What grief and loss does to our body.

Our body goes through a lot of stress and tension when we experience grief and loss. Our necks and shoulders may grow tight from anxiety, our digestive system may take a hit from having no appetite or excessive comfort eating, our hip-flexors and low back may experience pain and tension from sitting too much…

However, I am not just talking about our physical body. In yoga wisdom, we have five bodies – one physical, and four subtle – and they are called the ‘koshas’.

The koshas were revealed in the Upanishads, revealing five concentric sheaths, housed within the next, that cover our consciousness. The koshas layer from the dense physical sheath to the subtlest inner layer of bliss.

They are:

  1. Annamaya Kosha – the food sheath / physical body
  2. Pranamaya Kosha – the energy / breath sheath (or body)
  3. Manomaya Kosha – the mind sheath (or body)
  4. Vijnanamaya Kosha – the wisdom / intuition sheath (or body)
  5. Anandamaya Kosha – the bliss sheath (or body)

Keep in mind that ‘maya’ means ‘illusion’ / ‘delusion’ in Sanskrit. These sheaths or bodies are not even really real (which is true, if you think of the millions of atoms and molecules vibrating at different speeds that make up the total of us).

So let’s take a look at these sheaths, and how they affect us while we grieve.

Annamaya kosha – the physical sheath.

The first sheath or body is the physical body that comprises of – in essence – food, or what we eat (‘anna’ means food in Sanskrit). So this sheath comprises of the muscles, bones, organs, cartilage, tendons, ligaments, nails and hair of our body (there may be more, this list isn’t extensive!).

Yoga starts to happen as we begin to explore and experience the physical body in its manifold connection with the energetic, intellectual, wisdom, and blissful bodies.

Mark Stephens, ‘Yoga Sequencing: Designing Transformative Yoga Classes’.

This kosha is the only sheath which is not really part of the subtle / energetic body, except by way of connection. Even so, each kosha affects the others, energy flows through and all over our sheaths.

The stress and trauma we experience from grief and loss will manifest in the annamaya kosha through muscular tension, perhaps even high blood pressure, joint pain, and any other kind of physical discomfort that happens during our journey in grief.

Take time to stretch and exercise, feeding ourselves good nutrition and allowing ourselves sufficient rest and sleep are all work towards the betterment of this kosha. As mentioned, what one kosha experiences has repercussions through all five layers.

Pranamaya kosha – the energy sheath.

This kosha connects the annamaya kosha to the other koshas. Comprised of prana – loosely translated as life force or energy of the universe. This can manifest, for example, as breath and action, of a living being.

The chakras and nadis are housed in this kosha. Prana cannot be seen, much like energy cannot be seen, but we can observe the manifestation of prana – for example, the breath. On a physiological level, the pranayama kosha is associated with the respiratory and circulatory systems, but these physical systems are just part of the manifestation of the pranamaya kosha.

The pranamaya kosha is closest to the annamaya kosha. It is subtle because it cannot be seen by the naked eye, but we can experience it through the breath, or through movement – which requires energy.

Also, keep in mind that pranamaya kosha lies in-between the physical and the mind bodies, bridging the connection between the two.

The experience of grief or trauma can decrease the flow of prana in us. When we experience grief, we experience something complex and multi-layered that affects us physically, energetically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

If there are obstructions in any of the other koshas, for sure our prana will decrease.

The practice of pranayama – or yogic breath work – will help to expand and direct energy to help cultivate a harmonious flow among the koshas. This will help remove any obstruction or contraction of prana in the chakras and nadis.

Manomaya kosha – the mental sheath.

This sheath is our cognition, “manos” meaning the mind, as well as our five sensory faculties. This sheath deals with our powers of thought and judgment.

This kosha is associated with the brain and the nervous system, helping us determine the “I” and “mine” of situations, which may either help or restrict our behaviours.

Because of its neighbouring sheath, the pranamaya kosha, our thoughts will affect our breath, which in turn will affect our body. When we go through grief and loss, it is likely our thoughts and emotions will be greatly agitated, causing ripples through all the koshas.

However, working through pranayama – yogic breath work – we may be able to manage both thoughts, emotions and their impact on our physical body when we are in bereavement.

To also tap into the manomaya kosha, we can try journaling. Both journaling, reflection on our journaling, or reflection in contemplative prayer, may give us a window into the manomaya kosha.

Vijnanamaya kosha – the wisdom sheath.

‘Vijnana’ means wisdom, and this relates to our ability to see deeper into ourselves, the world, the ways of the world and rousing a curiosity in us about spirituality.

In other words, this sheath reveals an understanding of or interest in the unity between self, ego, nature and the Divine. If our experiences are totally immersed in memories, pain or grief, this means our identity is still with the manos – the mind or ego.

This is fine. There is no judgement and of course when we experience grief and loss, it is no wonder if we are immersed in the pain we feel.

This sheath actually also deals a lot with intuition and imagination, so it is likely that our thoughts will gravitate towards our grief and loss. This sheath, however, draws us to insight and understanding of our thought processes, which in a way, helps to give us some distance from the grief we experience when we are experiencing it.

Meditation, contemplation and prayer are practices we can incorporate to help us tap into the vijnanamaya kosha (using the phrase ‘tap into’ in a very loose way).

Anandamaya kosha – the bliss sheath.

The bliss sheath is when we not only witness the moment, but dissolve into the experience of the moment. It is a state beyond words and beyond description. It is our bliss state, the innermost sheath of our being.

This is consciousness that is always there, has always been there, and will always be there. This sheath manifests itself to us when it reflects the divine – which is bliss – experienced in moments of peace or love.

This sheath reveals itself to us when we release all control and striving. It is immeasurable, indescribable – a space of immersion when we’re unaware of the passage of time, thought or self. Some people may call it ‘grace’.

The experience of anandamaya kosha isn’t readily available to many, and definitely not for every moment of every day. When we’re experiencing loss and grief, we may even wonder how we could ever be happy again, let alone find bliss in a moment.

Deep down though, we may know that this belief isn’t true. It is the experience of the emotions of grief and loss, which is all-engulfing and all-consuming, that tells us this – the manomaya kosha.

Meditation, energy healing and / or working with the chakras may help towards opening pathways towards the bliss of this kosha. Working in all the aspects above will help with all the koshas, as impact on one will affect all the others.

Feeling whole.

Just being with the grief is good enough, but if that seems too much to bear, then do try out the practices described above.

Understanding the koshas helps us comprehend how energy moves through us. It also helps us when we practise energy healing or work with the chakras.

I hope this helps you in your journey in grief. If there is any way I can help, just contact me here.

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