Subtle Body of Yoga: Connecting Nadis, Koshas, and Chakras
By: Steph Ball-Mitchell, E-RYT-500, RPYT, RCYT, YACEP, CAADC
By: Steph Ball-Mitchell, E-RYT-500, RPYT, RCYT, YACEP, CAADC
When people envision yoga, they often focus on the physical benefits, but the effects of yoga actually delve much deeper into each person's subtle energetic or esoteric body. There are many layers to this subtle body of energy in yoga philosophy that flows throughout each being. By understanding the many components of this subtle body, you can also begin to understand yourself on a deeper level.
Yoga is a process of peeling back the many layers of the self to connect with the core of who you truly are. We are more than this physical body, and we are even more than this energetic body as well. Underneath all these many layers is our individual consciousness. As we begin to discover these many aspects of ourselves, we can start to connect with this underlying consciousness and understand the true nature of reality.
As we develop this connection to energy and the individual consciousness, this process ultimately leads to the realization of the deep interconnection between every being in this world. So, let's dive in to begin an exploration of these various layers of the energetic or subtle body that lead us to the soul within.
In yoga philosophy, each individual is made up of a system of channels or nadis that run throughout your entire body. These channels can be understood similarly to meridians in traditional Chinese medicine. They are more than just physical channels or veins; they are channels of energy where prana or the vital life force energy can flow freely throughout the entire body.
Each person's body contains roughly 72,000 nadis, which is really just another way of saying that the number of energy channels is limitless. But there are 3 main nadis that are the most important, and these three nadis run along the spine. The names of these three nadis are ida, pingala, and sushumna.
The ida nadi is the channel that runs along the left side of the spine and connects with the left nostril; it represents the lunar and feminine energy. The pingala nadi runs along the right side of the spine and connects with the right nostril, representing the solar and masculine energy. The sushumna nadi is the central energy channel that runs through the center of the spine and connects to the third eye center.
The ida and pingala nadis start and end with the sushumna nadi, so these three channels are intimately connected with one another. Through pranayama or breathing techniques, you can influence the flow of prana or energy through these channels, releasing blockages that impact the flow of energy and harmonizing your body, mind, and soul.
The next layer of the subtle body in yoga philosophy is the koshas. The koshas or sheaths are made of 5 different layers that surround your soul, and through yoga practices, you can move through these layers and connect with your true inner state underneath it all. These 5 koshas are:
1. Annamaya Kosha (physical sheath) – this sheath represents the physical body, including the skin, organs, blood, and everything material. Asana or physical yoga poses are the best for balancing this sheath.
2. Pranamaya Kosha (life force sheath) – this sheath is the energy body where the subtle body components like the nadis and chakras have the most impact. Pranayama or breathing techniques are the best for balancing this sheath.
3. Manomaya Kosha (mental sheath) – this sheath is what we commonly label as the mind, and it is where our thoughts, perceptions, and emotions reside. This sheath is best balanced through mantra chanting, affirmations, and meditation.
4. Vijnanamaya Kosha (wisdom sheath) – this sheath is a deeper layer of the mind and consciousness that is commonly understood as our intuition and awareness. This sheath is best balanced through meditation and creativity.
5. Anandamaya Kosha (bliss sheath) – this sheath is the deepest layer of us and is often the hardest to reach, but it essentially represents the natural blissful state that we are born into as infants. This sheath can be accessed through prayer, meditation, and surrendering to a higher power.
Through yoga practices, the ultimate goal is to understand these various sheaths or layers of the self and begin to peel them back to reveal the bliss sheath, which represents the true state of the soul. By using this map of the subtle body, we can begin to understand where imbalances may arise within each of us and address these issues in the respective layer or sheath of the self.
The nadis, koshas, and chakras are all different aspects of the subtle energy body in yoga philosophy. An excellent way to understand the connections between them is to envision them as separate layers on a cake that form together to create a delicious dessert.
So, the first layer of this cake might be the chakras, which are the 7 wheels of energy located along the spine. Winding around each chakra are the energy channels or nadis that bring the flow of prana or energy around the chakras, causing the wheels to spin and power to concentrate in different ways. Then encapsulating the chakras and the nadis is the entire system of the koshas.
