Yoga, Silence, Emptiness and the Self

As a yoga teacher, I try to be aware of not filling my classes with talk. (Okay, Saturday morning classes may occasionally be a bit more chatty…)

As a yoga student, I tend to feel a little bit frustrated when the teacher talks continually through each pose. Sometimes they will remind you of one of the most important principles of yoga- listen to your body- and then prevent you from doing so by talking all the way through your hold. We need silence to hear the subtle language of the body. As Ursula Le Guin says, “Only in silence the word”.

Eastern philosophy has a high regard for the concept of emptiness. In western culture, emptiness is regarded as a negative state, a lack of fullness. But emptiness is not nothingness; it is a clearing for new growth. As the word can be spoken only within silence.

Silence is the earth in which the seed of self knowledge grows.

In terms of the classical literature, yoga asana practice is preparation for meditation rather than an end in itself. Through meditation we make the mind empty. This is not to achieve a state of “nothingness” as non-existence . It is when we still or empty the mind that we experience the Self.

What is the Self and why should we want to experience it?

The search for Self can sound like a negative thing. Our language spreads a dubious rumour about the word. Selfish, self-obsessed, self-centred… these antisocial traits taint the word, which is why we differentiate our use with the capital S.

Yoga teaches a concept of many bodies. You can compare the model to babushka dolls, one inside the other. There is the physical body, the energetic body, the mind body, the intuitive body and the bliss body. At the innermost core is the Self. [1]

At the level of the Self, we experience a connectedness and a state of bliss. We see that external issues can not touch our innermost nature. We emanate and exist within a state of universal love and peace.

This experience of the Self can be quite fleeting; usually we only glimpse it for a few moments during meditation, or “peak moments” or when in a state of ”flow”. [2]

Apparently some people are able to flip into a permanent state of Self-realisation. This would be associated in Eastern traditions with Buddha-hood, enlightenment, or sainthood in the Christian tradition. These people are always marked by a sense of calm and unbounded compassion. So we can see that this meaning of Self is not about the individual ego. It is the most connective state of being we have ever seen.

Through the yogic practices of movement and meditation, we can at least begin to get in touch with our higher Self and let that Self begin to shape and fulfil our everyday life choices and experience.

Thanks to @Nikita_TF for making her photo available freely on @unsplash

Basket photo©️2019 Unjay


1.Annamaya kosha (food) – This outermost kosha feeds the physical body and sustains the other koshas. In yoga, asanas can affect this kosha by nurturing the body.

2.Pranayama kosha (energy) – This kosha regulates the flow of prana (life-force energy) through the body via the nadis (energy channels) and the chakras (intense points of energy). In yoga, both asanas and pranayama (breathing exercises) affect this kosha.

3.Manomaya kosha (mind) – Manomaya is the kosha that contains and controls thoughts and emotions. Various aspects of yoga practice affect this kosha. For example, meditation and alternate nostril breathing can calm the mind.

4.Vijnanamaya kosha (intuition) – This kosha is connected to a deeper level of intuition and inner wisdom. In yoga, meditation and meditative asanas affect this kosha.

5.Anandamaya kosha (bliss) – The deepest layer, this kosha contains ecstasy, love and joy. Some traditions refer to this layer as the true Self, while others believe this kosha opens the door to the true Self.

Anandamaya kosha is considered to be the part of a being responsible for unconditional love, oneness and complete unity with all beings. Also responsible for peace, love and joy in its purest and most absolute form, it is said to go beyond any emotional or physical experience.

Anandamaya kosha, like all the koshas, is interactive and dependent upon the other layers of the body. It is in anandamaya kosha that the sense of oneness, as opposed to a sense of separation from other beings, is truly realized. Within anandamaya kosha lies the understanding that separation and ego are just an illusion. This recognition is said to total compassion, love and happiness, hence anandamaya kosha being referred to as the bliss body.

[2] …flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting loss in one’s sense of space and time.

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