Think yoga is just a workout? Think again. This article explores the deeper energetic layers that yoga touches, as told at an Energy & Subtle Body teacher training at Laughing Lotus New York.
Despite years of impatiently agonizing over how to achieve my endless life goals, I’ve slowly started to accept that the universe has a better plan than my many whims. Before becoming pregnant, I signed myself up for 100-hours of advanced yoga teacher training in India. When my pregnancy test showed a clear positive, my one reservation was that I would no longer be able to travel to India. If not now, then when? I thought.
Granted, I had already been to India 2 times in the past 5 years and was quite certain the opportunity would arise again someday.
In place of India, I signed up for an 85-hour Prenatal Yoga Teacher Training a mile and a half from home, and I transferred my India deposit to a 25-hour Energy & Subtle Body training with Laughing Lotus in New York. If my math is correct, 25 + 85 + a baby > 100, so I’m still winning.
Besides, I had an inkling that these two are the ideal trainings for me now. Why? Prenatal is obvious as FASCINATED would be putting it lightly to describe my spellbound interest in the radical metamorphosis of my growing pregnancy body. Initially, it was more of a stretch to see why I would need an Energy & Subtle Body training right now because the subject is so… abstract.
Alas, it only took two minutes of being in the sweaty packed-like sardines New York City devotional space of the Energy & Subtle Body training to realize I had wound up in the right place.
During my pregnancy, the physical aspect of my yoga practice has been becoming secondary to say the least. The leaves of my disciplined routines have been falling away, mainly because I can’t physically navigate the same sequences I could before. My body’s purpose at present is to soften and grow, protecting the bud that’s soon to blossom inside of me. The physical elements of yoga that I previously loved – handstands, deep backbends, and arm balances (a.k.a. the ahhhhh-sana) – simply don’t serve me anymore.
However, in learning how to work with the subtle body, the purpose of my practice becomes reimagined. The subtle body goes deeper than our physical layer to examine the energy, the thoughts, and the wisdom that make us human.
Witnessing the mind in meditation is a staple part of a subtle body energetic practice; so too is “seeing” patterns of tension – representative of energy that could be more efficiently directed toward, say, birthing a baby.
In this training, we dove head first into the Vedantic philosophy of the koshas to learn about the subtle body. Literally translated, the koshas are “sheaths” or interwoven energetic layers within us that encase the jewel of our Self.
Each kosha contains the suffix -maya, which means “appearance.” Translated, each of the layers that makes us sentient beings and defines our perceptions of the world around us are said to be illusory. The only truth is the atman, or the hidden gem of our souls buried deep within.
Around the atman, Vedantic philosophy says we are encased with 5 thick layers of illusion that can be unraveled to reveal the mystery within. From gross to finer grades of energy, the koshas are as follows:
Annamaya kosha: The food body
Annamaya kosha, or “the food body”, is the layer that is most often exercised in modern-day yoga classes. This gross layer is the physical body that we’re born into. Although our bodies may store emotions, the body itself doesn’t feel them or think. It simply is the physiological vessel that holds our deeper layers in place.
Pranamaya kosha: The energetic body
Directly within annamaya kosha is pranamaya kosha, or “the energetic body.” In yoga classes, pranayama techniques typically focus on exercising the breath. However, the breath is simply a window into our Prana, or “life force.” Prana, also known as chi in Chinese medicine, is the vital force that sustains us. It is said to flow through our physical body in energetic pathways called nadis in yoga, or meridians in Chinese medicine. These meridians are the pathways that acupuncturists and (often) Yin Yoga teachers consider to release energetic blockages.
Our infinite network of nadis are said to coalesce in the chakras, which are seven energetic epicenters Western research has attempted to understand as nerve plexuses or endocrine glands. Laughing Lotus bases their signature sequencing method on the chakras, so these subtle energetic epicenters were not covered in-depth in this training, but they were expected to be understood.
Energy is said to flow through the nadis and chakras via currents called vayus, which directly translates to “wind.” Each of the 5 vayus has similar yet subtly different energetic qualities: prana vayu governs energy we take in (e.g., inhaling, eating, drinking, seeing, hearing, smelling, absorbing information); udana vayu governs energy that moves up and out (e.g., speaking, singing, laughing, crying, exhaling, sneezing, vomiting); samana vayu governs digestion of food or ideas; apana vauy governs energy that moves down and out (e.g., pooping, peeing, menstruating, ejaculating, and giving birth); and finally, vyana vayu governs energy that circulates (e.g., moving blood, lymph, and nerve impulses).
Whether we examine movement of subtle energy through the lens of the nadis, the chakras, or the vayus, ideal functioning is said to occur when energetic pathways are balanced, rather than blocked.
Manomaya kosha: The monkey mind
Beneath the energetic body is manomaya kosha, or our “mental body.” I prefer the nickname “the monkey mind” because this layer contains our instinctual and auto-pilot thoughts, but not our higher wisdom. We feed the monkey mind through sensory input and experience. Thus, in the modern era that never places our cell phones out of reaching distance, overstimulation of the monkey mind is the norm. Cluttering our minds with endless input from our inboxes and newsfeeds may thwart our ability to connect with our higher intellect and our physical bodies. This is why stepping onto our yoga mat for just a few moments of silence can so powerfully refresh our minds.
Vijnanamaya kosha: Inner wisdom
Buried within the racing thoughts of our monkey mind is our inner wisdom, or vijnanamaya kosha. This layer includes text-book knowledge, but more significantly, it holds our conscious, our morality, our values, and our sense of empathy. This deep subtle layer can often be fuzzied by discrimination, divisiveness, fear, loneliness, and black-and-white thinking, in addition overstimulation of our monkey minds. However, the little voice of reason that lies within is the defining trait that unifies us as uniquely human.
Anandamaya kosha: Inner bliss
Transcending our inner wisdom takes us to anandamaya kosha, or “inner bliss.” This is sweet layer of the causal body that we may glimpse as we’re falling asleep or in deep meditation. It is a state in which our names, collective differences, logic, plans for the future, fear from past traumas, outlines of pain, and even the boundaries of our physical body begin to fade. In their place is a warm, expansive pool of oneness and the hushed border into the true Self.
Energy for two
To understand the subtle body is to become deeply in-tune to the pulsating vital energy, thoughts, and wisdom within. Of course, since I’m now holding energy for two, I have plenty to study. Is this why pregnant women “glow”?
After the weekend of deep-diving into the subtle body, apparently my excess energy was showing. Following a yoga session, a fellow student approached me to say, “I hope this doesn’t sound weird, but I saw your aura when you were practicing, and it was beautiful! You were surrounded by bright, glowing white.”
Not long after, when we were doing assists, my partner told me, “You look like the most angelic warrior! It’s like you’re standing on a mountain, glowing in the sun.”
In truth, I’m not really sure what an aura is, and it could just be the cocktail of pregnancy hormones that are constantly circulating through my veins. But it’s also comforting to think that my baby’s angelic energetic body is making me radiant.