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Who am I?

"Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self" - The Bhagavad Gita

For a sentence that only involves using 8 words, this might sound as complex as trying to navigate an ordnance survey map!

What does self mean? a google search brings up the definition 'a person's essential being that distinguishes them from others, especially considered as the object of introspection or reflexive action' alternative words might be 'soul, spirit, mind, intellect, identity and ego'.

The most profound question we can ask ourselves is 'who am I?'. It's not an easy question to answer and most people don't bother to find out, the trouble is if we don't know who we are how can we know anything. Unless we know the true nature of our existence we live by accident.

Some people are born knowing this, some people don't want to know, and some like me are born with this question gnawing inside them. I guess this is what drew me to yoga. For me it's been more of a process of learning what isn't me, what is me trying to please others and learning to turn inward and listen to that little yet very big thing called intuition. The voice inside which we've mostly learned to ignore in favour of the world telling us what we should believe, wear, look like and buy to make us happy. But it is only our self that knows how to be happy.

Yoga philosophy talks about The 5 Koshas, these are also referred to as layers, sheaths or bodies and are likened to the layers of an onion or a set of Russian Dolls. The diagram shows these layers which move inward from physical to self, from gross to subtle.

Over the next few weeks, we are going to have a look at the Koshas in more detail and how the Yoginis Yoga Approved Coach Training Programme follows this established pathway through the levels of physical, breath, brain and mindfulness to allow children to grow and make choices with an awareness of self to become Happy, Healthy, Content Children and Adults.

The first of the yoga sheaths is that of the physical body. When asked who we are we normally satisfy this by producing some kind of photographic evidence. Our physical features are how we recognise ourselves and each other. Nursery children may have a picture of themselves to move on a board when they arrive in a morning or on a drawer or coat peg and this continues in other forms through school and into the workplace.

The physical or gross body is known as the Annamaya Kosha.

Let's have a look at some interesting facts about the physical body:

  • We are all completely unique (never forget this when thinking about yourself and others)

  • The human body is amazing

  • We are born with around 270 bones which reduce to 206 as an adult due to fusing (some tiny bones are not counted)

  • The smallest bone is the stapes in the inner ear and the largest is the femur, the thigh bone.

  • Pound for pound our bones are four times stronger than concrete, the strongest bone is the femur and the weakest our spine or nose

  • In addition to our bones we have as many as 850 muscles, 900 ligaments and enough blood vessels to go round the world twice (this blows my mind!)

  • The tallest person ever recorded was 8ft 11.1 inches and the heaviest 100 stone!, not the same person!

The physical level is where most people start their yoga journey, identifying a need to increase strength, flexibility and for relaxation, perhaps due to injury, weight management, stress and strain or just to be more active. The physical postures of yoga are called asana.

The Hatha Yoga Pradipika (HYP), written in the 15th century details only 15 asana, none of which are standing poses, and yet a 2015 book by Daniel Lacerda contains 2,100 photographed asana. Confusing right?!. Not to mention the plethora of different classes ranging from the traditional schools of Iyengar, Ashtanga and Hatha to the more modern Aerial, Yin and Hot, with the more radical naked, gin and dog yoga, it's easy to forget the original intention or more troubling, to be put off it altogether.

HYP informs us that 'having done asana one gets steadiness (firmness) of body and mind; diseaselessness and lightness (flexibility) of the limbs', this allows prana (lifeforce) to move more freely. The intention then of asana in a yoga practice is to free the body, to allow the body to sit comfortably in meditation.

At Yoginis Yoga, having practiced and taught yoga for over 20 years each, we can tell you confidently that not every asana is for everybody and in trying to achieve a posture because we think we should or because it looks good, more often than not leads to injury and further away from the lightness that allows us to forget the body during meditation.

There was some influence on yoga during the early part of the 20th Century of contortion (extreme flexibility) and some postures clearly show this .If the aim is the posture then this is contortionism, in yoga the aim is the effect it has on body and mind. It is common for very flexible people to be drawn to yoga due to their ability to easily perform the postures, it is good for our ego to succeed easily, but enlightenment through yoga is abandonment of the ego, and so someone who merely 'performs' yoga postures albeit perfectly is no more advanced.

Every body is completely unique, the structure of our bodies although made of the same 206 bones differ in bone length and angle of joints to give our own form, no two people will look exactly the same in a posture nor will they feel the same and so yoga is a personal practice not about being the best or good at it.

We need to look after our physical body

In 1954 Maslow created the heirarchy of needs, there is a high degree of cross over between this and the koshas, and so we shall consider these in conjunction.

Maslow Heirarchy of Needs 1954

At the bottom layer are the most basic needs our physiological needs.

  • We have 5 basic needs to stay alive; food, water, air, sleep and shelter

  • We can only survive 3 mins without air, 3 days without water, 3 hours without shelter, and 3 weeks without food. 24 hours of no sleep causes headaches and after 144 we suffer hallucinations.

  • The air we breathe should be fresh and we need to be active to help oxygen circulate in the body

  • Our water should be fresh and clean and we should drink enough each day

  • Food should be fresh, wholesome, rich in nutrients, balanced and we should eat together not in front of the TV

  • Our shelter is usually our home, we should keep it clean and filled with the things and people we love

  • We all need rest to grow, repair and process the day, a good sleep is key to learning. we should ensure we get the right amount of sleep for our needs

'if you take care of the little things, the big things will take care of themselves' - Emily Dickinson (American Author)

'There is no possibility of one's becoming a yogi, O Arjuna, if one eats too much, or eats too little, sleeps too much or does not sleep enough' - Bhagavad Gita 6.16 - highlights the importance of balance.

Here are some ways Yoginis Yoga works to support the unique physical body:

  • The Yoginis Yoga Approved Coach Training programme, begins on a physical level, using and experiencing our bodies is a language we all understand and so this is accessible to teachers and children including SEND

  • We praise all efforts

  • We do not make hands on adjustments

  • We keep yoga simple so everyone can succeed

  • There is no right and wrong posture (but safety is key)

  • We build confidence and a 'can do' attitude through routine and repetition

  • We incorporate all the movements of the spine

  • We respect each others space

  • We rest

  • We are all different and that is okay

Next time we will look at the second layer, the Pranamaya Kosha.....................

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