Yoga Nidra and the Koshas

By Linda Oshins

Yoga nidra is an old, well established yoga practice that takes various forms as expressed by different
teachers. One really well articulated and researched approach is Richard Miller’s, and his is structured in part on the koshas.

Kosha is usually translated as “sheath, “which is defined differently in different branches of yoga
philosophy. Generally speaking koshas are aspects or layers of subjective experience. From gross to
subtle they are:

Annamaya kosha – the physical or “food” body
Pranayama kosha –the breath or energy body
Manomaya kosha – the emotional body
Vijnanamaya kosha – the cognitive body
Anandamaya kosha – the bliss body

They are all aspects of the individuated self that obscure the undivided “Self” or Pure Awareness. They
are all observed through the lens of the personality or ego.

The koshas have different attributes energetically. They each have their own sense of time and space for example. You know that’s true if you think about it. Your body moves at one speed; your thoughts are faster. Your feelings are even faster. As quickly as thoughts move, they move slowly enough for there to be a critical, discernible pause between one thought and the next—a pause during which you can change your course of action. Rather than automatically reacting to a thought, you could choose not to act or choose to act in a novel way. But the researchers cited in the book Destructive Emotions, edited by Daniel Goleman, can only hypothesize a discernible pause between feelings because they move so quickly. Perhaps only those experienced meditators who can actually suppress the primitive, brain stem startle reflex can perceive the dawn of one feeling and its dissolution, the dawn of the next, and so forth. But I digress.

Richard’s version of yoga nidra, iRest, takes you through each koshic level, focusing on sensations in the physical body, the breath body, sensations associated with emotions or thoughts, and the sensation of joy associated with the bliss body. iRest invites you to feel two opposing aspects of a kosha, and then feel the integration of the two. For example, you move back and forth between feeling physical sensations on the right side of the body and the left side of the body, and finally feeling the whole physical body. Or, you move back and forth between feeling the sensation an emotion arouses (fear, for example) and feeling the sensation its opposite arouses (compassion, perhaps), and feeling them both together. The trip through the koshas sensitizes you on every level and invites you to step beyond them, beyond constantly changing phenomenon and dual states of consciousness to the state of Pure Awareness.

Recently I’ve been focusing on the manomaya (emotional) kosha as I’ve been involved in a confusing
and heart wrenching conflict with another well meaning person. We can’t see eye to eye. So I’ve taken
the emotional churn into my yoga nidra practice. One day when I noticed the emotion upper most in my awareness I discovered dread. Dread of the next criticism, of the next failed attempt to make everyone
happy. It felt like a heavy lid on my chest protecting my heart. Inquiring as to its opposite, I discovered
trust. (My opposites may not be your opposites. And my opposites can change from day to day.) That
was like the clear tone of a struck bell. Just to know that deep trust was my opposite of dread gives
me insight into my inner workings and fear of conflict. Moving back and forth between the two, I had
some way to embrace the experience, to stay with it as it unfolded and not to run away. The practice of
moving into a feeling fully and honestly and moving into another feeling is a palpable practice of non-
attachment. I didn’t have to attach to being “right” or being “safe.” I didn’t spiral around and around
again in a repetitive thought pattern.

This is a phrase Richard uses when integrating two emotional states, “…see how simultaneously sensing both emotions acts on your body and mind.” It’s like a Koan; your mind can’t do it but it’s done. It’s a step out of ordinary consciousness.

In this description of working with an emotional state with iRest yoga nidra, I’m not talking
about “fixing” myself, making myself feel better or trading in a distressing experience for a pleasant,
comforting one. I am hoping to be able to stay with whatever arises without falling into daydreams of
a different past or an imagined future, usually in which I am vindicated but sometimes in which I am a
hopelessly flawed, unworthy person. So back to the mat, just like any other day.

Let It Go

Let go of the ways you thought life would unfold; the holding of plans or dreams or expectations. Let
it go. Save your strength to swim with the tide. The choice to fight what is here before you now will
only result in struggle, fear, and a desperate attempt to flee from the very energy you long for. Let go.
Let it all go and flow with the grace that washes through your days whether you receive it gently or
with all your quills raised to defend against invaders. Take this on faith: the mind may never find the
explanations that it seeks, but you will move forward nonetheless. Let go, and the wave’s crest will carry you to unknown shores, beyond your wildest dreams or destinations. Let it all go and find the place of rest and peace, and certain transformation. Dana Faulds

If I have misrepresented or over simplified Richard Miller’s teachings, I apologize. Please visit his
website for information on iRest yoga nidra, .A training for teachers and mental health
professionals on leading iRest sessions is scheduled for this November at Yoga on High. The event is co-sponsored by Shiva Shakti Synthesis.

2 Responses to Yoga Nidra and the Koshas
  1. yoganidraGail Larned

    I love Linda’s encouragement to “let it go”. It reinforced my own philosophy to “go with the flow” and create as much beauty and love as I can along the way. I have the image of a whole lot of us “hanging ten” on the new wave that’s taking us into our future. We can create the world we desire by working together with the cosmic forces.
    Enjoy the ride.

  2. Susannah

    Thank you, Linda. I love Yoga Nidra, and hope to study it more deeply when the time is right. Your November workshop will be a little tricky for me to attend, but perhaps it will work out. 🙂 xoxoxo Susannah