The Language of Cueing

I love language, always have. Since the days of high school when we were given essays to write in English class, I have enjoyed putting together words. I like the word play of alliteration and rhymes. And words to songs can be conjured up at a moment’s notice just for the fun of it or as a way of using the lyrics as response to something said in a conversation.

What most impressed me about the Koshas was the understanding that they can be used as a guide for cueing, particularly during restorative yoga. My role in guiding yogis during restorative practice is to assist them with finding deep relaxation. Part of this comes from the atmosphere I set in the room (gentle lighting, warm temperature, safe and pleasant surroundings), part of it comes from how I guide the setup (both the words used to explain how to arrange props and my assisting each person with the best placement of props for them), and part of it comes from how I use language to guide each person in finding their release. Cueing is all about the use of language.

Through my own experience taking restorative classes, I know that language can be a powerful guide to a deeper experience. The Koshas: 5 Layers of Being in Yoga International online offers an exploration for experiencing each of the Koshas. I copied and pasted the exploration into a document which can be read here and will record it so that I may experience the practice as a student.

I have taken numerous trainings with Jillian Pransky and in two of the manuals that she provides for students there are examples of cueing through the Koshas. Keep in mind these are meant as examples of the type of language that could be used for each Kosha.

Annamaya Kosha – the focus is on structural/physical alignment
Let your chest be supported by the bolster.
Feel the block underneath your hips and pelvis as you drop into the block.

Pranamaya Kosha  – the focus is on the breath
Breathe into your lower back.
Feel your breath expand your ribs.

Manomaya Kosha – the focus is on an energetic tension release
Feel the space around your heart soften.
Allow the space within your heart to expand wide like the infinite sky.

Vijnamaya Kosha – the focus is on mental direction and support
Place your mind on your breath.
Follow your breath as it flows in and out.
Allow your thoughts to rise and fall without trying to grasp them.
If you notice your mind wandering, bring it back to the breath or the body’s sensation.

Anadamaya Kosha – the focus is on using guided imagery
You can read a little more about guided imagery in a prior post.


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What are the Koshas?

While I likely heard yoga teachers mention the Koshas sometime during my 13 years of practicing yoga, I only first consciously paid any heed a little less than a year ago during Jillian Pransky‘s Restorative Yoga Teacher Training Level 1. Even then, they didn’t resonate with me; I simply took notes and moved on.

Nine months later I was a student in Jillian’s Restorative Yoga Teacher Training Level 2, and there it was again…the Koshas. This time my notes were more detailed and the idea began to take shape of using the Koshas as a guide for cueing. Two days later I was a student in Jillian’s Guiding Students Into Deeper States of Relaxation Teacher Training. It was during this one day training that the Koshas finally resonated. Through experiencing via Jillian’s guiding, and then practicing with two other students, the potential of the Koshas has taken hold of my thoughts for cueing Restorative Yoga.

So what ARE Koshas? The word means “sheet”, “body”, “layer” or “sheath” and yogic philosophy states there are five Koshas, or five layers of the body. I’ve seen two metaphors for the Koshas – one imagines them as Russian nesting dolls, one inside the other, and the other imagines them as layers of an onion. In all cases, the Koshas (or nesting dolls or onion) go from the outside to the inside.

The first Kosha, or outermost layer, is Annamaya Kosha. Anna refers to food or physical matter, and maya means “made of”. In plain English, this is the Gross Body, all the physical parts – skin, organs, muscles, bones, what we are made of.

Second is the Pranamaya Kosha. Prana means “energy or life force”; the breath. This Kosha is the Energy Body, and includes various Asian approaches used for understanding the body – Chakras, Meridians,  and the Subtle Body. (I have sat through lectures about these during my 200-hour teacher training and have yet to give them much thought.)

The Manomaya Kosha is the Emotional Body and consists of the mind, nervous system, emotions, and all autonomic nervous system functions – autonomic being the autopilot of the nervous system that controls essential needs such as breathing, heart rate, and how the amygdala responds when we perceive a threat. Jillian described this Kosha as being like weather patterns, and noted that a thought rises and falls in a 90 second wave.

The Vijnamaya Kosha, or Wisdom Body, is self awareness, understanding, intelligence and intuition. As Jillian explained, it is our witness consciousness, our evolving consciousness of insight and wisdom.

