Understanding the connection between the chakras, koshas, yugas and what exactly ties them together has been a challenge for me. Yet, the more I read the more intrigued I become. I believe their link underlies much of the philosophical yoga world I have yet to completely understand.
Our chakras are points of energy we have running from the base of our spine to the crown of our head. It is commonly thought that there are seven main chakras:
1. Muladhara (earth element) – Located at the base of spine
2. Svadhisthana – (water element) – Located below the naval
3. Manipura – (fire element) – Located at the solar plexes
4. Anahata – (air element) – Located at the heart and lungs
5. Vishuddha – (spirit element) – Located at the base of the throat
6. Ajna – (no element) – Located at the third eye
7. Sahasrara – (no element) – Located at the top of the head
Each chakra is said to be related to one of the elements; just as each “kosha” is said to be related to these same elements. Kosha meaning sheath, refers to the layers that encircle the self or “Atman”. The five koshas are:
1. Physical (earth element) – “Annamaya kosha” – “Anna” meaning food or Sheath of Food (food feeds our physical self)
2. Energy (water element) – Pranamaya kosha – “Prana” meaning life-force that underlies our entire universe or Sheath of Energy
3. Mental (fire element) – Manamaya kosha – “Mana” meaning mind or Sheath of the Mind
4. Wisdom (air element) – Vijnanamaya kosha – “Vijana” meaning knowing or Sheath of Widsom
5. Bliss (spirit element)- Anandamaya kosha – “Ananda” meaning bliss or Sheath of Bliss/Divine Understanding
In Sanskrit, “maya” means appearance. In other words, each kosha is a representation of how light shines through to our true self which lies at the center of our being. Each under-layer is more subtle than the one that surrounds it; with the most obvious sheath taking the outside physical layer. The yoga path of self-realization continually challenges us to move inward of ourselves. To understand this, I visualize an onion with a center (representing the self) and each layer (representing the various koshas) changing the way the light shines through to the center depending on the thickness or opacity of each layer. (I read it described as a group of nesting dolls, but I liked the idea of light shining through each layer of an onion, reaching our inner self; whereas, I don’t see how light could shine through the wood of each nesting doll. That may have been too literal of an analogy on my part!)
Self-realization is the process of freeing ourselves from our judgments, opinions, fears and desires, which are derived based on how we are interrupting the koshas. Self-realization can take many forms and depending on the “Yuga” we are in we can achieve self-realization in different ways. A “Yuga” is an aeon or era. Currently we are in Kali Yuga. The Kali Yuga time period is characterized by strife, lack of communication, sickness, self-doubt, and confusion; issues that I certainly recognize in my own life and the lives of so many around me.
During savasana we attempt to look past these five koshas to find our own pure light and move towards our own self-realization. It calls each of us inward, attempting to forget about the representation (or misrepresentation) of the world around us. As we connect with the chakra energy we have created during our practice we gain focus in savasana and begin to move from the physical world to one of emotions, insight and then finally to one with a more divine connection. In yoga (meaning union) whether we realize it or not the tradition is to attempt to achieve “Union with the Divine”; possibly within our physical practice, through meditation or in our daily life.
I have incorporated a version of these ideas (albeit a more Westernized version) into my classes as I simply love this underlying premise that brings us back to the roots of yoga with each practice. My version follows:
Prior to full savasana (final resting pose), lay down and relax with your eyes closed; using both hands, fingers spread wide rest your left hand on your lower abdomen and your right hand on your upper abdomen (the little finger of your right hand can touch the thumb of your left hand). Begin to focus on your breath; the rise of your belly, the fall of your belly as the vibration of breath moves through your body. Then leaving your right hand where it is, move your left hand so it can come to rest on your chest; stopping here to notice the rise of your chest and the fall of your chest. Then leaving your left hand where it is, move your right hand so it can come to rest on your throat. Now taking both hands allow the heels of your hands to come to rest over your eyes; blocking out all light, begin to feel your body melt into your mat; your head melting, your hips, your calves and your heels. Now take both hands to your mat with palms facing up, coming into to full savasana. (I stop with each new hand position for a few breaths.)
For many of us, reaching full savasana can be a challenge. To truly let go and attempt to detach from ourselves is an abstract idea. However, I find by using my hands to signify the movement of energy from one chakra to the next, it allows me to step outside of myself. Every time I practice this I find a different result but I continue to strive to move past the koshas, searching for my true inner self in a time when many of us rarely know who we actually are.