The Vijnanamaya Kosha is the fourth layer in the kosha model. Vijnana translates to intellect or knowing. This kosha is often referred to as the wisdom layer.
With the first three layers of the koshas we look at the physical body (Annamaya Kosha), the breath and energetic body (Pranamaya Kosha) and the information that the mind receives (Manomaya Kosha). All of this information is then perceived, reflected upon and becomes part of the intellect of the witness.
The vijnanamaya kosha refers to one’s attitude, perceptions, goals, values and even the style of communication used. Remember the analogy of each kosha being like a lampshades and the Anandamaya Kosha like the light bulb. [Read more on that in my overview of the five koshas]. I feel this analogy is really easy to visualize with this wisdom body layer.
In 2011 I traveled to Tepoztlán, Mexico with writer and performer, Alison Wearing. It was a yoga retreat where I was one of the students. We had morning meditation, yoga, amazing food and we spent our spare time exploring. It was a powerful experience, focused on the Vijnanamaya Kosha (even though I didn’t know what that was at the time).
The moment that Alison introduced herself, she set an intention for our time together. She asked us to notice when we were feeling a strong pull to put our experiences into a category of “good” or “bad”. She asked if we could just notice what we were witnessing without the judgements. For example – remarking on the beauty, sadness, cleanliness, etc. of a new location.
I have held on to this sage advice. I share a similar tone in the yoga classes that I offer; asking students to notice without judgement when possible.
This is a self-study that I feel I will be working with my entire life. When I move into this place I feel more aligned with my intuition, true self and inner knowing.
Often we hear the message that what we bring focus to, will expand. When we cultivate this awareness over time we can begin to choose how we perceive things and then in turn how we act. We are always looking through our own lenses. Our view is coloured by our experiences and beliefs. Sometimes our perception is more glass half empty, while others times we see more of the glass half full.
Vijnanamaya Kosha in a Yoga Class
In a yoga class, focus on the Vijnanamaya Kosha can be enhanced with meditation that concentrates on self-reflection. Meditation in general also helps to become more connected to the subtle awareness, reducing the mental agitation and distractions.
“The normal state of mind fluctuates between distraction and attention, fuelled by internally conditioned patterns and external stimulations.” ~Gary Kraftsow
Pause between Poses
We can begin to notice the sensations and emotions that arise after a yoga pose when we take time to pause before moving on to the next thing. This can be more challenging when we would rather be distracted than go inward.
A healthy connection to the wisdom layer allows students to think for themselves within a yoga class. It is vital for students to connect to their own inner teacher. Usually a teacher is there guiding, but a great teacher gives room for students to feel comfortable to modify or opt out of any part of the class.
While studying with Tamika and Carolyn of the DevaTree Yoga School of Yoga – I saw that a large part of their philosophy was based on student self-determination. This empowered me as a student and I carry that awareness forward as a teacher.
“Student self-determination means we train students to locate—and listen to—their own inner guidance system.” ~Tamika Schilbe, co-founder of DevaTree
There are so many variations of what the word faith means to people. Sometimes that word can trigger emotions within me, that make me avoid bringing it into a yoga class discussion. It was my partner, Shawn, (also a yoga teacher and writer) who gave more insight to this as being an important part of the Vijnanamaya Kosha. He gave the example of having faith in a yoga teacher or style of yoga as being one expression of this.
It is important for me to note that I feel really strongly about keeping yoga and religion separate. Because I believe that yoga should be available to everyone and not tied to one belief system. At the same time I like to acknowledge my own beliefs and faith within my personal practice. I also like to practice faith towards my inner teacher.
Regarding the eight limbs of ancient yoga philosophy, the Vijnanamaya Kosha relates to the Yamas and Niyamas as well as Dhyana. Some yogis also have drawn connections to the Dharana and Samadhi limbs.
How do you bring elements of the Vijnanamaya Kosha into your yoga practice? Feel free to share in the comments below.