by Bryana Cook
Yoga is a holistic practice: mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual. Generally, asanas (physical yoga postures) help release physical discomfort, pranayama (breathing techniques) help to maximize the sensation of calm, and meditation gives way to the mental capacity to see clarity and logic. There are many models within the practice of yoga to help guide one on the path beyond asana.
Through Inner Peace Yoga Therapy, there is a focus on the five koshas as a model for individual work with clients. Utilizing the koshas as a framework, allows the yoga therapist to work with a client holistically. Keeping this model in mind helps the yoga therapist broaden his/her view of the individual and apply a multifaceted assessment and action plan for the benefit of the client.
In the system of yoga, there are five koshas or sheaths that are barriers to accessing the true Self: the physical body, the energy body, the mental body, the wisdom body, and the bliss body. By addressing these barriers, the yoga therapist and individual client are able to work on a multilayer approach to wellness.
Each kosha incorporates unique barriers. There are signs of imbalance within a kosha, as well as many ways to help bring an individual back to balance.
1) Annamaya Kosha – Physical Body
Includes physical systems such as skin, muscles, connective tissue, fat, and bones, as well as the ayurvedic constitutions.
Element: Earth Chakra: Muladhara
Imbalance: separation from physical body and lack of awareness of ayurvedic constitution.
Balance: body awareness through asana and daily functional habits of living, appropriate diet and lifestyle.
2) Pranamaya Kosha – Energy Body
Flow of prana, chakras, nadhis. Includes the movement of blood, lymph, cerebrospinal fluid, and breath through the body.
Imbalance: energy blockages, especially in the chakras, lack of breath awareness, difficulty breathing.
Balance: breath awareness, pranayama, chakra meditation, connection to nature and other sources of prana.
3) Manamaya Kosha – Mental Body
Habitual unconscious patterns of thought and emotion. Includes the central nervous system; where physical sensations turn to emotional sensations.
Element: Fire Chakra: Manipura, Anahata
Imbalance: lack of awareness of thought patterns and emotional reactions and their sources.
Balance: meditation, yoga nidra, pratyahara (disconnection from external stimuli), turning our awareness inward for exploration, healthy emotional expression.
4) Vijnanamaya Kosha – Wisdom Body
A sense of awareness, insight, and consciousness. A faculty of higher mind, witness, discernment, and liberating intuition.
Element: Air Chakra: Vishuddha
Imbalance: inability to see the bigger picture of life: feeling trapped, lost, or out of control.
Balance: dharana (concentration, single focus) and dhyana (control of focus inward), developing the conscious witness, meditation and mindfulness practices: learning to focus and stabilize the mind and access a discriminating intuition which informs us we are whole and complete.
5) Anandamaya Kosha – Bliss Body
Connection to our natural self, which is complete, whole, and blissful, as well as a connection to all beings.
Element: Space Chakra: Ajna
Imbalance: attachment to spiritual experience and the inability to integrate the natural self into everyday living.
Balance: study of yoga and philosophy and the nature of true Self, which includes all aspects of life.
Incorporating the Kosha Model into your Yoga Therapy Practice:
Assess the whole person.
Yes, assess their physical lifestyle and patterns. This is probably a no brainer. Conduct a assessment that addresses visible physical imbalances in the body and any reported tension, pain, or areas of discomfort.
Assess the client’s breath and prana. Maybe work to understand the individual’s balanced/imbalanced chakras. Watch the client breathe. Ask them to practice various appropriate pranayama techniques and find a good fit.
When considering the client’s emotional awareness, patterns, and reactions, assess whether or not the client allows him/herself the time to slow down. Does the client give space for pranayama, pratyahara, and meditation? If the practice seems to be too difficult for them – why? What is a simple meditation practice to incorporate to slowly begin to build from?
Is your client feeling lost, stressed or out of control? Are they constantly seeking achievement, power, materialism, and more, more, more? Perhaps take the client through a simple Sankalpa setting exercise to really allow them to experience a central focus that is connected to his/her true self.
When considering this kosha, know that the practices that come prior are ultimately the path to our bliss. The individual is able to access and apply their inner knowledge and teachings into everyday life.
Assessing a yoga therapy client using the koshas as a framework, not only improves your knowledge and skills as the yoga therapist, but it also enhances your client’s experience. Ultimately, in the world of yoga therapy, we aim to empower the client. It is the client who has the tools and expertise, it is simply our role to walk alongside them and help them to uncover it, or rediscover it. Using a kosha approach empowers your client to live their life to the absolute fullest, in all ways possible. There is limitless potential.
Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha by Swami Satyananda Saraswati
Bryana Cook, MSW, LGSW, RYT 500, is currently in the 800 hour C-IAYT Inner Peace Yoga Therapy program. She is a practicing mental health provider in a small rural Minnesota counseling office, working towards completing her LICSW. Bryana teaches group yoga classes and hosts private sessions, through her nomad business Northern Namaste Yoga and co-leads yoga retreats in beautiful places with her partners in Boreal Bliss Yoga Retreats. She lives in Longville, MN with her husband, dog, and cat, where they do their best to live an intentional life of simplicity in nature.