The third of the five koshas is manomaya kosha—the mind sheath. Manomaya encompasses the processing of thoughts and emotions. It is the connection point between the lower and upper two sheaths. It involves the functions of the mind that relate to everyday living and our individual interpretation of life. The manomaya kosha can be either useful or detrimental, depending on how we train the mind. Fortunately, the practice of yoga is designed to bring out the higher functions of manomaya kosha.
The mind makes a constant commentary about our experiences as we go about our lives. It is this commentary that can be a major hindrance to the development of the mind. Essentially, our minds create constant judgments and assumptions based on our one-sided perception of our experiences. Fortunately, since our yoga practice allows us to experience these same aspects of our lives from the mat, we can work on the manomaya kosha during practice.
During your practice, your mind will come up with all sorts of thoughts about your practice—your ability, your strength, your balance. It will comment on the postures of other people. It will comment on the teacher or the teaching. You will make assumptions, you will judge, and at times you may be overcome with emotion. Getting caught up the mind’s constant commentary is a sure way to end up frustrated or unhappy. But it is all part of the process. This is how the mind works. And we can use our practice to develop the higher functions of manomaya so that we can move into the inner, more subtle sheaths without hindrance.
The concentration we place on the breath, postures, and gazing point during yoga all help to train the mind to stay present. Instead of being pulled into the stories we tell ourselves about our experiences, by keeping the attention on the breath, the asana, and the gaze, we become more able to simply notice the commentary as it arises, and to let it fall away as we remain steady. The next time you find yourself getting caught up in the stories you tell yourself, notice that you’ve done so, and bring your attention back to the breath. This constant return of focus to the breath takes work, but eventually is becomes an inherent practice that allows us to be more of a witness to our mind rather than held in the grips of our thoughts.
If you have ever used your breath—specifically, your focus on the breath—to help calm your mind from an overwhelming experience or difficult emotion (on or off the mat), you have felt the two aspects of manomaya kosha. The ability to rise out of thought patterns that do not serve us is perhaps the most valuable aspect of this practice we call yoga. The mind is a powerful force, and we have the ability to train the mind as a way to find ease in life. This is the potential of manomaya kosha.