ENLIGHTEN UP! a blog
Self-awareness stories: lighting our way to clarity, contentment and resilience in a complicated world.
ENLIGHTEN UP! a blog
An interview with Beth Gibbs
By Nina Zolotow, Editor in Chief of the Yoga for Healthy Aging blog
Nina: Beth, I’m so excited that you have a new book out! So I thought today we should let our readers know a little something about the book and why you decided to write it. For those who don’t know much about you, can you start by telling us a bit about yourself and your yoga background and experience?
Beth: My yoga journey began six months after the birth of my son. I was on maternity leave, and feeling overwhelmed by new mom responsibilities so I started looking for help in one of my favorite places, a brick and mortar bookstore.
I scoured the self-help sections, picked up a yoga book by the late Richard Hittleman, took it home and started to practice on my own in true introvert fashion until a friend encouraged me to try a group class. I did and was hooked. A few years later, I discovered Integrative Yoga Therapy. I liked the philosophy, signed up, took the training and began teaching. A few years later I was invited to join the faculty. Now I have over twenty years experience teaching and mentoring hundreds of yoga students, teachers and therapists-in-training from all over the world to implement the five-layer model of self-awareness (the koshas) in their professional work and personal practice.
Nina: What is the basic focus of this book and how did you choose the topic?
Beth: Enlighten Up! describes the five layers, which are:
The book discusses ways of working with them to gain 360 degrees of self-awareness. It’s written with humor, stories, tips and simple yoga practices, and the fact that Joseph
Le Page, founder of Integrative Yoga Therapy, wrote the foreword is icing on the cake.
During the early years of my yoga training, my understanding of the koshas was superficial. I could talk about the model but it took months before I could embody it in my life and my teaching. I looked for books on the koshas but found only one by B. K. S. Iyengar. Light on Life: The Yoga Journey to Wholeness, Inner Peace, and Ultimate Freedom is written in the traditional philosophy and terminology of yoga. I wanted a book that presented the koshas in a contemporary, practical format to share with my students so I decided to write one. My hope is that Enlighten Up! helps students in yoga training programs embody the model faster than I did.
The koshas are a useful tool enabling us to see both the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ of our reality; to see life as it is, not hidden behind a veil of wishful thinking or denial. When that happens we can consciously choose to make changes, remain unchanged with full awareness of the consequences or find acceptance and peace of mind if change is not possible.
Nina: Can you give us an example of how working with the koshas helped you and/or your students in real life?
Beth: After an emergency hysterectomy, I experienced chronic pain in my low back and right hip. When I explored my physical layer, I noticed that the pain tended to flare up when I was feeling stressed. I saw an integrative positional (and yoga) therapist who gave me one reason for the pain. He said my pelvis was chronically misaligned in three ways: it is rotated, one hip is functionally higher than the other and I have a deep lumbar curve. Next I saw an orthopedic specialist and got an additional diagnosis of spondylolisthesis. Now I knew why my hip and low back were handy targets for stress to manifest physically.
Then I wondered if there were second and third layer issues to deal with. There were. I was anxious, irritable stressed out, exhausted and unhappy with my job, my second marriage and the length of my self-imposed to-do lists.
I called on my fourth layer (intuitive wisdom, the witness) to trace my stress mess to its source and realized that stress, irritation and pain occurred in situations that left me feeling stuck, blocked, and trapped. Digging deeper I found fear, fear of being powerless to control what I found myself facing. That could be as simple as sitting in stalled traffic, or as complicated as navigating a difficult relationship.
Could I unearth an unhelpful thought, emotion or belief that was feeding the fear, sucking my energy and keeping me stuck, blocked and trapped? Yes, I could. I finally traced it back to a fear of calling attention to myself, embarrassing myself in public, being rude, or making a scene. I recognized that as a lamentable hangover from my good girl training as a Black woman raised to be a ‘credit to the race.’
That was a blissful wake-up call. Now that I understand the energetic connection between feeling stuck, my physical pain, and its emotional source, I make one of three conscious choices in any stressful situation. I change the situation, change myself, or leave.
Nina: What kind of audience were you writing for? Is having a background in yoga necessary to understand the book? Or can an absolute beginner benefit from this book as well?
Beth: This quote from Baxter Bell’s endorsement of the book answers that question. He wrote, “Whether you are new to yoga-based lifestyle ‘medicine” or a longtime practitioner, you will be engaged, entertained and, dare I say it, enlightened up!”
The publisher put his quote on the book’s front cover.
Nina: I understand that the book actually takes the reader on a nine-step journey. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Beth: Each of the nine steps provides a way to approach self-awareness, layer by layer:
Step 1. Physical: Body and Environment
Become aware. Learn to pay attention to your physical body and how it moves and feels. Pay attention to your personal environment. Do what you can to help the planet.
Step 2. Breath/Energy
Become aware of your breathing and your energy states
Steps 3 & 4. Mind/Emotions
Steps 5 & 6. Intuitive Wisdom – the Witness
Steps 7, 8 & 9. Bliss
Nina: What is the basic message you hope readers will take away from the book?
