Tag Archives: manomaya

Āsana reaches all parts of our being

Field trip to the Museum, watercolor, Amanda Green http://www.amandagreenfineart.com/

Definitions of āsana, Part 4: Sārva Aṅga Sādhana: Āsana is an all parts practice

If you’ve been practicing yoga for a while, you may find it difficult to describe to your non-yoga going friends what it’s doing for you. They can see that you get a lot out of it but can’t wrap their mind around how, exactly, ‘stretching’ can help you feel more peace around a difficult situation. Or how yoga can help can help you to heal – not just physically but emotionally, too.  I’ve been in the yoga-game for over a decade and I talk about yoga for a living, but even so, it’s a great challenge to describe why and how yoga works to someone who hasn’t experienced it. I was at a party a few weeks ago and this very thing came up.  A casual friend approached me about his injured back. He wants to feel better, and is curious about what I do, but is a great skeptic when it comes to yoga. I asked some questions and described a little of what I’m writing about here, but when it came down to it, he just doesn’t see the back injury as having anything to do with the stress at work and the chronic movement patterns that strain this area. He isn’t yet at a place where he can see all these parts of his life experience as interrelated. That’s okay. Seed is planted. He’ll know I’m right, eventually. 😉

This definition of āsana is known as sārva aṅga sādhana, literally meaning “all parts practice.” To me, this definition is a way of beginning to understand why yoga can help with so many aspects of our lives. When we practice yoga postures, we call on every part of our system to get involved. You might be wondering, what are all these parts we’re talking about? Yoga has a model to help us reflect on this very question.

The pañca maya model comes from the ancient Vedic text, the Taittirīya Upaniṣad, and describes our human system as having five (pañca) interconnected and interdependent veils or layers (maya):

5 Interconnected facets of our human system * Pañca Maya

Body * Annamaya

Breath and Prāṇa * Prāṇamaya

Mind * Manomaya

Behavior and Personality * Vijñānamaya

Emotions * Ānandamaya

Āsana invites each aspect of our being to the practice. When we are present in this way and all parts of us are activeley involved, then āsana has the potential to facilitate deep change in our lives. We breathe consciously and with technique [expanding the chest with inhales, drawing the abdomen toward spine with exhales]. The dynamic movements into and out of postures coordinate with the length of the breath. All of this requires a lot of attention and presence. Activity that requires attention and presence also reveals aspects of our personality.  Some days, āsana might be a welcome practice, other days, not so much. Why? We have different moods and modes. Āsana lets us become aware of and work with these moods and modes. Linked to all of this is an emotional experience. There’s a feeling that comes with everything we do. Āsana is much more than stretching. It involves all parts of our being. If we stick with it, we can be present to what it is to be a person. Difficulties can begin to digest, old patterns begin to change, and we awaken to something within us that is steady and light.

Even with a beautiful description of this multi-dimensional system and how yoga works on all these levels, our attempts to explaining to our curious friend will fall short.  Yoga is experiential. It’s something that you do and that does something to you.  It’s something your friend will feel when they are in your presence, even if they can’t put words to how and why it works.

It’s hard to be happy when we’re worn out

tree rings

The other day, Hazel came back from a weekend at girlscout camp. The camp was wonderfully exhausting. She loves her troop and all the adventures that go with hundreds of girls and cabins and camp activities, though three days of it left her introverted soul worn out and in need of a recharge. She came home still buzzing with excitement but within an hour, the exhaustion overcame her. She retreated to her room, flopped on her bed, and stayed there, sad and crying for a long time.

After a while she came and found me.  We talked about feeling sad and not knowing why. She wondered if this big mood swing was normal or if something was wrong with her. I assured her that for a lot of us, being physically tired goes along with feeling sad or having negative thoughts. We talked about puberty, too. Her body is in the midst of a big change and these changes aren’t just happening in the body…they happen in the mind and the emotional parts of us, too. Even though the sadness can overtake her, it isn’t forever.  When I asked her if it was there during the weekend, she said it wasn’t. That morning, she was happy to be with her friends and was looking forward to coming home from camp. What a big change a few hours can make.

Yoga’s pañca maya model* has helped to make the relationship between body, breath, mind, personality and emotions more clear to me. It speaks to the interconnectedness of all aspects of our being. Any shift, for better or worse, at any of these levels, sends a ripple of an effect through all of the layers. For worse—a tired, sore, worn out body may leave us sad, crying and catastrophizing. For better – we’re rested, well fed, and with time to recharge, then our thoughts are positive and we have feelings of peace. Yoga Sūtra III.9** says, there are patterns of distraction, OR patterns of attention playing out in our system at any given time. When patterns of attention predominate, this extends to the whole system. This is nirodha pariṇāma. In other words, when we make efforts to find or maintain balance and be attentive at any level of our system, this extends to our whole system. Attention and balance in our mind, goes along with ease in our body, long and smooth breathing, and peace in our personality and emotions.

These teachings have helped me to better understand the relationship between these different aspects of my being. I’m grateful for yoga, and my teachers who have helped it to come alive for me. And I’m so grateful that I get to be Hazel’s mama. It’s very possible that Hazel has more emotional intelligence at twelve than I have at thirty-nine. She can watch and identify when she feels sad. She can tell what happens when she feels this way. She asks for help to understand it and to normalize it and is learning to see the connectedness of it all along the way. She is one of my teachers, too.

 

*The pañca maya model describes 5 layers or ‘veils’: annamaya (body), prāṇamaya (breath or prāṇa), manomaya (mind, intellect), vijñānamaya (personality), and ānandamaya (emotions or bliss)

**Yoga Sūtra III.9 vyutthānanirodhasaṁskāroḥ abhibhavaprādurbhāvau nirodhakṣaṇacittānvayo nirodhapariṇāmaḥ

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Interested in learning more about the deeper teachings of yoga and applying them in your life?  Join me in Ojai, CA this August for a 5-day retreat!  http://handson-retreats.com It’s going to be great.