Ali offers her insights: The 40 Day Yoga Challenge obliges us to keep a daily yoga journal, recording our behaviours and experiences. However, keeping up with daily entries (on top of writing blog posts, attending to business and teaching yoga classes) is time-consuming. Sometimes, I find myself writing late at night. Although it is hardly ideal to catch up on journal entries retrospectively, writing in hindsight can offer constructive insights.
Accordingly, I realised that for the last three days (Day 10-12), my anatomical ‘sheath’, or ‘food body’, had been sustained almost exclusively by food and offerings (dana) provided by my students: Maree, Milan, Dipika, Jenny, Sue and Annabelle.
*** Blessings to these students! ***
The absorption of nourishment from dana offered with compassion, love and kindness, provides a deep sense of gratitude and self-awareness. For me, it is like the mental appreciation of these offerings has been transformed into a deeply spiritual and beneficial experience.
One of the primary aims of Yoga is to harmonise the three ‘layers’ of the Yoga body.
Old texts, such as the Paiṅgala Upaniṣads 2:2-8, refer to three layers of the Yoga body: material (sthula), subtle (sukshma), and causal (karana), which consists of five sheaths or ‘koshas’.
1. The ‘material’ body is made up of five elements:
- Earth components of the anatomical ‘gross’ body is made up of bones, flesh, organs, cartilage and the like.
- Water components consist of fluids, such as: blood, lymph, saliva, sweat, and urine.
- Fire components relate to drives and desires: hunger, thirst, bodily heat, and sex drive.
- Air components are composed of breath, movement and action.
- Space/ ether is comprised of emotions
Each of these elements is subject to karmic influences. For example: if you have low iron in your blood cells, you may have been eating mainly processed foods, or avoiding leafy greens. This results in low energy. Similarly, if you offer wholesome food to a yogi or sadhu you may gain blessings and benefits from your devotional acts.
2. The ‘subtle’ body is made up of five motions (vayus) of life-force around the body:
- Inward expansion of heart and lungs (prāṇa)
- Downward elimination of waste (apana)
- Digestion and absorption (samana)
- Upward rising of breath, past the throat (udana)
- Circulation to the limbs (vyana)
The ‘subtle’ body is also made up of five conscious actions:
- Speech and articulation – vocal chords/ throat and ears for listening
- Dexterity and clasping – hands feel through the skin
- Movement – feet create a journey that shapes our lives and viewpoints
- Excretion – anus and urethra tied in with smell and disgust
- Sexual enjoyment – sex organs linked to pleasure, tastes
… As well as five ‘inner senses’: mental determination, beliefs, memory, love, and dedication
3. The ‘causal’ body is made up of ‘five sheaths’ (koshas):
- Food sheath (Athānna-maya kosha) takes nourishment from the earth, forming the gross body
- Breath sheath (Prāṇa-maya kosha) take life-force from the air, forming actions
- Mental sheath (Mano-maya kosha) uses both outer and inner senses, forming perceptions
- Intellectual sheath (vijñāna-maya kosha) uses mental perceptions, forming intelligent understanding
- Spiritual bliss sheath (Ānanda-maya kosha) uses self-knowledge, forming spiritual bliss.
The aim of Yoga is to harmonise the three layers and five sheaths.
 S. Radhakrishnan, Principal Upaniṣads (Great Britain: HarperCollins, 2011 ), 908-910.