Beth: I love good quotes. Here’s one that sums up the core message of the book: “Life is like a game of cards. The hand that is dealt you represents determinism; the way you play is your own will.” — Jawaharlal Nehru
Becoming truly self-aware at all levels is how you play your game of cards. It’s the foundation needed to build a balanced life and find clarity, contentment and resilience in this complicated world we all share.
Nina: Is there anything else you’d like to tell our readers about your book?
Beth: I’ll share this recent message from a colleague who is reviewing the book. She said: “I wanted to send you a progress report on reviewing your book. I had thought I would scan it quickly, for the gist and write something up. But truthfully, I have gotten slowed down by the need to read it thoroughly, and carefully, plus making some notes and thinking how I might pass some of this perspective, and wisdom on to my own students. In other words, it is too good, and useful, to do a quick read.”
Enlighten Up! is available at: https://www.bethgibbs.com/enlightenupbook.html. A link to the Big ‘A’ (Amazon) is there as well). Happy reading!
Read more posts on the Yoga for Healthy Aging blog here: http://yogaforhealthyaging.blogspot.com
This post originally appeared on yogatherapy.health, published by the International Association of Yoga Therapists.
Used with permission.
Increasing self-awareness—and healing—through panchamaya kosha
By Beth Gibbs
Working with the panchamaya kosha model, also referred to as the five layers of self-awareness, can be an effective way of beginning a healing journey.
We may describe and often work with the koshas separately, but ultimately they are one interrelated system that make up the whole human being. Yoga therapists who use this model with clients tend to start with the physical body because that’s the level most people connect with easily. However, working with one kosha means that we are affecting all of them simultaneously.
Following are two ways you might work with this model. The first is to recognize and “feel” the reality of these levels within yourself, using them to understand how you function in the world.
Here’s a personal example. I start out most days with a to-do list. My goal is always to check off every item before evening. One day I had five items on my list. After items one, two, and three were checked off, the layer of my body sent a message—through a rumbling stomach and a loss of energy—that lunchtime had come and gone. I listened to the message and drove to a nearby restaurant for lunch. While I ate, the layer of my mind was busy planning the most efficient way to complete the last two items on my list. When I finished eating, my mind said, “Get up and go!” But my body and energy replied, “No! Rest and digest!” So I sat and waited for resolution. After a few minutes of stillness, my mind accepted the body’s message, and I headed home.
The second way to work with the panchamaya model is to view the koshas as guideposts on the path leading to freedom from maya, the relative reality of our material world. Yoga therapist Joseph LePage, C-IAYT, explains it this way:
The koshas are an integrated framework for developing awareness of all aspects of our lives. As we become conscious, a process of spiritual transformation results, opening us to ever deeper realms of meaning, openness and freedom.
The koshas, or layers of being, are:
Physical (annamaya kosha)—our size, shape, gender identification, race and ethnicity, anatomy, and physiology, and even extending to our homes and the planet we all share.
Energetic (pranamaya kosha)—oxygen nourishes and sustains life. Energy, or prana, is the animating force that enables us to think, create, move, love, work, and navigate all that life brings.
Mental (manomaya kosha)—our thoughts, beliefs, and emotions. This kosha relates to how we think, what we think about, what we believe, and how we experience and express our emotions.
Intuitive wisdom (vijnanamaya kosha)—the witnessing awareness, the ability to observe ourselves and our lives with compassion and without judgment to consciously make more informed choices.
Bliss (anandamaya kosha)—our connection to something larger than ourselves. This can be spiritual or religious, or a deep connection to a healthy passion or to the natural world.
As we internalize and embody the koshas in our lives, we gain the clarity, contentment, and resilience needed to help us make needed changes, remain unchanged with full awareness of the consequences, or find acceptance and peace of mind if change is not possible.
Such work is one path to wisdom and finding the “ever deeper realms of meaning, openness and freedom” mentioned above and referred to in the following lines from Eknath Easwaran’s translation of the Taittiriya Upanishad*:
The Self in man and in the sun are one.
Those who understand this see through the world
And go beyond the various sheaths of being
To realize the unity of life.
Beth Gibbs, MA, C-IAYT, is an author, speaker, teacher, and trainer. Her books, blog posts, and workshops focus on the benefits of yoga, meditation, and self-awareness.
*The Upanishads were written in India during a time when people began to shift the focus of religious life from external rites and sacrifices to internal spiritual quests. Each of these 13 texts shares stories, ideas, instructions, and insights into the meaning of consciousness and self-awareness that are as relevant today as they were 3,000 years ago.
The original post can be found here: https://yogatherapy.health/2021/01/22/increasing-self-awareness-and-healing-through-panchamaya-kosha/
BETH GIBBS started her yoga practice in 1968, four months after her son was born and she’s been practicing ever since. She currently teaches all levels therapeutic yoga classes for adults, and specialty classes for seniors in the Hartford, Connecticut area. Beth is a certified yoga therapist through the International Association of Yoga Therapists and is guest faculty at the Kripalu School of Integrative Yoga Therapy. She writes for the blogs, Yoga for Healthy Aging, and Accessible Yoga. Her master’s degree from Lesley University in Cambridge, MA is in Yoga Therapy and Mind/Body Health.