I’ve been thinking about the layers that we put over ourselves, the boxes we sit in and the roles that we play. How much of the way you describe yourself is really you?
I’ll never forget my first day on my Yoga Foundation course. It was the first time I’d dived deeper into yoga than going to a gym for a class. The teacher paired us up and the person opposite would ask, “Who are you?” And you’d give an answer, perhaps starting with your name. And there response would have to be, “But who are you?” So you’d try to answer again and again the reply would be, “but who are YOU?” It was frustrating! In some ways it was almost embarrassing. But over 10 years later it still resonates.
I still ask myself that question. It’s interesting when you think of the ways that you define yourself. When you’re going into business, so often you have to think of how you’re presented or described. The more I ask – and answer – the question, the more those definitions are just not satisfactory.
Am I a daughter, a sister, an aunt? A friend, a colleague? Or are these actually what I am to other people?
Am I a homeowner, a customer, a client, a fan? Or are these actually my worth to a capitalist economy?
Am I a woman? White? Cisgender? British? English? European? Or are these actually demographics, boxes to put me in to easily categorise me?
Am I a yoga teacher? A reflexologist? A happiness nerd (as I declare on my business bios). These are at least labels that I feel I’ve chosen. They aren’t arbitrary classifications that are a fluke of my being. Are labels better when they are self-defined?
Allow me to introduce to you the Koshas.
The koshas are a concept within yogic and vedantic philosophy. They describe five layers that we all have concealing our true selves. Like opening a matryoshka doll, each layer (or sheath) encases the real, solid doll in the centre. To get to that true essence of ourselves we have to peel back these layers, a bit like an onion. And yes, like an onion that can unnerve us a little and bring tears to the eyes!
Let’s start with the outermost layer, Annamaya Kosha. Maya translates as ‘illusion’ in Sanskrit and each of the koshas refer to a part of ourselves which is illusatory. It’s not a real thing, or it certainly isn’t our real self.
Anna is usually translated as ‘food’ but in this case it refers to the body. How much do you define yourself by your body? It’s size, it’s colours, it’s ailments, it’s abilities? So much of the way we define ourselves is based around our body. The way it looks, the way it feels, even the way it smells. But you are not your body. It’s a difficult thing to get your head around when it’s so embedded in our society but you’re not! Your body is just a flesh and bone car that you drive about in.
Think about how much time and money you spend looking after your car or your house? And yet we neglect this thing that makes us solid. That transports us around, that allows us to be expressive, that gives us so much pleasure. That shift in mindset has helped me take care of my body. I love and appreciate the pleasure that it helps me access. I enjoyed my indulgent Christmas! At the dawn of the new year, I gave my body a hug, thanked it for giving me the joy of the decadence and promised that I would nurture and take care of it again.
When you stop synonymising your “body” with your “self” you can be clearer about what your body needs and what your mind wants (more about the illusion of the mind in a future blog!). You can rationalise and reason with any aches and pains much easier when you stop being defined by them. I find it so interesting the way that people identify themselves by their medical ailments. Are you a diabetic, an asthmatic? Or is that actually your body?
We generally treat our friends with far more kindness and compassion than ourselves. We see that in the relationship we have with our body as well. If you can separate yourself a little from your body, can you learn to be better friends with it? Can you give it what it needs rather than being selfish? Does it help you to nurture and take responsibility of your body?
And this doesn’t mean that you lose any ownership of your body. Absolutely no-one else has any right to access your body. This is about you feeling much more in control of that body. (we also tend to think we can control external things better than our internal impulses). When you’re in better control, it’s easier to make rational, sensible choices. Back to the idea of it being the flesh and bone car that you drive around in; you still drive the car. You decide where it’s going. You put the fuel in and you keep it maintained. And it return it (hopefully) doesn’t break down too often!
Sit with the idea for a while, the idea that you are not your body. Meditate on it. See how it makes you feel. Give yourself a hug. And ask yourself again; who are you?