A Slice of Five

Yoga is a mystical path grounded in the realization that there’s no difference between one being and another. And yet we often fall into the habit of characterizing ourselves based on an affiliation with our practice of choice. For instance, those of us with an analytic, intellectual bent might be attracted to a meditative practice like Vipassana, which observes the mind and emotions, or Jñana Yoga, the yoga of discrimination. If we are physically oriented, perhaps Hatha Yoga appeals to us; if we’re interested in energy, maybe Kundalini or Mantra Yoga is our yoga of choice.
While each school of thought comes packaged with its own vibe, within all forms of yoga there are myriad ways to approach freedom—from the physical to the mental to the metaphysical. Yoga, after all, is meant to pierce through the veils of identification to access the experience of consciousness itself. From that perspective, it hardly matters which practice you subscribe to.
Yoga philosophy tells us that there are five layers to our self, called koshas.

  • Annamaya Kosha: Body
  • Pranamaya Kosha: Energy
  • Manomaya Kosha: Mind and Emotions
  • Vijñanamaya Kosha: Knowing
  • Anandamaya Kosha: Being
Here’s where it gets hard. The job of the practitioner is to both follow his inclination and explore his resistance. The hardcore athlete might gravitate towards Vinyasa Yoga but needs to also investigate how energy moves through stillness. The student who’s magnetized to the mind and emotions would do well to shuttle some of that attention to the physical body. This does not mean that we cannot choose the practice we are attracted to, but it's important to investigate the full spectrum of consciousness, as it exists in the practice and within the practitioner.
The first step is to recognize your inclination (and be aware that inclinations change based on circumstances). Most of us tend to practice by focusing on one of the first three koshas, and our work is to find balance between them. (The remaining two—Vijñanamaya and Anandamaya—are different; they exert influence rather than being directly accessed through practice.) The second step is to identify your resistance. On one level, this is easy. We all know what we don’t like. But keep in mind, some resistance is hidden and requires more digging.
Once you've identified your resistance, you know where you need to go. If you need to shift into the energy body, focus on a part of your body and slowly expand the energetic sensation to the whole. Here the breath is very useful. Exhalation coupled with focused observation of gives a palpable sense of stillness in contrast to which the energy can be felt clearly. Inhalation increases the expression of this life force.
If you need to bring attention to the mental and emotional movements, ask yourself how you feel. When emotions and thoughts arise, watch them without identification, judgment or categorization. Many people believe emotions and thoughts have no place in yoga. But they are a part of the flow of nature, so you don’t need to repress them. The work is merely not to identify with them.
Striking a balance between the first three koshas (body, energy, mind) requires the fourth kosha, intuition. The self-regulating inner healer, Vijñanamaya Kosha finds balance through discernment. The work here is to simply trust it. We often have trouble knowing if an impulse comes from intuition or the mind. Rule of thumb: If it’s love, it’s intuition. Even if we have trouble accessing it directly, intuition awakens on its own when we focus on our energy body. Because energy cannot be destroyed and yet manifests temporarily in movements and forms, it has the unique distinction of having a foot in both temporal and timeless dimensions.
The fifth layer of the self is something we blessedly don’t have to seek. It simply is. We get glimpses of it in moments of awe. For instance, when we are overwhelmed by the vast stillness and endless space of a starry sky. With regular inquiry, being is revealed as the bedrock of our consciousness.
When we realize that any type of engaged practice, whether it be yoga or Kung Fu, has the potential to access all of the koshas, the difference between them becomes inconsequential. In the same way traditional medicines aim to correct our imbalances (cool those of us who run hot; hydrate those who tend to be dry), meditative practice aims toward integration of all of the layers of the self. The result is the complete expression of the embodied life and a fascinating yoga practice.

What's Going On

Ongoing: Sutra Satsang
Los Angeles, California

The last Thursday of every month, a group of truth-seekers meets in various living rooms to philosophize. I co-moderate with my colleague Malachi Melville. Hijinks ensue. The only requirement is a copy of the Sutras and maybe a Nicholas Sparks novel. If interested in coming along, send me an email to pcabanis@gmail.com.

April 2012: Brazil Retreat
Arraial d'Ajuda

You know how sometimes you reach the end of a week and think, "Wow, where did that week go?" That's sort of what happened with June...and July. So rather than scramble to get to Brazil this year, I thought it better to switch it to the first week in April 2012. Stay tuned for details.  

If you're in a hurry,
take a detour.

--Chinese proverb

                  Candorville by Darrin Bell

Class schedule

Whether you live on the east side or hang by the ocean, I've got a class for you. Check out my schedule.

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