The Mind Layer, or Manomayakosha
We’ve been working our way slowly (my bad) through the model of yogic health and well-being known as the five koshas. The first layer is the “meat or food body,” the second is the “prana or energetic body” and the third is known as the manomayakosha or “mind body.”
The manomyakosha is sometimes called the psychological sheath, which includes thoughts, feelings and the processes that organize our experience of the world. What we call “mind” is an umbrella term for thoughts, emotions, ego, attitudes, beliefs and imagination. The mind is responsible for planning, learning, analyzing, problem solving and keeping us safe from danger. Education, knowledge acquisition, and the habits that organize our experience of the world operate at this level.
We’re not sure what we’re talking about when we talk about the mind.
In modern times we’ve realized that talking about the mind is complicated for many reasons. For one, we’re not sure what it is or where it resides. In days of yore we thought that the mind resided entirely in the brain. We’ve since discovered that while much of our thinking resides there, it’s not the whole truth. For example, we’ve discovered that we have as many neurochemicals being produced in our guts as we do in our brains. And changes made at the “body” level can influence things at the “mind” level in ways that we’ve never understood before. A study in 2012 discovered, for example, that people with depression who had their frown muscles paralyzed with botox reported that their moods improved. Researchers have also discovered that breathing and relaxation practices can decrease the level of inflammation in the body. The placebo effect in the case of pharmaceutical research (or almost any form of medical or alternative treatment) is huge. Simply talking to a caring individual about a health problem can result in startling, measurable improvements.
Our brain is a prediction machine
The ancient yogis realized that the mind was capable of creating change in the body, and recognized that changing the ways we think about things could improve both our mental and physical health challenges. The power of our attitudes and perspectives have been well-understood for millennia. We all know the cliche: mind over matter. Our brain’s job is to predict what will happen next based on our experiences of the past, so what we believe is going to happen will often happen.
Positive Thinking has Pros and Cons
Lest you are worried this post will devolve into cheerleading for the power of positive thinking, fear not. We all know that choosing to think positively and reframe events in meaningful and useful ways is a great skill. But it’s only useful if it’s practiced within a larger framework of other skills, and other actions. For example, we can apply positive thinking to a difficult relationship we’re having at work, but rewriting the story of how we respond to a conflict is only useful if we’ve paid attention, researched the causes and conditions that lead to it, listened fully to other’s perspectives and been really truthful about our own emotions and needs. Many, many of the world’s problems cannot be solved merely by reframing them in a more positive light. The tyranny of too much, or premature, positivity is that it can drown out whatever parts of yourself need to be seen, heard, acknowledged and cared for.
Your ideas may not even belong to you
To come back to the mind, we also have a curious dilemma about which thoughts are ours and which ones come from outside of us. Many of the thoughts we think, and the opinions we hold don’t really belong to us at all. We’ve absorbed them gradually, unconsciously, purely because we’re surrounded by them. Our cultures dictate many of our ideas, based on history, law, fashion, commerce, politics and so on. For example, the desire to have a perfectly tended lawn is a phenomenon that only came into wide-spread existence about two hundred years ago, after the invention of the lawn mower in 1830 (for a thorough history visit Wikipedia). But if you watch the commercials on television you’d be forgiven for believing that your lawn is a measure of your self-worth, civility and manliness. So much of what we think is true, or ours, is actually just a passing cultural phase or widely-accepted belief. Marketers exist to tend to our desires and manufacture new ones whenever feasible—that’s their job.
Thinking about thinking
The yogis and ancient Indian philosophers had a lot to say about the powers, and the problems of thinking. Patanjali (the compiler of the yoga sutras) wrote that ideally we wouldn’t believe something unless it could be observed directly with the senses and confirmed by deductive reasoning and it could be backed up by experts with authority and experience on the subject (1.7). It’s a standard of proof that we’d be well-advised to revisit today, when so much of what we read online is fictitious, misinterpreted or incomplete.
To come full circle, the manomayakosha is the layer of well-being that allows us to work with our thoughts, imaginings, memories and ideas. Through practices such as meditation, visualization, study, research, discussion, and self-talk we can definitely influence our mental faculties and mental health. We can explore our beliefs and how we came to hold them, and we can develop new habits of thinking and ways of meeting stressful situations. We can see the stories we tend to tell ourselves and decide whether they are true or not.
The ability to work with the mind is an important aspect of yoga. Stay tuned…we have two more layers left to go.
P.S. I always appreciate hearing what you have to say. Leave a comment below!