How do you fuel yourself?

  • Working-out
  • Outdoor activities
  • Food
  • Family and friends
  • Music
  • Quiet…?

Recently a student stated, “Remind me what the 5 Koshas represent.”

As the seasons change, a review of the 5 Koshas provides us with a ‘health road map’ to better fuel ourselves as we follow the rhythm of transitions from summer to fall to winter.

The 5 Koshas – Body, Breath, Mind, Personality and Heart – are layers or dimensions of a human that can be studied and refined for a lifetime. Visualize the rings within the trunk of a tree or the layers of an onion; petals or circles that each represent a dimension of who we are, yet all interconnected to make us a whole person. Viniyoga scholar Gary Kraftsow reminds us of the impact each layer has on the other, stating, “I’ve never seen a spine come into my office without a liver attached to it. “

LAYER 1 – Physical Layer

This seems to be the most obvious layer or, as one student commented, ‘It is my brick and mortar for the rest of my life.’ Yet there can be challenges with providing the physical ‘home’ with the best fuel to endure the year. Low back discomfort, tight hips, tension in the shoulder blades, even cramps in a foot or soreness in a wrist remind us the home needs constant care.

FUEL for the Physical Layer

Move. Your “brick and mortar” physical self responds to movement. You don’t have to break a world record in the number of miles you log within a day or the count of downward facing dogs you stretch through to try to get your heels to touch the floor. Yet, find mindfulness in the miles, in the ‘dogs’ and notice what movements fit your needs. This keeps the physical layer supple yet strong for all the seasons and for the health of all the Koshas.

What activity fueled you today? What is your favorite posture or combination of postures?


LAYER 2 – Vital Layer

Our breath provides oxygen to the blood, and the blood in turn fuels our organs, muscles and all tissues. Our brick and mortar needs that fuel to move, to heal after an injury, to digest food and to regulate body temperature, among many other important things.

FUEL for the Vital Layer

Breathe. And then breathe some more. Follow your breath and connect with it like you would your best friend. Breathing practices you experience in your yoga classes are opportunities to release tension and agitation. Mindful breathing brings ease to movement and this ease is an opportunity to welcome stillness.

For a new perspective go outside and breathe fresh air. Notice the smell of the air in the fall and then in the winter. Take a deep breath when it’s sunny and when it’s snowing.

Practice mindful breathing in class, then apply it to your life at different times during your day and in different situations. Observe and be aware of the fresh air and food you digest as premium fuel that keeps your vital layer running smoothly.

When do you notice your inhale and exhale during your day? What foods fuel you to feel steady energy and mental alertness within your day?


LAYER 3 – Mental Layer

You are continually processing information through your five senses, then filtering it through previous experiences, and using your ability to respond.

Remember a moment when your five senses were on overload. Maybe you were checking Facebook while listening to your kids, spouse or partner talk about their day while also checking off your list of things ‘to do.’ The TV in the background adds even more noise. If you were aware, you may have experienced a shortness of breath, a tightening in the throat, chest or belly, and hunched shoulders.

FUEL for the Mental Layer

Be mindful of what you “feed” your brain. Be quiet. Stop. Follow your inhale and exhale. Even a few minutes can help soften mental agitation and sensory overload. Your yoga practice invites you to find quiet and give your five senses a reboot from life’s static. In turn this can fuel you to do one thing at a time: reconnect with a favorite hobby, listen to music, communicate face to face with a friend and even deepen your commitment to learn something new.

What class at 5K has brought you to attention where you learned something new?


LAYER 4 – Personality

Our personality is affected by our experiences, influencing ‘our attitudes and perceptions, our priorities and goals, our values, and the content and style of our communication,’ as shared in Gary Kraftsow’s book ‘Yoga for Transformaton.’

Our personality layer is a work in progress and asks us to stand grounded in our beliefs yet open to a new perspective, a different thought pattern, less opinionated commentary.

FUEL for the Personality Layer

More quiet. Do you see a healthy pattern? Making time and giving effort to care for layers 1-3, invites curiosity and readiness to soften the ‘internally conditioned patterns and external stimulations’ of layer 4.

Quiet activities invite self-reflection. Your yoga practice may offer you quiet reflection when connecting breath to movements or during a seated meditation. Focusing on words of encouragement that are rooted in your beliefs invites kind evaluation and quiet contemplation.

When do you make time for quiet self-reflection and how does that fuel who you are and your relationship with others?


LAYER 5 – Heart

A beautiful description of the Heart Layer in ‘Yoga for Transformation’ states, ‘This is the part of us which…gives our lives a sense of meaning and purpose. This is the dimension of ourselves where our passions, longings and potential for happiness and joy reside.’

The unbridled joy of a child; a dog ready to take a car ride; a choir united in harmony with mouths open and eyes closed. Joy and happiness is a birthright and at the depths of who we authentically are.

FUEL for the Heart

Healthy relationships inspire us. For some of us, the outdoors is nourishing, from digging in the dirt, to listening to the wind in the trees or observing the night sky.

Our values and beliefs lead us ‘…to orient our lives toward achieving our goals, and ultimately facilitate the “descent into the heart” that enables us to awaken to spiritual awareness.’

Taking time to fuel the Heart Layer, ‘…strengthens our connection to that source of inspiration that takes us beyond our own self-importance and that reminds us of our higher aspirations, goals and values.’

What family and life events create joyful rituals for you? How does the change in seasons invite new patterns to your routine of life? Which new patterns help you feel connected to what is meaningful and sacred to you?

Studying and understanding our 5 Layers takes both effort and ease. It is a life-long process. I’m humbled and encouraged by the work of all students of yoga.



(Note, all quoted material is from ‘Yoga for Transformation’ by Gary Kraftsow)

Heather Van Dalfsen, M.Ed, E-RYT 500, C-IAYT is a Certified Viniyoga Teacher and Yoga Therapist with a Masters in Education. Heather offers group classes, family classes, corporate yoga, Yoga Atop Rib Mountain, individual instruction and individualized Yoga Therapy. With a touch of humor and creativity, Heather invites you to reconnect to what is important to you for continued health within your body, breath, mind, character and heart at 5 Koshas Yoga & Wellness in Wausau, WI.