Many people think a yoga practice is about acquiring something, a certain skill or the ability to do an asana. What you are really doing is eliminating the obstacle that prevents you from getting there. You’re stripping away all the excess. It is the restrictive thought, the narrowing of possibilities that disallows the flow of energy or prana. We want these doorways to be open. Yogis are very practical, so to do that, we must investigate how they became closed.
Most often, an asana practice is associated with the physical body. That body is called Annamaya kosha or the food body. Kosha means sheath or covering. But what is moving the physical body? You may think, well, I am. But what actually moves your body is your vitality. Pranamaya kosha is the vital body where prana flows through energy channels called nadis. Now, you can’t dissect a human body and find the nadis. They aren’t visible, but they exist and you can feel them. You can tell when you have abundant energy or when energy is lacking. The koshas are sheaths that cover who we really are. That is whatever you want to call it – spirit, a creation of the Divine, a magical appearance, free, happy, unlimited. That’s your true nature.
You have five koshas or bodies. They may not be visible either, but they all interact with each other. In an asana practice, you could have emotional things going on, you could have intellectual things going on, you could have blissful things going on, and you certainly have physical things going on. But, in the end, what we’re trying to affect is our vitality, the flow of energy. We want to remove barriers that prevent the energy from moving a beneficial way.
Ksetrika is the Sanskrit word for farmer. In India, rice is farmed in paddies. The way it works is the farmer builds a little earth mound around the rice paddy to protect it from a nearby source of flowing water. An expert farmer knows exactly when to take the mound away so the paddy gets flooded at just the right time. The farmer must know how long to leave the field flooded before replacing the mound and stopping the flow. Just because someone has good soil, good seeds and available water, that doesn’t mean they are going to have a good rice crop. It takes a special intelligence to understand what the rice needs to grow. It takes a special wisdom to know the right time of the season, and so forth. All those elements work together to support growth. That is what Patanjali describes in the yoga sutra.
What you do acquire in a yoga practice is that excellent wisdom, that special intellect that allows you to open the gate and let prana flow to places that have become closed off. You gain it by feeling the restrictions in how you can articulate the physical body with your energy. You may want to do an asana, but somehow you can’t get the energy flowing into the back of your leg. The knee is shaky and the foot is bumbling. But, through practice and diligence, you gradually learn to allow the energy to flow freely into the leg. You know how to open and close the gates, like the good farmer.
More than the physical position, your task is to be free while you’re there. Study body language and you can see arrogance, defensiveness or fear in subtle expressions of the body. Are you mainly worried about yourself and your asana? Did you forget why you are doing it? Low self-esteem shows in the physical body’s inability to move with freedom, openness and joy. It is a result of thoughts toward yourself and others. It’s a result of selfish actions taken in the past. This is what closes doors and disallows the flow of prana that would promote growth. If unkind actions close doorways in our lives, then what we’re looking for are kind and virtuous actions.
You are not losing anything by giving away your kindness to others. In fact, you are filled with more vitality. You’ve experienced this at times when you are low on energy, and just really don’t have anything left, but then someone close to you needs your understanding. They need your compassion and support, and you really love them. You love them so much that your own fatigue goes on the back burner. You’re there for them out of a sense of identification with them, out of a love for them. We want that complete freedom, so that wherever you go, you are fully alive and have the ability to surprise everyone with your openness.