By Sarah Aborn
In the practice of Yoga Nidra we work with the all powerful tool of our awareness by dancing our attention, paired with our intention, through the various layers of our being. We do this in a systematic way to heal these different dimensions of ourselves and to unlock thresholds leading to bliss. It’s so rare that we have an opportunity to acknowledge the full spectrum of who we have become and make it all the way back to that blissful center all while deeply relaxing. Nidra offers a labyrinthine route to this unshakeable peace within, while modulating the nervous system and building resilience along the way. Though it is extremely restful and you are stepping down your brainwaves to a sleep-like state, you remain awake, consciousness intact, throughout the process. This teaches you tools to de-escalate a heightened stress response (when our survival brain sends us into fight/flight/fawn/freeze/dissociate) making this both a nurturing and empowering practice, while taking you by the hand on a journey to your Self.
The layers (koshas) that we move through are as follows:
Anna Maya Kosha - physical body
Prana Maya Kosha - energy body
Mano Maya Kosha - mental/emotional body
Vijnana Maya Kosha - intuitive body
Ananda Maya Kosha - bliss body
Beyond this 5th layer is the Atma, also referred to as Para Shakti, supreme oneness with all. There is no distinction, no separation, nothing but pure source in this place.
You will notice the word ‘maya’ in each of the names of the koshas. Maya means illusion in Sanskrit and refers to the understanding that all of these layers are temporary conditions put on the spirit so that one can experience life on earth. They are illusory though, not reflective of the ultimate truth of our ecstatic, divine nature. Even Ananda Maya Kosha, where we have a taste of this blissful union with the beloved, is still shrouded in the veiled human concept that we are something separate from that.
How to Access the Koshas
Anna Maya Kosha
When stress comes to find us it hits our body first. We may think that it goes straight to our heads, which it may if your head happens to be where you hold stress! But it doesn’t go straight to the mind. The mind latches on to the stress once it makes a story of what our body, breath and neural circuits are reporting to it, and the story is based on what these physiological cues have led to in the past.
To meet stress at the gate, sensitive awareness of our physical body is required, followed closely by attunement to our breath (see next paragraph). Do you feel your brow furrowing, shoulders hiking up, belly tightening? Can you honor that response to what you’re encountering and then invite those areas to relax? Cultivating radical self-acceptance is crucial for the healing process. If we react with self critique to what we notice ourselves feeling we resist it. This creates a wall where we are needing a soft opening. Practice unconditional self love for the ways your body has learned to survive and navigate this world.
Prana Maya Kosha
Prana is the animating spirit that flows through our being on our breath, and the electrical current that is transmitted through the neural networks that form our belief structures.
The word 'inspiration' is derived from the latin word inspirare or inspiritus which means ‘to draw air into the lungs’, ‘to breathe into’, ‘to breathe in spirit’ or simply put, to be alive. You have likely had the importance of deep breathing drilled into you at this point in your life, so I won’t deliberate on that besides pointing out one thing: to de-activate a stress response, please take a deep breath, dropping your diaphragm so that your belly and chest fill with air, and follow that with a slow, long exhale. Make sure the exhale takes longer than the inhale. Our lungs have receptors in them that report to the hypothalamus (survival brain) if we are safe or threatened, and the ratio of our inhale:exhale offers up just such information.
In addition to working with the breath, there is untapped source energy available to us through our belief systems. If we have expansive beliefs, we are wired for more aliveness, conversely, if we are stuck in states of contraction then we become limited in how much ife we can run through our system. People often think that the only way to approach this prana body is through the breath but we can drastically increase our vitality by utilizing affirmations/sankalpa to affect our synaptic connections within our actual wiring. This paves the way for a flow of more expansive thoughts, emotions, intuitions and joy to flow through us as we move through the remaining koshas.
Mano Maya Kosha
This is the dimension of our thoughts and emotions. As stated above, the tone and quality of our thoughts and emotions depends heavily on the belief structures/neural wiring that they flow through. Imagine a house that is hot wired out of stress by someone that has no idea how to run electricity vs. a home up to code with all the amenities functioning smoothly. In the first scenario, you’re putting out fires just when turning on a light, and in the latter everything works on command - ambient lighting, central air conditioning, heated pool and hot tub at the ready. It’s a matter of being in a pretty constant state of survival vs. living a lavish, expansive existence with endless opportunity and pool parties.
In combination with addressing our wiring, we can affect beautiful release and transformative shifting to this layer of ourselves through creative visualization, daydreaming, and guided meditation to name a few.
Vijnana Maya Kosha
Once we have set the prior three layers to ease, we can more easily access our intuitive body. This is represented energetically by the third eye or Ajna Chakra. This is the place of our inner knowing that can be very hard to align with when there’s a lot of static from the other three koshas. This is exactly why you gain insight in the shower - the warm water is relaxing your muscles and your breathing is at ease, opening the thresholds to your intuitive layer.
This sheath of our being is what seeks to draw awareness from what is happening in front of the senses to a deeper space, going beyond the lenses of our perception to a clearer place capable of discernment and wisdom.
So why the “maya”? Though this layer is closer to our innate wisdom and points to our true self it is still limited and not always present.
Ananda Maya Kosha
Here we arrive at the Bliss Body, which corresponds to Sahasrara, or the crown chakra. It’s kind of silly to attempt to describe what it’s like to be situated in this aspect of ourselves, though poets, mystics, philosophers and lovers of the world have been attempting to capture it for millenia. We are talking about god, source, the universe, the spirit realm, the great muse, the beloved that we are both motivated by and long for. The one who is at once perpetually just out of reach, yet our truest, most inner core self.
This Kosha is the aspect of us that is closest to the Atma, or Para Shakti, the divine itself, which is our ultimate truth.
Atma / Para Shakti
This is the indescribable…
Goddess, God, Oneness, Source. Here, we are that with no divide.
Image from my book- UPLEVEL: Self Healing Workbook
Through practicing Yoga Nidra we can relax while healing our conditioning. Nidra is a subtle, yet powerful practice that meets the practitioner where they’re at and reaches out a hand.
For yoga videos & guided meditations: check out the YouTube channel
For exalted comfort see yinmat.com! Pad out your embodied healing