Ok, y’all. It’s no secret. I get into studying. I can be a little academic. I mean, the name my business has a colon in it! So, you might guess that one of my many pleasures in getting into yoga was having a whole new system of thought to study — there’s history, psychology, philosophy, ethics, cosmology, and mythology, in addition to anatomy and sanskrit and 108 or more postures to learn the names of and try to do.
I don’t claim to be an expert on any of it yet, but I can tell you that it’s been an amazing exercise to try on a more Eastern perspective, to try to think about my life, my capital S Self, my work and my relationships through a completely different lens.
I realize that many of the concepts affiliated with the “spiritual” teachings of yoga seem esoteric and turn people off. I try very hard not to become this guy:
But I can assure you, the teachings are good. Importantly, they have practical value. And you can experience them and know them even if all you do is the physical yoga practice (which are called asanas).
Two yogic mind/body concepts that have provided particularly valuable insights for me are koshas and chakras.
Chakras are energy centers that are associated with different aspects of our psychological development and personalities. Anatomically, they are aligned along the spine where there just happen to be clusters of nerves. The chakras provide seven categories for thinking about your current state of being: roughly, physical body/survival needs (root chakra, base of the spine), sensual/pleasure (lower abdomen, genitals), will (solar plexus), emotional/social connections (heart), communication/expression (throat), vision/conceptual (eyes/third eye) and holistic wisdom/feeling of oneness (crown of the head).
Koshas are a little harder to grasp. They are energetic layers that describe five different aspects of your mind/body self. Here the categories get a little less familiar, but the overall concept is similar to chakras: We have many ways of perceiving our surroundings, interpreting the world and experiencing ourselves. Each has value. None should be denied.
Chakras and koshas are all about energy and talking about them can sound a little “woo woo.” So, here’s another way to think about it that you might be able to relate to a little easier.
In 1983, Howard Gardner outlined his theory of multiple intelligences in his now well-known book, Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. In a nutshell, Gardner tossed out the idea that intelligence was not limited to the math and verbal abilities supposedly measured in standardized tests like the SAT. He said people are also intelligent somatically, like athletes, musically, visually, interpersonally, etc.
The idea is that we all have these very different ways of learning, of apprehending our world, making sense of it and contributing to it. We each have the ability to filter our experiences through any of the modalities. Some of us are naturally stronger in some than others. I think of them as pathways into our intellectual potential. Perhaps music opens your pathways. Now there are innovative programs in some schools that use art to teach science and math. It’s a way for visually or artistically or right brain holistically inclined learners to wrap their heads around linear, logical concepts like science and math.
You can experience and exercise a number of these intelligences in any asana yoga class. We move our bodies, listen to music, visualize our own limbs as we position them and use them in different ways. We breathe and think about breathing. We imagine. We share the experience of trying out crazy moves. We laugh at ourselves and exult when we do something new we never knew we could. We feel.
These are all important ways of knowing ourselves, solving problems and engaging in the world. In any yoga class, you will mindfully move your body, becoming aware of how your body feels, what it knows and the many ways it has of knowing. Practicing asanas is like using art to experience and “GET” math or science. Asanas give physical expression to the various psychological filters described by chakras and koshas. You don’t have to study the esoterica to experience the full wisdom of your body. Getting to know your body gets you to your mind, and can open new pathways to solving problems and doing your work.
Is it so far fetched to believe that moving your body in a mindful way for an hour can connect you with those many other ways you have of knowing and perceiving the world? After all, we know and perceive the world with our bodies! I hope you’ll give the experience a try.