitudes to get there. But now, so many want yoga to be a panacea to cure everything.

As if!!

These days, I am quite clear about my role in any class that I take. I teach deeply spiritual yoga, and am quite uncompromising about it. 

For a 'yoga therapy' situation, these days, I do privates. 

I have 'done my time', in the past, for many years, teaching yoga 'for back backs'; natal yoga; yoga 'for stress relief''; yoga after dramatic operations; yoga 'for mental health' - and this was always done working in co-operation with the appropriate organisations.

And I have so much respect for people who have taken their yoga knowledge into 'difficult' areas, such as the new style of teaching yoga for traumatised people. I personally have not used this style, so I can't comment on it properly, just yet.

Yoga in prisons

In New Zealand, Yoga Education In Prisons Trust has done groundbreaking work, their facebook site is here. I had stopped doing community work with yoga, and so chose not to work in the prisons, as I do community work in a Maori Healing clinic Te Maurea instead. (One can only do so much!!) 

However, I do know some of the people who did donate their time, and I also know and respect the person who wrote an amazing book on how to teach yoga in prisons. After all, different situations need different methods and solutions.

                              Image result for yoga education in prisons trust

Yoga and teaching for mental health

Personally, I have 'cried me a river' over the years with the breakthroughs that came for individuals in teaching in the severe mental health domain. And I'm sure that many others have too! 

I know that yoga recommends detachment, or as we say in the Maori healing, 'being in a neutral place', with the Higher Consciousness, Heart, and also our gut feelings, being aligned. Such a tall order!! 

Yoga, I found, lead me to care even more deeply about people. Even as I write this, a tears are falling as I remember some of the people whom I taught in the mental health arena. I am so privileged to have done that sort of teaching.

It is so important as a yoga teacher to 'give back' to society. It stops us from thinking that we are so great and special. This type of thinking is one of the biggest traps in spirituality.

The Indian therapy organisation that I recommend

In the early 1970s, I was so lucky to learn Yoga for the Relief of Breathing Problems by Dr Swami Gitananda.  His style of yoga is now known as Gitananda Yoga and his successor  Dr Ananda Balayogi Bhavanani, who is is son, has carried on the work of Gitananda Yoga, and is involved with much Yoga and research, particularly in the medical field, and as a therapeutic mode. 

In fact, Ananda Ashram, where he lives, teaches a Yoga Chikitsa  (yoga therapy) course. I can honestly say that what I learnt from Swami Gitananda, has stayed with me since I first learnt it. And this is the organisation that I personally vouch for.

                                 Image result for swami gitananda quotes       

                                     Image result for dr ananda bhavanani
                                            Dr Ananda

Hints for teaching for relief of trauma
So, what are some easy suggestions for dealing with trauma in a yoga student?

Encourage them first and foremost to get some form of therapy such as counselling. In New Zealand, we are lucky that many can get this free. Unless trained in counselling, a yoga teacher is not a counsellor!!!! I am appalled at the number of teachers who 'treat' people with yoga, rather than saying that they will teach yoga.. but...that the client must go elsewhere for some form of therapy, as well.

Eyes open as much as possible in a class!! A person can even do body awareness and listening to outside sounds, with the eyes open. 

Body awareness, being aware of the sensations of the body, helps a person reconnect to the body. In trauma, there is often disassociation between head and body, between heart and body, between heart and heart, between gut and head. This reconnection is an important part of any healing. With trauma, a person's body can be quite numb. 

As can emotions which generally have accompanying physical sensations. It is quite difficult to reconnect with these physical manifestations of emotions, but learning, bit by bit, about how one's own body feels, is an important aspect in yoga for those who have had trauma.

Listening to outside sounds builds up the nervous system. Trauma can frazzle our nervous systems, from being on hyper-alert due to trauma. Building up the nervous system by listening to outside sounds (as opposed to the sounds in our head, chitter chatter), makes a person less jumpy and less irritable.

Ask people to do the poses. Get out of the telling people what to do, habit. It will help the teacher's own ego stay in a good place, and is less threatening to the client.

Do the poses alongside your clients. Never in front of them. A friend says to all be in a circle, practising together. I like this.

Focus on one's body rather than do the yoga-moving-with-the-breath thing.

No matter what the mental and/or emotional state of your client, treat them with respect! This is so important. Treat them as though they are perfectly fine. Because, with some of the trauma that some people have lived through, they are bloody legends for just being the way that they are.

                         Image result for mental health quotes

Don't go holding poses if it causes panic. Panic can manifest has being distressed, overheating... a myriad of ways.

Breathing practices

Pranayama can be a tricky area. I found, personally (meaning me) that no pranayama in the world helped me in my darkest days. But that's just me. Sometimes the dark energy engulfs a person and we each need to find out what serves us best. For me, it has been the Maori healing, another modality from the mists of time. 

Personally I have seen bhastrika being just too much for the odd person who only has 1st world problems, so imagine how it is for someone dealing with trauma! 

I would focus on just doing poses first, then focus on the body in the movements, then at the appropriate time, if ever it happens that way, add the breath. 

Pranayama and trauma is almost a book in itself. I would rely on cat poses as the pranayama first (thank you, Dr Swami Gitananda)

Learn to watch people. Not for the criticism aspect, but just by watching you will see problems, and you will see people progressing, just by the way they walk, what they wear, their smiles.

Believe in the impossible

I recall a former ballet dancer, some years ago, who came to a yoga class each week. Everyone in that class was heavily sedated, and was in the mental health system. 

This lady could not do anything and didn't want to (which I was okay with). She appeared to be 'numb.' Eventually she started to smile at me. 

One day she forgot to bring her medications and somehow between us both, she managed to stay calm whilst I took the class. 

I didn't see her again for a few months. Then she turned up one day to say hello. She had a new hairdo, some make-up, was dressed nicely and was glowing. She was not the same lady who had been in that class, she had changed. 

It was worth doing that very difficult class each week, just for seeing this lovely lady progress, even if she had just sat there, and at times walked around.

Let your own heart flow. The radiations from our heart affect others, so positively. I can assure you that just writing this post, my heart feels so full!!

                             Image result for miracles quotes