koshas2In one of the classes I taught in Australia, I guided students to reflect on each of the five levels of being which are described in the yoga scriptures. These levels proceed from the gross (physical) to more subtle (energetic, emotional, intellectual). We looked at areas where each person struggles physically, and in more subtle ways, where they feel stuck in their personal growth.

I then asked them to identify the emotions that arise most often for them, especially in stressful situations, and to reflect on how they respond to these emotions. We also examined where they find it difficult to live by spiritual values, and which spiritual precepts they want most to cultivate.

Yoga teaches us that the more subtle levels, such as our beliefs and values, are frequently subconscious and powerfully influence our emotions, and even our physical bodies. Knowing this, I encouraged them to recognize any connections between the levels, and then guided them through a step-by-step review of the Yoga practices and teachings that most directly address each level.

For example, someone who often feels anxious may be able to recognize an unconscious belief that he/she must perform well or prove themselves in order to be accepted or loved.  This tendency might give rise to forms of insecurity and compel him/her to constantly push themselves to do more.  They may be able to counteract those tendencies by affirming a belief in their essential goodness or Divinity, and regularly practicing Yoga postures and breathing specifically for calming and being present to their hearts and minds.

I asked them to set very clear simple goals that would help them incorporate those practices or teachings into their lives.  I had them reflect on the moments when they had experienced the deepest sense of joy, love, peace or oneness.  Then we took time to discuss those experiences and how they could consciously cultivate those profound moments.

We finished by sharing all these reflections, first in pairs, and then as a group.  In this way, they learned from and inspired each other.  It felt clear to many that they could make real progress in becoming a happier person by resolving to incorporate the results of this analysis and the specific practices they identified.  I have decided to try this again at the Institute in San Francisco and hope to do so soon.

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