Pranamaya Kosha: The Energy Sheath
As we experience this change of seasons here in the PNW, I am reminded of nature’s temporal, well, nature.
The heavy fog intricately sweeps through thick and windy forests. The crispness of mornings, and evenings, and the last chores to tuck in the garden. The roadways confettied with pine needles. As summer yields to fall so too am I reminded of the transition from Annamaya Kosha, the earth element, to Pranamaya Kosha, the water element. In the practice here at L2F, it is in this transition that we observe the relationship between our body and our energy.
“Yoga” : To Yolk, or Combine, Body and Mind
There is often mention of these concepts, of body and mind and/or energy, in our linguistics and conversations around yoga. To meld or blend, to align body and mind seems, generally speaking, to be somewhat of a common theme across varying practices and styles of yoga. What does that mean? To bring together body and mind? And how do we do that exactly?
One approach to exploring and harnessing the mind-body connection is a pranayama, or “controlled breathing” practice. In observing and noticing the breath, we somehow become more attuned with and observant of our experienced state:
- How fast am I breathing? What is the pace of my breath?
- Am I taking deep, full, inhales and equally large exhales?
- What does the experience of breathing feel like in my body? Where in my body can I feel the breath?
Some research perspectives explore the mind-body connection through our body’s nervous system responses to “body disciplines” – things like yoga, tai chi, and other practices that pair movement with breath:
"In conclusion, paced breathing synchronized with rhythmic muscle contraction leads to more resilient activation of the parasympathetic response than either alternating contractions or breathing alone, which may help explain the stress reducing benefits of mind–body disciplines."
Chin, Michael S., and Stefanos N. Kales. “Understanding mind–body disciplines: A pilot study of paced breathing and dynamic muscle contraction on autonomic nervous system reactivity.” Stress and Health 35.4 (2019): 542-548.
Breathing as a Self and Relationship Care Technique
Part of the “stress reducing benefits” of a dedicated breath practice for many folks is that it provides a welcome opportunity, moment, and place of pause from the sometimes turbulent energy of our surroundings. Prioritizing pranayama both on the yoga mat and in our daily ongoings of regular life, whether practiced for hours at a time or just the simple act of taking three big, deep, full breaths, allows us a moment to become aware of our energy, of our thoughts, and of our emotions. A place to gather ourselves, to pause and think for a moment. A place, to breathe.
Earlier this month, we had the pleasure of speaking at the Center for Positive Sexuality (CPS) annual Positive Sexuality Day event and did a short segment on Positive Sexuality in the Yoga Studio. In that segment, we explored the 4 C’s (consent, communication, caring, and caution) and some relevant applications to our roles as yoga instructors in the yoga studio setting. Upholding and honoring the 4 “C’s” requires us to navigate them both as individual and overlapping concepts and practices. These concepts of consent, communication, caring, and caution continually combine, interweave, and intertwine one another.
To abide by and uphold the 4 C’s is to acknowledge that there are multiple perspectives involved in all of these concepts and the definitions of things like “caring” can and often do vary from person to person. What CPS refers to as “unique and multifaceted“. When we don’t see eye-to-eye with our partner(s) on things like caring and communication, when we bicker or fight, it can become quite frustrating and emotions can quickly flood our body. In these moments, moments when our energy body, pranamaya kosha, may feel heavy with anger, anxiety, or frustration, lies a crucial moment to harness the mind-body connection of pranayama, or controlled breathing.
It’s human to lose yo’ shit (sometimes) in a relationship. Those times when you say things you don’t mean because you were angry, hurt, and upset, then often, rightly, later apologize for. In those moments of mind loss, where we boil over and generally “lose it” so to speak, in those moments, our pranayama can offer a vital moment to breathe, and make sure we proceed in a manner that we intend and will later feel good about, using the values of the 4 C’s in this process.
In deepening our practice by layering the yamas, niyamas, asana, and now pranayama practices, a dedicated and consistent practice offers fruits of bodily and energetic awareness. In cultivating a sustainable practice of body (asana) and mind/energy (pranayama) and the literal pairing of the two through paced movement and breathing exercises, we observe and study this mind-body and body-mind “connection”.
As it relates to the health, vitality, and general yumminess of our relationship(s), sexual and not, including the relationship we each have with ourselves, becoming familiar with the state and cues of of body and energy permits us a moment of caring kindness, or ahimsa. Incorporating pranayama as a care technique allows us to respect and honor both the relationship we hold with and towards ourselves, as well as those we care about and for.
Blessings to my journey, and to yours.