Although the nadis, koshas, and chakras have different elements and aspects to them, they are all ultimately tools for us to move deeper within and connect with the individual consciousness that lies within each of us. Ultimately, none of these layers have any physical representation; they are all a manifestation of energy and consciousness and serve as a way for us to understand our true self, which is the ultimate goal of yoga.
Understanding the intricacies of the subtle esoteric body in yoga can sometimes seem complex and impossible, and for many people, it takes a lifetime to comprehend. But, ultimately, the nadis, koshas, and chakras are simply different ways of working with energy and moving into the subtle layers of your inner being.
The primary purpose of yoga practice is to realize your core essence as an individual soul that is unified with the supreme consciousness. But to understand reality at this subtle level requires immense practice and dedication to slow the waves of your mind, quiet your body, and begin to listen to the vibrations of truth emanating out from within you.
Ultimately, we all contain the answers within us already, and the subtle energy body in yoga is a representation of this truth. So, as you begin to unravel the intricacies of these various energy systems, you also start to understand the complexities of yourself and dive into the core of your inner being.
As described above, all of the different components of the subtle body in yoga are harmonized through the practice of yoga poses, breathing techniques, and meditation. By incorporating all of the 8 limbs into your yoga practice, you can genuinely gain the holistic benefits of yoga and begin to delve deeper into the subtle energy system.
Often, many yoga classes focus only on the physical sheath or annamaya kosha. There may be some incorporation of the chakras and nadis through pranayama and meditation, but these practices often only touch the surface.
To truly get into the more profound components of this tradition requires a regular and deep practice of mindful movement, introspection, awareness, meditation, pranayama, chanting, and prayer. By synthesizing all of these different elements into your yoga practice, you can begin to explore your own energetic body and harness the power of these subtle energies.
At the core, these teachings remind us that yoga is inherently a practice of energy medicine and reveals our actual inner state as consciousness and the spirit or soul. Yoga is so much more than just poses. Understanding this is the first step to discovering the true breadth and depth of yoga practice, and with the guidance of a qualified teacher, you can explore realms of yoga that you may never even realize were possible.
The subtle energetic body in yoga is complex and can be challenging to navigate on your own. But with the guidance of a qualified teacher, you can delve into these more profound aspects of yoga and begin to harness the power of the esoteric body in your life.
It takes time to understand these different systems, but it truly can change your life. As a yoga teacher, you can also guide others through this transformative process of discovering their subtle body and connecting with the complex energy and individual soul we have within us.
In our online yoga teacher training programs, we give you all the information and tools that you need to teach others about the many aspects of the subtle body and to deepen your student's experience of yoga both on and off the mat. So, reach out to us today for more information on how you can join our ongoing online yoga teacher training courses today! We are here to support you in your journey into the subtle body of yoga with our online 200 hour yoga teacher training program, online 300 hour yoga teacher training program and other online yoga teacher training programs.
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Founder of Online Yoga School and Yoga & Ayurveda Center
Steph has over 25 years of experience in yoga and movement. Her understanding of yoga and the human body has been influenced by lifelong dancing and holistic health. She found her life’s purpose in helping people become happier and healthier through her own healing journey. Steph assists her students in knowing the joy and wonderment of integrating the mind and body through accessible yoga. She encourages an authentic and life-nurturing practice, one that brings greater consciousness to each moment and every movement of the body with a heavy emphasis on breath.
With a masters degree in counseling, Steph brings awareness, acceptance and a down to earth approach to her classes. She studied with Maty Ezraty and later completed her second 200-hour training with Nancy Candea at Yoga Impact in New Jersey and her 300-hour training with Chris Loebsack at Boundless Yoga Studio in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. The perpetual student, Steph has studied with Leslie Howard, Travis Eliot, Bryan Kest, Donna Farhi and countless others. She has extensive training in pelvic floor yoga, restorative yoga, yin yoga, power yoga and accessible yoga. Most recently, Steph was certified as a Grand Master of Meditation through Swami Vidyanand.
Steph founded Yoga and Ayurveda Center with her husband. She later launched Online Yoga School to support her local trainings and has recently launched a virtual yoga studio to accommodate the international community of trainees.
When she isn’t on her mat, Steph can be found volunteering, enjoying her husband and children, dancing and cooking. She currently enjoys serving on the board of World Yoga Federation and Meditation Alliance International and previously enjoyed serving on the Education Committee of Yoga Alliance and places a strong emphasis on inclusivity in her teacher trainings.
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