Yoga Journaling and the Koshas
I wanted to share a journaling practice with you. It is a great practice to do daily and one I have incorporated into my own life for a few years now. Originally when journaling I was writing freestyle…which I still do. This freestyle was inspired by reading Julie Camerons book ‘The Artists Way” and doing her ‘morning pages’. A few years ago I wanted to dive deeper into the philosophy of yoga and also to find some structure to help put those morning pages into a context which was practical and could offer more insight.
a little yoga history and philosophy
Yoga in the western world talks a lot about asana practice & rarely do we talk about some of the other aspects at the root of this ancient system of knowledge. The physical asana we do today is still relatively new, however, any yoga practitioner who has been doing a physical practice for a while knows there is something deeper taking root. So how do we use a journaling practice as a way to gain deeper insight into our lives and patterns, after all yogas ultimate aim has always been about Self Transformation and Liberation. These can seem like huge concepts and undertakings but we can find our way through with self study.
In yoga this deeper insight is called Svaydhaya; svadyhaya is one of the niyamas (observances) spoken about by Patanjali and is the 4th observance within the second limb of *Patanjali’s eight fold path.
- Svaydhaya means to study the great scriptures of the past; namely the Vedic texts which came into existence around 1700- 500BC and were born from the great sages and seer poets of the Indus Valley and Saraswati regions of India (2500 – 1500 BCE) .
- Svaydhaya is also about self study and self enquiry. It is asking us to take a much deeper look at ourselves so that we may begin to peel some of the layers back and reveal our deeper truth; gaining insight and finding our place within this world can offer us a path to joy, happiness and freedom; which has always been our birth right.
There is an old buddhist saying;
“Consciousness sleeps in minerals, dreams in plants, begins to stir in animals, & has the potential to be fully awakened in humanity.”
The Five Koshas
In yoga there is the idea or concept that we are made up of many different layers of being; these are called sheaths or koshas. The sheaths are composed of;
- Physical body (annamaya kosha) This is your physical body and is fuelled by the energetic body. We are working with this sheath when we do physical practice
- Energetic body (pranamaya kosha) energy taken from the food we eat, the air we breath, essentially it is also how we take in the ‘energy’ from our environment and how this fuels the physical body.
- Mental body (manomaya kosha) the mind and how we mentally & emotionally respond to things and take information in via our 5 sense organs which give us the power to think and have thought eg: (mind + eyes = sight interpretation) (mind + ears = sound interpretation) (mind + tongue = taste interpretation) (mind + nose = smell interpretation) (mind + skin = touch interpretation) As humans we have the following ability as quoted here by Mark Stephens;
“We are endowed with the ability to differentiate, it is this distinction such as “I” and “mine” from which it creates freedom or bondage.”
- Wisdom body (vijnanmaya kosha) this is the body of discernment and offers us the chance to reflect and is associated with how we perceive our environment via the mental body. For example I take in an object with sight (mind + eyes = sight interpretation) and make a judgement of that object – however my judgement is just that … a judgement based upon my past/present ideas of what that object means to me; It is not the reality or truth of that object, it is just a perception and then a judgement. When we use the wisdom body we are using our discernment to see the object as it is … its inherent truth, this is the wisdom body at work.
- Spiritual/Bliss body (anandamaya kosha) This body is the observer that sits behind watching as these other things unfold. It is present when all the other senses have left the body in sleep. When we tune into this body we find ourselves in a state of bliss; calm and peacefulness, no longer disturbed by the fluctuations of the other sheaths.
The Sheaths for Self Discovery & Self Mastery
When we use these concepts to journal we can gain a much deeper understanding of our patterns of behaviour which have born fruit and created good things in our lives but also those which have also caused our own suffering and the suffering of those around us. After all these are the things we definitely want to be paying attention to! To quote John Lennon; “life is what happens when we are busy making other plans”.
So how do we begin?
We start by making an intention or a resolve; the resolve / intention is to accept this path of self study; to not shy away, condemn or judge ourselves for the things that come to light as we move along this path. We must travel this path with a compassionate heart
Self Study Guide:
- Buy a Journal – use something that you are not shy to scribble in as your thoughts make their way to paper
- Write your intention in the front of the journal to keep you motivated on your journey, resolving to commit to this path of discovering your own inner truth
- Set 15 / 20 mins time aside each day if possible but once a week to begin with is also adequate (whatever you can consistently keep to)
- Write the date and time at the top of each entry
- Write down and create the following sections: Physical Self / Energetic Self / Mental Self / Wisdom Self / Spiritual Self
- Here are some questions you could ask yourself to get started;
How do I physically feel?
How was my practice?
What areas out of the above played a role in how I feel my practice went today?
How are my energy levels?
What foods/drinks have I had?
what people have I been around? Have there been any situations where I feel my energy has increased or been depleted?
How is my breathing? Does it feel stilted or stuck or free and flowing? Where is it stuck in my body?
How do I feel emotionally? Am I feeling good, moody, tearful, joyous –
Has there been any situations where I have judged myself today? my physical body, my mind stuff, my energy? Was that judgement ‘true’ or was it just a perception based upon past/present experience?
7. Once you have gleaned a good understanding of the first three sheaths – start to reframe using your wisdom body – be honest but not judgemental or self critical. Approach yourself with a compassionate heart; how you would someone you love deeply.
Here is an example:
I always talk too much and give too much away = mind stuff: I am an awful person, that’s why I can’t keep friends etc etc = depleted energy and self judgement, emotional instability, fear
I feel I am talking a lot at the moment because I have some things on my mind.
List the things on your mind:
I acknowledge that what is on my mind is of value and holds a deeper insight for me to uncover and understand.
I am worthy of being heard, my feelings are valid and I will make a conscious effort to talk about these with someone whom I can trust.
8 . Now take 10/20 mins of time to look at the things you would like to work on. Close your eyes and imagine your spiritual body coming through …. Ask your spiritual self to give you deeper insight and to show you how to move forward from a place of love and compassion. Allow this sense of love and compassion to course its way through your body and mind, filtering out judgements and tensions so that you are left with a sense of peace, calm and equanimity.
9. Once you have come out of this meditation; write down ‘freestyle’ what you have gleaned from your experience. Noting any sensations and feelings you have received / been gifted. Highlight these and regularly look over them.
Recognise that you hold the key to your freedom and Self understanding. A short mediation practice will be coming your way next week to help you take this further.
If you enjoyed this post please share with someone who you think might enjoy it too. xx
Much love and I hope this has been helpful. Keep your hearts lifted and your spirits high 🙂
You can download a copy of Swami Vivekananda commentary on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali here