Strong is the new skinny - Say what?

06 november 2014 | Av Satu Tuomela

Do you spend a fairly big chunk of your day on Instagram, Facebook and other social media platforms? (I know you do) I bet you have noticed how “the yoga body” is a thang now. A lot of, especially women are saying that they are TRAINING yoga, EXERCISING yoga. YES, it's awesome that you are doing yoga, and daily: Sadhana, it is super important. Without practice, practice, practice, nothing is coming. Right?


But what is this about training and exercising yoga? Even for me, who is a former athlete, this sounds like something far from yoga. I totally get that for some of us it's really motivating to “train hard for something” or “exercise everyday” to be….what? Better? Skinnier?  Ooops I mean Stronger?

Well anyway, "every damn day" the newsfeed is full of the most beautiful athletic women in bikinis, lingerie, even naked, in the most exotic locations and doing the most advanced asanas. Strong body, especially a body that looks strong, is IN. It's inspiring, it puts a smile on my face, it motivates me to travel even more, but is it something that is beneficial to Yoga?

It is a well know fact that an asana practice makes our bodies stronger and more capable. It can also heal the body in many ways and energize it. Traditionally asana was meant to make your body stronger and more open, so that energy would circulate more freely extending the light of awareness evenly throughout the body. It is also very important for the body to be strong when “we meet our maker”. And I am not talking about death here, I am talking about enlightenment. This does not have anything to do with the way you look.

In yoga we speak a lot about balance. We look for the balance in our bodies, minds and spirits and also a balance between them. Everything is connected, everything is energy, E=mc2, and especially in the practice of yoga, I would like to see it kept that way. Now, for a person who is interested in yoga but does not yet know anything about “the real deal”, yoga seems to be just very difficult and only for the beautiful, young and/or bendy.

Ok, still, just for the fun of it, let's look at what, in yoga, really is a strong body.

So like I said, Everything is connected. We all have experienced how the ill body influences the mind. Or how the mind is reflected by our body language. Or how the mind affects breathing, and vice versa. Yogic tradition divides the body into five layers or sheaths called kosas. These can be thought of as the russian Matryoshka doll, where inside each doll there is a similar, only smaller doll. With yoga we “peel” these layers and move towards the center, towards our true Self.

The first kosa is called the Annamaya kosa, the physical body. This sheath consists of our muscles, bones and organs and is made up of the things we eat. You are what you eat. In yoga we take care of our body by applying a healthy, sattvic diet and by practicing asana. The intellectual and spiritual quest is for the able-bodied. The Annamaya kosa must be strong for the awakening of Kundalini. When we control the body, we can control the mind.

The second kosa is the Pranamaya kosa, the energy body. You are your breath. Prana is the yogic concept of cosmic energy, the life force of all things. The way we access this energy is through breathing. Go outdoors and into the woods, green plants are a sign of high concentration of prana. By controlled breathing we can increase the amount of prana in our system. This energy also controls our bodily functions.

The third kosa is the Manomaya kosa, the mental body. In yoga, consciousness (citta) is divided into three parts: the mind (manas), the ego (ahamkara) and intelligence (buddhi)Manas is the outermost layer of consciousness. In the physical realm this is realized as our nervous system. It collects the information provided by the senses, combines it with memory and processes this data. Ahamkara is the sense on self that makes the difference between ourselves and the world around us. Buddhi is the intelligence which enables us to see things objectively, contemplate them and make decisions.

When we learn to control our mind and ego, we can live and act in freedom, without prejudice and stagnations of the past. All things will be shown with clarity, as they are in the real light of the present moment.

The fourth kosa is the Vijnanamaya kosa, the intellectual body. It intertwines with the manomaya kosa. In the same manner all the kosas are partly overlapped. We talked about the liberating power of intelligence. With intelligence, we are free to make the right decisions, not disturbed by the selfish needs of the mind and ego.

By practicing asana, pranayama and pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses) we aim to spread our awareness to the whole body. When we are aware, our intelligence spreads to the whole body as well, down to the cellular level. When intelligence consults the cellular memory spontaneously, conscious intuition will rise. We call this wisdom.

Our individual intelligence is only a part of a larger scheme, the cosmic intelligence(mahat). Mahat is the force that controls the universe. It is all around and we are immersed in it. Intuition together with conscience are messengers from the other side, they are the parts of our consciousness that are closest to the universal consciousness. There is still a wall in between, but this wall can be torn down.

Anandamaya kosa, the divine body, is the final kosa. Concentration (dharana) and meditation (dhyana)are the means to bring down the wall that stands in front of the truth. This process cannot be forced but must be let to happen on it's own, without effort. The final goal of meditation is samahdi, blissful absorption, in which our soul becomes a part of the cosmic ocean. This is the ultimate purpose of yoga.Anandamaya kosa is the sheath in which our soul resides and from here we glance at infinity.

Pretty rad and far out stuff, right? These definitions and concepts are difficult to digest at first, so don't worry. Luckily when we practice asana, pranayama, meditation, mantra, read spiritual literature, participate in service and charities etc. we can make sure that we have a hell-of-a strong body, actually 5 strong bodies in balance. Remember that a yoga practice is not just what you do on the mat and what you can do with your body. At it's best it reaches far and beyond and makes the world a better place.

xxx, Satu

Satu Tuomela

Satu Tuomela is an experienced and much appreciated yoga teacher and teacher trainer and with a big and loving Kula around the world. She has been teaching for over 20 years and is known for her unique and authentic style.

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