The fifth and final Kosha is Anandamaya Kosha or Bliss Body. Ananda means “spiritual bliss.” Jillian called this the “Namaste Body” where we “set the conditions for us to remember our wholeness and wellness.” She further noted it is the grey matter of the brain, the evolving consciousness that “helps us experience our connection to the universe and all others.”

On one level, these are simply another way to make sense of our way of being human, the interrelationships of our body and mind, the many levels on which we experience life.

On another level, the Koshas provide a path for cueing people into deeper states of relaxation, which I will discuss in the next post.

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Guided Imagery

Guiding and Cueing Students into Deeper States of Relaxation is a one-day teacher training with Jillian Pranksy that has been on my list of workshops to take, and last week I made it happen! I found this an immensely empowering training as it tapped into my love of language while giving me a framework within which to put language to use (more on the framework in a subsequent post).

After any training, it is Jillian’s habit to email a lengthy list of additional resources, which is how I wound up at Guided Imagery 101 on the Health Journeys site.

What is Guided Imagery? It is a form of guided meditation that seeks to invoke all the senses. It cues the unconscious part of the brain to come online with “positive, healing, motivating  messages.” This description from the website, which includes some imagery of its own, resonated as much for the picture it painted as for its alliteration: “You might say these positive messages act like a depth charge dropped beneath the surface of the self, where they can reverberate again and again, catalyzing continuous change.”

Guided Imagery consists of Three Principles. The first principle is the mind-body connection. The mind-body connection refers to the ways in which the physical and mental parts of ourselves impact one another. How we feel mentally and emotionally can and does impact our physical body, and how our physical body feels can and does impact our mental and emotional body. It is why your heart may go pitter-patter and your face may smile when you conjure up an image of someone you love, or why you may break out in a sweat or have a run to the bathroom when you think about an upcoming situation you perceive as stressful.

Guided imagery works because of the mind-body connection: what we think about can impact our mood and our physical body, helping to bring the body into a state of relaxation and calm.

The second principle is the altered state. An altered state is when the mind is relaxed enough to let go of conscious, rational thought. “In the altered state, we’re capable of more rapid and intense healing, growth, learning and change.” While sometimes this state can be induced by drugs, it can also be induced in hypnosis, dreams, or during the relaxation portion of yoga, to name a few.

Guided imagery works because the mind is in an altered state: since the mind is not being consciously controlled, the imagery is able to lead the way.

The third principle is the locus of control. The locus of control refers to who is in control or where the control lies. Someone who believes they influence what happens in their life has a strong internal locus of control. “When we have a sense of mastery and control over our own experience, this, in and of itself, is therapeutic, and can help us feel better and do better.”

Guided imagery works because the locus of control is with the individual: making the choice – using the locus of control – to utilize and respond to guided imagery enhances the positive outcome of the imagery.

For a more in-depth explanation please refer to Guided Imagery 101.

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Yoga “studio”

Since June 2016 I have had the immense pleasure of leading yoga practice at the newly renovated clubhouse in my neighborhood. Almost 30 years ago we moved into a neighborhood of 200 homes sandwiched between two creeks, Guion on the west and Otter on the east. Where the roads converge is a spit of land that houses the clubhouse.

This spit of land is at the mouth of Mamaroneck Harbor, where it begins to merge with Long Island Sound. The reason the clubhouse had been renovated was due to its location, fully exposed to the elements, including hurricanes and Nor’easters that all took their toll on the stout ground level building. Additionally, the clubhouse was old and over the years there had been discussions about how to modernize it, as well as make level the floor of the main space.

The result is a building with a main space raised one floor up and providing amazing views of sunrise or sunset. Occupants often feel they are in the trees because there is a mature bushy tree just off-center to the left of the Sound facing side of the building. In addition, there is a deck facing the Sound, and the deck gives the impression of expanding the room size.

This is where we practice yoga. The first set of pictures is the “studio” in the morning before our 8:00 a.m. Friday flow practice. The second set of pictures is the same space in the evening before our Monday evening 5:00 p.m. restorative practice. The 3D designed, printed and coded (on an Arduino) light sculpture is made by my husband, and is the only light we use once our restorative practice begins.


evening lights1evening lights2evening lights3

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And so the online course concludes (but the learning continues)

final journal assgnThis is the last week of the online class Being Well in a Digital Age – The Science and Practice of Yoga. Each week I have enjoyed the videos, learned from the interviews, been exposed to (and am developing) new breathing practices, and been prodded to think about my practice and teaching of yoga. I will miss the weekly stimulation of being introduced to researchers and practitioners, and their work and approaches.

