It seems simple enough to practice “self-care” in theory. There are many ways to care for one’s own well being, which might point to why it’s easy to put it off – after the house is clean, the project is complete, the kids are older, or when we can make the time.
I love to view the process of self care simplified – without parameters or expectations – stripped of complexity. Putting plants into the dirt, taking five minutes to sit in silence and breathe, chopping vegetables, singing a song, a few sun salutations and short relaxation (savasana) if you don’t have time for yoga class or a long home practice, time with beloveds to do absolutely nothing: these short practices can relieve the expectations of what self-care looks like and make the act of navigating life’s whitewater smoother, healthier, and completely sustainable.
Within the philosophy of yoga and its sister science, Ayurveda, we have been offered a road map connecting mind, body, and spirit. The Self resides within the heart and radiates outward. Visualize this as five concentric circles originating in the heart and expanding out into the space around the physical body. It may sound abstract, but these layers, or Koshas, exist in all living beings and outline the path to the ultimate outcome of self care: bliss.
Pancha Koshas: The Five Layers of the Energetic Body
The Physical Body (Anamayakosha)
This aspect of our energetic road map addresses the basics of self care for our physical body. It represents our actual flesh and bones and is activated when nourishing ourselves through healthy diet, positive lifestyle choices, movement, and therapy. Eating whole foods, enjoying indulgences in moderation, taking walks, running, practicing yoga, enjoying massage and chiropractic adjustments, and gardening represent some examples of the many ways to pierce this first layer of the Koshas. Earth is the element associated with Anamayakosha.
The Breath Body (Pranamayakosha)
This layer is like the gatekeeper to the subtle body. It bridges the divide from flesh to consciousness. The element of Water is associated with this layer, and to stir up stagnant water, movement must occur. The breath is this movement within us, stirring up places inside that have become “stuck”. Take some time to enjoy deep, even breaths or practice yogic breathing techniques like nadi shodhana and kappalabhati. Pranayama is the sanskrit term for these practices, and there are many online resources to guide you at home
The Mental/Emotional Body (Manomayakosha)
Now that the physical and breath body layers have been tended, the thinking mind can be addressed. The element related to this layer is Fire, and this Fire represents the thinking mind; the Fire of your thoughts. Here is where we ask ourselves the big questions: What is my path? What will I be? Where am I going? Find direction in this thinking mind layer through mantra– repetition of words that have meaning to you as intention or devotion. What thoughts and words enable you to care for yourself in a way that generates positive relationships to the world around you?
The Intuitive/Wisdom Body (Vijnanamayakosha)
This is the voice inside your heart that bears listening to. It is associated with the element of Air, which is also the element of the heart chakra. Once the thinking mind has been directed, true wisdom begins to arise. Think of this state of being as who you really are when no one is looking.
The Bliss Body (Anandamayakosha)
The four layers have aligned, and a fleeting experience of complete stillness, comfort, and divinity happens here. You might feel overcome with love. This can happen spontaneously, like when giving birth or falling in love, or within deep meditation. I experienced Anandamayakosha when nursing my daughter. Space is the element of this layer. Here, you realize your true Self.
Life doesn’t come with many instructions, but wisdom that is thousands of years old tells us this: nurture your body, breathe deeply, think positively and speak with intention, listen to your heart’s wisdom, and true bliss will follow.