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THE BIG BOOK OF YOGA: SUBTLE ANATOMY 101

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Koshas

Kosha means "sheath" in Sanskrit, but for ease of reference it usually gets translated as "body". The five koshas are the Yogic way of accounting for the different aspects of the human experience - from our physical bodies, to our emotional and mental states, all the way to the depth of pure Spirit. You can envision the koshas as being a bit like the layers of a Russian doll, but more interconnected11. Consider the different parts of a candle flame - it's easy to say that there is a blue part, a yellow part, a white part, and so on, but all of them are parts of a whole, and it's difficult to point out exactly where one layer ends, and another begins. The koshas are a bit like that.

That's important, because it means that doing work on one kosha is almost always affecting the adjacent koshas in some way. For example, work on the physical body - the grossest layer of the being - also does something to the energy body, which is the layer just next to (and surrounding) the physical. Very powerful experiences on one layer can even affect other koshas farther away - a traumatic emotional event might also manifest mentally, energetically, and physically. The diverse practices of the Hatha Yoga system are designed to have something for every kosha.

Have a look at this interactive map of the koshas below. You can click on the various layers for more information about each one12. The five koshas aren't exactly unique to Hatha Yoga; we can see reference to them in Vedanta, another system of Indian philosophy, as well as in certain sects of Buddhism and elsewhere13. There are slightly different interpretations of exactly what aspects are contained in each kosha.

So...by now you have a better idea of the workings of your own subtle anatomy. And if you put all this together with the system of Yoga described in the previous chapter, you can begin to see how all the pieces fit together. Hatha Yoga begins with asana and shatkarma to work on the physical kosha, and to warm up the

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nadis for the high-energy practices that come later. Then pranayama is introduced, to pump more prana through the nadis and to gain better control over the flow of vayus in the body. The mudras and bandhas really step up the energetic flow, and their effects reach deeper into the koshas accordingly. All the while, the chakras are receiving individual attention from different techniques, balancing and energizing the being on every level. Gradually, the channels become purified, the energy flows stronger and more smoothly, and the mind begins to stabilize.

By this point you have a solid framework for understanding the Hatha Yoga system. We've gone over its background and history, its structure and practices, and now we have a better sense for our own bodies, seen through the eyes of the Yogis. Next we'll give a brief discussion about some of the pitfalls on the path of Yoga, things worth keeping an eye out for along the way. Even the best intentions can sometimes get us in trouble...

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