I intentionally did not participate in the online forums. My day job involves much use of technology and I had no interest in expanding the time spent online. My goal was to learn and grow as a yoga teacher, and this course has definitely helped me to do just that. For instance, I have shared a number of the breathing and meditation practices with the yogis in my flow and restorative classes. I have also added information about the vagus nerve in my guiding of class.

There is a wealth of information available on the websites of the people who were interviewed. While I visited each of their sites, there is still plenty more at each location for me to explore!

The goal setting practices of the course were useful but did not impact me in any substantial manner. I am goal oriented by nature and have been setting goals for myself for years. I find the simple act of setting a goal to be calming and to serve as an organizing structure. List-making has been a natural part of my day-to-day life, especially since my first child was born over thirty years ago, and this practice has continued, usually in written form but also as reminders kept at the forefront of my mental focus.

Thank you Stacy and Catherine for sharing your passions, interest and expertise!

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Dan Siegel

Dr Dan Siegel, interviewed by Catherine Spann, is the last interviewee for Being Well in a Digital Age – The Science and Practice of Yoga. When Dan and Catherine began talking about the Wheel of Awareness, I recalled he had been introduced during the first week of the course. Initially, I found their conversation a little off-putting, perhaps because it was not concrete enough for me, however, about two-thirds through the interview I became much more interested.

I am intrigued by the field of Interpersonal Neurobiology. Rather than trying to understand the human self through the lens of disparate sciences, I understand this field as bringing together all the sciences to understand the “me” and the “we” that compose humanity. Further, it is the practice of Mindsight, integrating the relational (between bodies) and the neurological (within the body) that is explained by the field of interpersonal neurobiology. Since this paragraph may not do either of those terms justice, definitely click the links and watch the videos (one on each page and they’re brief!) for clarification.

In speaking with Catherine, Dan described the practice of mindsight as consisting of three aspects: insight into one’s own inner experience; having empathy towards someone else’s inner experience; and integration, which is honoring the differences within oneself, and between oneself and others, and at the same time linking these differences with compassion. It can sound a bit heady and abstract, yet the more he talked about this, the more I found myself wanting to get a stronger sense of it, and that led me to explore his website. (Back at the start of this course I was miffed at the sign-up form that keeps popping up on the site, but I’ve come to grips with it and just close the pop-up window each time it appears.)

In essence, Dan explained that integration of the different parts of the system is at the core of well being, and this combination creates synergy, i.e. the whole is greater than the sum of the individual parts. I might add, as John Donne wrote:

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man
is a piece
of the continent, a part of the main.

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Cathy Eason

As part of  Being Well in a Digital Age – The Science and Practice of Yoga, Stacy Dockins interviewed Cathy Eason, a nutritional therapy practitioner and member of the Nutritional Therapy Association. The area of nutritional therapy is new to me, and I learned that it covers both what to eat and how to eat, essentially the “sourcing, preparing and eating” of food.

Cathy explained that metabolic depletion occurs due to stress, leaving the body with insufficient nutrients for nourishing health. It is not unusual for people to deal with stress by eating comfort foods, larger quantities of food, or engaging in some other non-healthy food practice. These approaches may provide temporary satisfaction but do little to promote stress-free nutritional health. Cathy provided a long list of tips for healthy stress-free eating and sleeping:

  • meditate (she is a big fan of the 1GiantMind app)
  • when selecting food – choose colors; seasonal fresh fruits and vegetables; aim for variety; and skip the calorie counting
  •  “candle down” the house, gradually having less light, and sleep in a darkened bedroom
  • keep a glass of water at bedside for sipping upon rising (or if you awake during the night with a dry throat!)
  • meals should be eaten in a dedicated eating space, just food prep and eating, no digital devices or reading
  • take time with food prep
  • S•L•O•W down, make a nice table setting
  • eat mindfully, taking time with each bite, engaging the senses
  • try eating with the non-dominant hand or chopsticks, and put either down between bites, a sure fire way to slow down the eating process
  • engage in some “earthing” (grounding) everyday by taking off your socks and feeling the earth
  • rest your bare feet on some river stones heated in warm water and placed in a wooden bowl kept under a desk

All useful suggestions, some of which my husband and I already practice, and some which I am eager to try!

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