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The Four Yugas ––Continued

As mentioned in last week's entry, the notion of the Four Yugas is a very rich source of yogic and esoteric information, one that can help us learn a great deal about the cyclical nature of time and how our own practice must develop with it. Following from that post, we'd like to centre today's discussion on those aspects we weren't able to cover then; namely, how the notion of the Four Yugas relates to other well-known yogic concepts such as the Chakras, the Koshas, the Eight Limbs of Yoga, or the esoteric Bodies, for example.

Indeed, though the specific amount of time each Yuga lasts can vary, the way in which each Yuga follows from the previous one is fixed, and so one thing is certain: with each transition from one Yuga to the next ––from Satya to Treta, from Treta to Dvapara, from Dvapara to Kali and back to Satya Yuga to begin a new cycle all over again–– there is a certain loss of 'awareness,' a descent or decrease in global and individual consciousness and, with it, a progressive loss of ability to connect to heightened spiritual states.

In Yoga and Ayurveda, the micro is always but a mirror of the macro ––the body but a mirror of universal reality–– and so, this tendency towards a growing separation between above and below, core and periphery, or inside and outside is also mapped at the level of the Koshas, the Chrakas, and other subtle elements too.

Koshas, Chakras, and the Four Yugas

According to tradition, then, our gross material bodies are but one of the many layers, sheaths, or manifestations of a much deeper entity: our soul. Traditional yogic texts speak of five different kinds of sheaths or bodies, the so-called Koshas that, wrapped concentrically around our soul, protect it and grant it specific abilities in different types of planes.

From the outside to the inside, the Koshas unfold as follows:

5. Annamaya Kosha: the physical body layer ––the one most removed from our soul and the one we've grown accustomed to identifying with 'who we are.'

4. Pranamaya Kosha: the energetic (or breath) body.

3. Manomaya Kosha: the mental (or psychic) body ––the body many of us are trapped into when we are distracted from identification with the physical body.

2. Vijnamaya Kosha: the intuitive (or intelligence) body.

1. Anandamaya Kosha: the bliss body.

Together, these five bodies produce what Yoga and Ayurveda define as the Panchakosha. If you'd like to read a more detailed explanation of each of the Koshas and what they represent, check our previous entry on the topic here; but let us focus our attention today on their relationship to these larger universal seasons or cycles.

Each of these different sheaths or Koshas represents a different level of manifestation of universal or cosmic energy in our bodies. These energies, all different, traverse through our bodies through the so-called nadis: a series of esoteric, invisible-to-the-human-eye channels or energetic pathways which, when they meet at certain points, give rise to energy concentration areas we label as Chakras.

Chakras are normally defined as 'energetic wheels' because they vibrate at different speeds or rates depending on their location and the specific nature of the energies they bring into action or friction. According to the scriptures, there are 7 main chakras metaphorically located along our physical spine. Each of these represents, again, a more refined or elaborate plane of consciousness than the one immediately prior. Hence, Muladhara, Swadisthana, and Manipura Chakras correspond to the desires, needs, and instincts of the physical body (Annamaya Kosha) with its needs and wants ––such as food, shelter, reproduction, and security. Anahata and Visshudhi Chakra correspond to the desire for connection and meaning in relation to others (love) and to the need for communication of that which is felt and thought by the individual to the world (Manomaya Kosha). Ajna Chakra corresponds to the intuitive mind with its ability for wisdom beyond 'knowing' (Vijnamaya Kosha); and Saharara Chakra to the ability to reach samadhi and experience the bliss of being rooted in an eternal sense of presence at all times (Anandamaya Kosha).

In essence, the Koshas and the Chakras are different degrees of manifestation of energy in our bodies and how this conforms or creates our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual reality. The Four Yugas speak of a progressive 'loss of touch' with the spiritual and more esoteric dimension of life; that is, the more subtle and refined properties and qualities of life progressively lose hold on our perception of the world and of reality at large. And so, the Koshas and Chakras are but a reflection or a manifestation at a smaller scale of what the notion of the Four Yugas or Four Seasons of the Universe speaks about.

Knowing, Forgetting, Re-Membering Ultimate Reality

Yogic scriptures tell us that, in today's world, a majority of the people on our planet do life 'from the navel down'; that is, they go through life experiencing the world from the centres of Manipura, Swadishana, and Muladhara the majority of the time. These three chakras are the ones connected to the physical body (Annamaya Kosha) and its very physical needs; which basically means that, for a large majority of the population on the world today, everything there is to life has to do with one predominant dimension: that which can be experienced through the physical body and its very limited 5 senses ––those of sight, smell, taste, hearing, and touch.

A quick look at the most advanced and subtle techniques and teachings of traditional Yoga suffices to realize that yogic practices for the physical body are but a very small percentage of what texts like the Hatha Yoga Pradipika or the Yoga Sutra with its 8 Limbs of Yoga have to offer. In fact, most of the most relevant teachings and methods gathered in these ancient texts generally require an ability to go beyond the body ––indeed, to go even beyond the mind–– proclaiming practices for the body (asana, pranayama) as preparatory at best.

Think of the 8 Limbs of Yoga, for example. Their sequence flows like this:

  1. Yama (how to behave)

  2. Niyama (how not to behave)

  3. Asana (how to move)

  4. Pranayama (how to breathe)

  5. Pratyahara (how to abstract)

  6. Dharana (how to focus)

  7. Dhyana (how to maintain focus)

  8. Samadhi (how to reach bliss)

Read inversely, the sequenced outline by Sage Patanjali mirrors not just the progression of how the four Yugas follow one another, but also explains the reason why, in our current season, Kali Yuga, the orientation of most people's Yoga practice is merely physical. They practice Yoga to stay fit and, if possible, sweat.

Hence, the notion of the Four Yugas, the main texts of Yoga, and the main philosophical and esoteric concepts of Yoga map a progressive move from a civilisation that was connected to their inner being, their 'source,' their soul, and that therefore had a greater capacity for introspection and subtle work, to one that has lost touch almost completely with the spiritual dimension of life and reality; that has mistaken 'the world of things' for everything there is to REALITY, and that, therefore, needs a lot more effort when it comes to remembering where ultimate reality is and what it is.

The Four Yugas in Context

That we have forgotten what we really are and substituted this for 'who we think we are' is symptom enough of a loss of touch with anything beyond the mind. And it essentially means that, despite our civilization's great focus on practices for the body ––practices that aim at preserving the health of the body–– what we individuals of the Kali Yuga period would actually benefit the most from is not practices that reinforce our sense of physicality and that further connect us to the world of the gross and material, but rather, practices that teach us to go beyond it; practices that bring back a sense of the spiritual into our lives and worlds, and practices and methods that help us transcend our attachments to the worlds of the senses.

We need to progressively re-member what the seasons of Dvapara Yuga, Treta Yuga and Satya Yuga metaphorically stand for; what the sheaths of intuition and bliss feel like; what experiencing and doing life from the navel-up can look like; and thus, how to get to a point where pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi flow with ease when we sit on the mat. That's what Yoga is really for. That's what should bring us to the mat.