Layer (not lāya) yoga

I found myself quite naturally using the model of koshas when I was talking to a friend recently, a yoga friend that is, so it wasn’t as weird as it sounds. She was expressing fear or frustration about decision-making and I was speculating that good decision-making was a matter of getting quiet enough to hear the answer, or to feel the answer, rather than ruminating or intellectualising. But of course the trick (the hard trick) is to get really quiet so you are listening to the pure innermost place, not the shouty external place. I think I was also trying to encourage her to treat herself with a bit of kindness, rather than getting impatient for not having all the answers already. I see as implicit in the kosha model the idea that we are already sufficient — once we stop getting in our own way and making things hard on ourselves, or distracting ourselves, or abusing ourselves in various ways… Look within and trust. And bingo – we arrive at anandamaya kosha (the bliss layer). Just like that 🙂

And then in class this week my teacher was talking about this stuff too. I had a horrible/confusing moment realising that I can’t figure out any more what are my own thoughts and what are his teachings. Is that good or bad? Of course I didn’t like the idea! I want my own thoughts, I don’t want to be brainwashed!! How did I suddenly become a person who talked about koshas and chakras and all that weird sh*t anyway?!?

Old habits die hard — especially if you cling on to them as hard as I do — so I consciously reverted to the pre-yoga version of myself and went back to primary sources so I could form my own thoughts. A quick dip into the Taittiriya Upanishad as the earliest source of the kosha model. Interesting — not least to reassure the skeptical part of my brain that this isn’t something my teacher just made up on a whim! 🙂

Or is it?

No, of course not, but my little researches suggested that the kosha model is actually pretty esoteric (well, duh, it’s in the vedas) and — most fascinating — it’s actually very little represented in the written yoga tradition through time until the likes of Iyengar and Sivananda took it up and taught it enthusiastically in 20th century.

This little incident made me realise how I’m walking a tightrope (of course, yoga is always a balancing act): I kind of want to be a good little yoga student who listens to her wise teacher and trusts his teachings. But I can’t easily do that. I have to test everything for myself.  I guess my way of testing is changing little by little and I’m realising that the tests need to be repeated as my understanding changes and my experiences grow. Things are never what they seem at first sight. But, even so, I think I’ll always be testing. Too much academic training probably.

Perhaps the Buddha would have understood: “Just as gold is tested by being burnt, cut and rubbed, the learned should accept my words only after examining them, not simply out of faith or other such reasons.” Buddha Shakyamuni (Śrīmahābālatantrarāja)


I’m sorry about the title where I was playing about with an oh-so-clever pun about layers and lāya… No chance of dissolution or absorption for this over-thinking little soul!


3 thoughts on “Layer (not lāya) yoga

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  1. Interesting reflection, bbc. As always! Coincidentally, I have started to explore the Taittiriya Upanishad with my Sanskrit/vedic chanting teacher. We’ve just done a tiny bit. Fascinating stuff…!!!

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