Yoga Nidra Through the Koshas
One of the primary causes of suffering in humans is the feeling or belief of a separate self, individual from other humans, animals and nature. This kind of self-separateness can make our experiences feel big, unmanageable or overwhelming. Inviting reminders of connection and unity can help relieve these unnecessary sufferings and better connect us to our true selves.
Yoga is union, integration or the absence of conflict. Practices like yoga nidra (yogic sleep) can help us remember our union throughout the constant flux of remembering and forgetting who we really are.
Another way to think of this connection and separation is to imagine each of us as a wave on the ocean. From our wave crest’s perspective, the world seems unique, and other waves seem separate. As we ride the wave of this lifetime, we may form strong opinions and preferences based on our experience as that crest. Through the practices of yoga, we are able to look down and see that we are actually part of the ocean, and fully dependent on the ocean for our existence.
When we realize that we are the ocean, and so are all the other wave crests, we are able to feel more connected, unified and integrated, and able to feel compassion for all other living things because we are part of the same whole.
Through the process of yoga nidra, we have the ability to travel through the five koshas, or sheaths, that we occupy as humans. We occupy all five at the same time and can become aware of the other layers, but do not ever fully move through one or finish a layer; we are in all of the sheaths at the same time. It is through these layers that we recognize the waves and the ocean.
Anamaya Kosha (physical/food body): This layer consists of our literal physical human body, including our five senses and awareness of the five elements. This layer demands a lot of attention and is where many of us spend most of our time until the other layers become loud enough that we need to pay attention to them, too.
Pranamaya Kosha (subtle body/breath): This layer is the life force for the body and mind, the thing that animates the anamaya kosha. Attention on this layer can change the experience in both body and mind.
Manomaya Kosha (emotional/mental body): Even subtler than the pranamaya kosha, this layer is where we are able to sense our own and others’ emotions and vibrations. This layer can be replenished and nourished by states of deep sleep and yoga nidra.
Vijnanamaya Kosha (psychic/wisdom body): This is where the ego and sense of self live, along with the discrimination of right and wrong perception and decision-making.
Anandamaya Kosha (bliss body): Bringing awareness into this very subtle layer is where yoga nidra can help reconnect us to ourselves. This space is a feeling of unshakeable peace and equanimity, an absence of anything disruptive or disturbing, and where our perception is most pure. All of the previous koshas that make up who we define ourselves as an individual are on loan for this lifetime; they will fade and be replaced by another body, breath, mind and intellect. The anandamaya kosha is the only layer that is not on loan, the only one that travels with us from life to life, back into the ocean and up into another wave crest. This is where our spirit or soul lies.
Satyananda’s Yoga Nidra
“The waves are great, but the ocean’s where it’s at.” – Jeremy Wolf
Through the Satyananda method of yoga nidra, we are able to peel back the layers of the “temporary” koshas and reveal the connection to our true selves, to the ocean as a greater whole.
In this seated or supine practice, we start with an intention or sankalpa to set the tone for the practice. Then we move into the physical body in a rotation of consciousness that moves in order of the brain’s body mapping, allowing each part of the body to soften and surrender (anamaya kosha). Next we move to the breath awareness (pranamaya kosha), a series of opposites in sensation and emotion to integrate the hemispheres of the brain (manomaya kosha), imagery (vijnanamaya kosha), and finally into the chidakasha or mind-space to become aware of the part of us that is aware.
This practice, like any practice, can be experienced differently from person to person, but with regular practice each person has the ability to traverse through the sheaths and better understand their true nature.