In my recent studies of Ayurveda and its connection with my beloved yoga practice, I have recently learned of a concept familiar to us all which spreads across all ideas relative to yoga and connects each one like a network of like-minded best friends: The thought of the day is digestion. Wait, you mean like eating food and feeling your stomach rumble? Well, yes and no. Digestion of physical food is one layer that is relevant in a huge way to yoga, as our physical body depends on it for energy and in return we can practice asana and carry on with daily life. However, my discovery is that there are so many more levels and senses of the word that relate to our every day lives, not just the physical process of creating energy from food. Learning to initiate the process cognitively is something that can be obtained and even focused on during asana, as we open each chakra and allow for balance in the functions of the body and mind. Knowing your dosha type, or body mind constitution, is critical in being able to balance energy in the body. There are many sources for body type tests online, however it is recommended to consult a true guide in Ayurvedic studies to determine the constitutional makeup of each person. This is a good start – http://lifespa.com/body-type-quiz/.
So, this digestion we’re talking about: It happens with food, with thought, with emotion, and spirituality. It happens every time we collect an impression from any of the senses, from any event in our lives and from each and every breath we take. I was not surprised to find that the ancient yogis had a word to describe this concept. The word is agni, which means force of growth and balance. Learning to use this to our advantage is key to becoming our full Selves, as we are able to process each and every moment, breath and happening in our lives to the fullest with the most basic and simple knowledge and reach our full potentiality.
There are seven agnis or inner fires of digestion. They can be connected with the layers of the body according to yogic philosophy. These layers are known as koshas, or energetic sheaths (think of them as layers of the body, organized from outer to inner, as in from your outer skin and organs to the mind and consciousness, all the way into your spirit or soul and pure existence). Each layer has its own energy and governs a particular part of our being. Brief descriptions of each are below:
1. The Annamaya kosha or physical body, which is balanced through asana or the physical yoga postures that we are all familiar with. By aligning the joints, muscles and bones and ridding our vessels of unnecessary and harmful toxins, we optimize function among the matter that is our body. The systems contained within are perfected and we create an environment that resonates with the deeper layers of Self and with the entirety of the Universe. This is the digestion and inner fire that can be noticed on a daily basis with ease, as it deals with our consumption of food for energy and sustenance.
2. The Pranamaya kosha or breath layer, which is balanced through the controlled inhalation and exhalation of air (containing energy known as Prana or life force, the element that separates inanimate objects from living, breathing beings). This connection of mind and body to the world is the strongest of all of the koshas, as it is the energy producing factor in our life. The Pranamaya kosha involves itself in converting air, food and thought into energy, vigor and mental power via the respiratory and digestive systems in the body. Prana acts as a catalyst and fuel for these reactions. By learning to balance the breath and send energy to each and every part of the body, the necessary fuel is provided to the digestive fire throughout that sustains life. Vata types find difficulty in balancing this layer due to their volatile nature, whereas kapha types tend to have respiratory complaints such as asthma which can be more difficult.
3. The Manomaya kosha or outer Mind layer, which digests sensory experiences received by our five senses. This layer is balanced by controlling our reality and keeping imagination and perception in check with the physical world around us. By processing actions relative to thoughts in a positive, progressive manner, the mind can be connected the mind to the body to produce livelihood and growth, as well as become aware of the power of discernment and spiritual Self. When out of balance, one is consumed by the physical world and objects of pleasure and pain seem to dictate well being and decide fate rather than consciousness and divine will. Vata types find difficulty in separating from the sensory experiences obtained through this layer in order to be focused on Self improvement
4. The Vijnanamaya kosha or intellectual mind layer, which is responsible for discrimination and comparison. This layer is balanced by our moral decision making of things right and wrong, good and bad, based on the basic belief system of the individual. Decisions and choices become easier and more beneficial to the one with clear disposition. Balance is found in retention, self discipline and understanding of the Self through digesting thoughts and actions collectively. Sometimes digesting thoughts (or the lack of the ability to do so) can lead to imbalance especially in pitta types due to their perfectionist nature. Vata types also may struggle here when imbalanced due to lack of focus.
5. The Anandamaya kosha or layer of bliss, which is the layer responsible for digestion of love and devotion. Often viewed as desire and pleasurable experience, this layer is balanced when infatuation and worldly pleasure are transformed into divinity through openness and understanding of universal love. In order to completely experience this bliss one must remain centered, grounded and aligned in all of the concentric layers that surround it. Beyond the dosha typical behaviors, most people must overcome physical imbalances and mental blockages to fully know the energy contained in this layer.
6. Samadhi of the Mind or Spiritual Awareness is the digestion responsible for balancing layer of Self, the individual human being at its highest form of potential, unlimited possibility and pure and present nature. The complete “I” of here and now with no limits. Also known as the layer of Self awareness. This balance is obtained with much Self-study and intellectual understanding, beyond that of moral discrimination. Contentment is reached as the individual can detach from worldly pleasures and be submersed in the creative power within themselves.
7. Brahman is the layer of pure consciousness and being in connection of the Universe. It is the ultimate bond of humanness with the divine being or creator of all things living. Understanding of this concept is prevalent only after obtaining knowledge of Self awareness and realizing the connection of one’s physical body to the mind, consciousness and existence. Once reached, the knowledge that each individual is part of a connected inter web of consciousness becomes real and life and death are ultimately connected. The thoughts that contain worldly desires, fears, uncertainties and discrepancies are digested as simple impressions of the divine will and can be effectively processed by the soul.
By learning the balancing factors for each of the layers of the entire existence of our bodies, we can learn to ultimately digest each and every experience to reach our entire potential, consistent with the dharma or purpose that we were born to fulfill. Asana practice is the first step as we destroy toxins and prepare the physical body to support the mind. Pranayama and breath control comes next in conjunction with the physical movements to clear the chakras and nadis, or energy pathways of blockages and use that energy to create space for growth. Balanced with a proper diet in accordance with our Ayurvedic profiles, we can then begin to create a regimen of healthy and promotional habits that bring our bodies and minds into balance on a consistent basis. It is then that we unlock the doors to our full potential and eventually spiritual development is available. Through meditation and Self study, we become aware of our purest form of being and magnetism that creates the energy within us. Once the spiritual energy is tapped into and released, our pure creative power is initiated and dreams and desires from the deepest of our inner beings can, and will, exist in our reality.