Yoga offers us a universal path – what Patanjali, the grandfather of ashtanga yoga, referred to as sarvabhauma. Practiced outside of any specific religious or spiritual context, yoga is a path of inclusivity – available to everyone, regardless of background, identity, or ability. Through its practice, we are offered a powerful notion of social justice. Below we discuss the ego mind, manas, and the wisdom mind, vijnana, as it relates to the spiritual equality of all beings.
In its structure, yoga, as a practice, is sometimes categorized into five sheaths of being known as the five “Koshas.” These sheaths influence and intermingle with one another. Aligning these sheaths in truth and harmony with our authentic personhood is part of the practice of yoga.
The five Koshas:
- Annamaya Kosha: Physical Body
- Pranamaya Kosha: Energy Body
- Manomaya Kosha: Mental Body
- Vijnanamaya Kosha: Intellectual (Wisdom) Body
- Anandamaya Kosha: Bliss Body
The third sheath of being, manomaya kosha, refers to our mental body. When I refer to “mental body,” I refer to the state and flow of one’s emotions. Becoming aware of which emotions dominate that space, which are sparse, and which we experience as a result of our thoughts and actions, is a practice in and of itself.
Manomaya kosha, also known as the ego mind, or “manas,” is a labeler. As a method of self-preservation, it is quick to attach to roles, traits, and titles as it quick-sorts our perception to keep up with the pace at which we often operate. These organizational buckets may include identifiers of race, sex, gender, orientation, and body size.
In its well-intentioned pursuit of survival, it is sometimes clumsy and quick to momentum over intentional movement, thoughts, and actions. In these repetitions of thought and action, we develop patterns and well-worn grooves of habitual energy, known as samskaras, that deepen subconscious wounds. Social and cultural conditioning around these identifiers often reinforces these misassumptions, creating an even bigger hurdle to step away from our learned ways of being.
Mending these wounds and bringing intentional awareness to our thoughts and emotions is a practice of the fourth sheath of being, vijnanamaya kosha, which refers to our intellectual, or wisdom body. In this sheath, we are gifted with discernment. Discernment between what is and is not relevant and appropriate as we navigate our fluctuating thoughts and emotions with and toward our varying situations, contexts, encounters, and experiences. Vijnanamaya kosha permits us a viewpoint that these identifiers are but temporary titles for the physical bodies we inhabit – what B.K.S. Iyengar refers to as “the garments of the seer” or “the ideas about our selves that we wear.” None of these descriptors acknowledge or honor the underlying energetic unity and connection of all beings. This is the celebration of equality and activism for social justice as offered in the Bhagavad Gita.
Self-identifiers are crucial for engagement in our modern society. However, if they are clung to outside of their relevant, appropriate, and necessary contexts, things quickly start to go askew. We see the fallouts and systemic human rights impediments of discrimination in matters of social justice such as racial inequality, gender inequality, LGBTQ rights, and access to education, employment, and healthcare.
Yoga will not cure the human rights violations that continue to plague our society. However, when approached through the lens of spiritual equality, the practice of yoga becomes a radical act of social justice insisting on the comprised equity for and of all persons. As humans, we are all remarkably similar in our deepest needs. Acknowledging the inequality of treatment in our privileged and discriminated identifiers and eradicating hate to create safe, inclusive spaces for students to practice is the responsibility of each and every yoga instructor.
So, as yoga instructors, how do we bring this knowledge into the yoga studio in order to create intentionally safe, inclusive, spaces for our students to practice? Join me in celebrating Positive Sexuality this Sunday, September 3 for a free day of sex-positive speakers and presentations, including a special self-care and positive sexuality yoga session.
Join us this Sunday, September 3, for Positive Sexuality Day. Registration is free: https://positivesexuality.org/events/positive-sexuality-day-2023/
Guest Posted and Written by Larissa Farrell (she/her), Educator at CPS and Owner/Digital Content Creator at LCF Writing Services.