In the past couple of months, I’ve been reading a book about a woman’s journey through her life with yoga. She talks about the reality of it all from the beginner’s perspective of self-doubt, and the almost humorous shortcomings endured in the first few yoga classes. We all go through it: the awkwardness of obviously not knowing what you’re doing, the sweat quite literally dripping down onto your mat or onto the bamboo floors in front of you while you struggle to keep your arms and legs in knots as you sit back into Eagle Pose. We’ve been there. And to read a whole novel about someone else’s experiences in instances such as those gives me a comfortable feeling of connection, and admittedly a little bit of motivation as well.
But in her book, there is a chapter where she gets into the spiritual linguistics of yoga. She was talking about something I had never heard about, but was very intrigued by – yamas. Yamas are the commandments of yoga, and after researching I found it’s specific to Raja Yoga (which I could elaborate more on at a different time if desired). However, if you’re from any sort of Christian-based background like myself, yamas are essentially the Ten Commandments, only with a few of the fruits of the spirit thrown into the mix, like love, compassion, patience, etc. From my understanding, one is to gain control over themselves through obeying these commandments. Even deeper than just obeying these yamas, one’s intentions must be genuine and clear, only obeying and practicing for the purpose of goodness instead of faking your way through it to receive the end goal, that being the innermost sheath: bliss.
The writer touched on these sheaths within the next few pages of the novel. These “sheaths”, thought of as an onions layers or a lampshade, are called koshas- the layers we all have from the outermost sheath to the innermost self. I took a picture of the page to remind myself of this, and also made note of it. It’s too easy to get caught up in always seeing the journey of my practice as a whole, all the while trying to encourage myself to continue on in a pose that I always fall out of, or trying to find time in my schedule to go to a class, or whatever it may be for you. But there’s something about the idea that there are layers to go through or to conquer before reaching sheer bliss is substantially less daunting.
As a small overview, there are said to be five koshas, or five layers of each of us. There is the outermost layer, the Annamaya or the “food sheath”. There’s the second layer, the Pranamaya, focusing on breath and how it enters and leaves the body. The Manomaya, “mind sheath”, the Vijnanamaya “intellect” or “knowledge sheath”, and finally the innermost layer, the Anandamaya, the ever-longed for “bliss sheath”; that being what we are all trying to achieve.
Selflessly living within the boundaries of the yamas or whatever your spiritual devotion guidelines are, and working your way through your koshas is a great and wonderful journey. It’s a journey of finding yourself, finding the flow of your own personal practice. Maybe in the center of yourself, inside your bliss sheath, isn’t even your true self, and your “truest” desires, as it seems to clearly read. Maybe on the inside of you is the spiritual awakening you’ve been waiting on. It could be the weight lifted off of your chest, and it could be the space in your spine you’ve been missing, the height of your mind. Only you and your body know what you’ve needed most, and no one can find it but you. It’s all a process, however, getting through to the innermost self, and like they say around Oklahoma, “all good things are worth waiting on”.
Several readers have asked for the name of the book. It’s “Poser: My Life in Twenty-three Yoga Poses””