"Yoga is a mirror to look at ourselves from within." B.K.S. Iyengar
It appears as though I am looking at my knee, but where am I really looking? Clue: It is not my knee!
When we begin a yoga practice, changes start to occur. As B.K.S. Iyengar says, "yoga turns into a mirror to see ourselves more clearly." After a few Introductory classes, many students report that they notice when they are slumping in line at the grocery store or collapsing in their chair at the office. This new awareness, over time, shows us things we never knew about many layers of our existence. B.K.S. Iyengar likens these layers to nesting russian dolls. They are called sheaths or kosas.
To get the wheels turning, consider what a regular yoga practice can show/reflect back to you within these kosas:
Anamaya Kosa - Physical body: We notice physical obstacles that we never knew existed. In classes, over time, we attempt to move the body through it's healthy range of motion and work equally on muscle building and flexibility. Without some of these postures we might not know that one side of our body is weaker and tighter. Whether we are aware of these differences or not, their existence will have an effect on our joints and overall sense of ease in our physical bodies over time. Once we are aware of these obstacles, the solution is practice! The sooner the better.
Pranamaya Kosa - Energetic body, including respiratory and other systems. When we look at this layer closely through the mirror of our practice, we discover what is needed to balance the energy levels on any given day. On some days when I am tired, a strong standing pose practice or even Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Handstand) can give me a boost. On days when I feel energetically depleted, I begin with restorative poses. You may pick up some of this in class, however, home practice is where you really learn what works for you.
Manomaya Kosa - Mental body. Through the mirror that our practice provides, we can observe the workings of our mind. What thoughts arise when your teacher says, we are now doing "________asana"? You could insert your favorite and your least favorite - it makes no difference as long as aversion or attachment are present. When you become aware of this happening, can you weaken the grip of the reactions by practicing one-pointed attention. Cultivate a healthy thought wave such as watching the inhalation and exhalation. Or by focusing more on the feet. Or by mentally chanting the sound of Aum. Observe the effect this change of focus has on the quality of your mind.
Vijnanamaya Kosa - Intellectual body. If we bring this sheath into alignment with the other kosas, the reflection in the mirror is clear. If we lack discrimination the mirror is sullied and we need to polish that mirror with regular practice, over a long period of time, with devotion. One of my teachers often says "Do you feel like your in a dark tunnel with a dim light?" Practice!
Anandamaya Kosa - Bliss Body. Is there joy in your practice of physical postures? In your life? If you want to experience more joy... polish the mirror!
Alignment in Iyengar Yoga is about far more than placing your heel in line with the arch of the back foot in Trikonasana, (in fact this also doesn't always work!) we are providing students with an opportunity to align all of these sheaths.
This is a rich topic and I have a long way to go in terms of my understanding. For more clarity and depth, pick up a copy of Light on Life, by B.K.S. Iyengar
P 4. "Yoga identifies five of these different levels or sheaths of being (kosas), which must be completely integrated and in harmony with each other in order for us to achieve wholeness. When these subtle sheaths are in in disharmony, they become sullied like a mirror reflecting the tarnished images of the sensory and sensual world. The mirror reflects what is in the word around us rather than letting the clear light of the soul within shine out."
P5: "I hope as you read on you will begin to understand that if you too live and practice yoga in the right way and with the right attitude, far greater benefits and more radical changes will take place that mere physical flexibility."
There are 266 pages in this book and every page, for me, is a gift.