I’ve been digging around and working on my own interpretation of the Vedantic concept of the koshas. To read part one (which is probably a good place to start) please click here!
Moving deeper into the koshas, beyond the body is Pranamaya kosha. I’m guessing like most people you’ve heard the word prana before. Often interpreted as ‘energy’ or ‘life force’, prana travels throughout our energetic body via nadis. Nadis are an intricate network of approximately 72,000 channels. There are three primary nadis. Sushuma runs up the spine, and Ida and Pingala criss-cross each other through the centre line.
This is where the concept of chakras comes from. Chakras are any point where two nadis intercept – if there are 72,000 nadis imagine how many chakras there are! The commonly know chakras that you see so many people talk about describe the seven points where sushuma, ida and pingala cross over.
Our pranamaya kosha is rather like our circulatory or nervous systems. And the nadis are like our arteries, veins and neural pathways. Think of them like hosepipes. When they are nice and straight, the water can flow freely. But when there is a kink or compression in the hose, the water can’t get through so easily. The same is true of our nadis. An imbalance in our pranamaya kosha restricts our energy flow or concentrates it in a particular area.
In fact some people believe that prana (or in other cultures xi, mana or anima) could be an early identification of our nervous system. Prana is energy. Our nervous system is also energetic, working by electrical stimulation along our neurons. In terms of the koshas, we see that pranamaya sits between annamaya (the body) and manomaya (the mind); it is the nervous system that transmits the messages from our body to our mind and vice versa.
I said in my first blog about the koshas that they are not actually us. Yup, you are not your energy! How does that work? In his brilliant book Solve For Happy, Mo Gawdat suggests that we use the ‘perception and permanence’ test to see if things are real or an illusion. The perception test echoes the concepts of the seer and seen within yoga philosophy. Can you perceive something? If so, it’s not you. Can see your body? Then it’s not you. Can observe your energy? Then it’s not you.
Gawdat also says that if anything is not permanent , it is also an illusion. Energy is neither permanent nor consistent. It moves and shifts. It can grow and shrink. It can transfer from one person to another. Some people have a contagious energy. Others can drain energy from anyone and anything around them. Indeed one literal translation of prana I’ve seen is ‘moving always’.
Prana fails both the perception and the permanence tests. When I say that prana is an “illusion” I don’t mean it doesn’t exist, just that it exists outside of us. Pranayama (not to be confused with pranamaya kosha!) is the fourth of the eight limbs of yoga. Coming between asana (posture practice) and the limbs that focus more internally towards a meditative state, it is again the link between body and mind. Working with our energy is essential to our progress towards a state of yoga. It’s also essential for us when working towards a state of happiness.
If we don’t pay enough attention to our energy flow, those nadis get blocked. These can lead to emotional imbalances where energy collects in one area and drains from another. It can also cause physical aches, pains or tensions. Feeling stress accumulating in your shoulders? It’s an energy that’s causing your muscles to seize and clench. Feeling sluggish? That’s a lack of energy showing itself to you.
Of course energy does and should ebb and flow. This is where being too obsessed with your pranamaya kosha can actually lead to imbalance. Returning to my water metaphor, if a hosepipe is left for too long the water inside becomes stale. Our energy needs to move to keep fresh and, well, energising! We should not solely focus on keeping our prana perfectly still, especially if it means we neglect the other koshas.
(I created a free download where we can utilise our fluctuating energy levels and our emotional state to work out how we to feel happier. Click here to find out more!)
In yoga our predominant way of balancing our energy is through breathing practices. There is science that links our breath with our nervous systems too. Breathing is the only bodily function which can be both voluntary and involuntary. It is controlled by both the autonomic and somatic nervous systems. The means we can kind of use our breathing to access our otherwise uncontrollable autonomic nervous system. It’s like a back door hack if you like.
If we need motivating, we can deepen our inhalations which tap into our sympathetic nervous system. While this is often associated with our ‘fight / flight / freeze / fawn’ response, this can also be energising and invigorating. On the flipside, deepening or lengthening our exhalations triggers our parasympatheic nervous system. This “rest / digest” function is more soothing, calming and relaxing.
Everything I do in Yoga & Happiness is tuned into our nervous system and neural pathways. How we can utilise neuroplasticity to modify the way we move, the way we think and the way we react to life. we’re working with pranamaya kosha all the time – not in a hippy, floaty “energy” way but in a very real and down to earth way.
Pranamaya kosha expresses to me just how important the koshas are to us. Prana is what differentiates the living from the dead. That energy is what keeps our body – annamaya kosha – alive. It’s what keeps our brains – manomaya kosha – ticking over. It may not actually be us. But it is essential to us.