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Enter the Mandala: A Unique Experience of Yoga

Updated: May 17, 2023

Has your yoga practice grown stale? Are you new to yoga and don’t know where to begin? Are you a seasoned practitioner wanting to deepen your practice? Does the myriad of techniques labeled as yoga confound you? If any of these descriptions depict you, this article might help. First, yoga means a drawing together or linking and typically relates to gathering the senses back to the source of attention, designated as the heart. Therefore, over the years, many practices that achieve this purpose of linking or yoking the senses have been developed and, with time, become represented by the word yoga. To this end, I was taught a system of practice where these various methods were brought together rather than kept separate.

The system that I was taught is called maṇḍala because it offers, as maṇḍalas do, a map for traversing other realms. Maṇḍala is a Sanskṛt term used to describe something typically round, sometimes triangular, and might contain an assemblage of items. Its root word, ‘maṇḍa,’ denotes an essence, like the cream of milk. The suffix ‘-la’ indicates a container. So it is suggested that a maṇḍala is a container of or for an essence. While its meaning can vary slightly from tradition to tradition, it is profoundly meaningful and representative of one’s practice in all contexts.

So, how does the word maṇḍala come to refer to a practice that involves various yoga methods? First, we have to return to the topic of a previous article wherein we enumerated the pañcakośa, the five layers of being. In that article, we discussed how each layer emerged from certain elements that different practice methods can impact. Within the Buddhist maṇḍala traditions, there is an idea similar to, but not identical with, these layers. The skandhas of Buddhism refer to the aggregates of being that conceal one’s true nature.

The theory of aggregates aims to exhibit how humans are a collection of constantly changing parts. These parts are mistaken as a whole, thereby disguising the true nature of being, which is continually evolving and never indivisible. These parts align with the pañcakośa from our previous article, albeit with the addition of the two supplemental layers I proposed. However, the kośas are veils that give the appearance of differentiation but do not divide humans into parts. For the maṇḍala practice, I overlay the two schematics and identify methods of transforming these layers and aggregates to aid in coming to a balanced and enlightened state of being.

The maṇḍala practice is done on two mats in the shape of a cross. There are six sets, each done to a particular direction. Each direction corresponds with a color, element, and psychological layer. Within each set performed to the directions, students encounter postures, flowing movements, breathwork, hand gestures, mantra recitation, directional meditation, and color visualizations. These various methods relate to the elements that comprise the layers, whether they are recognized as parts or veils. The psychological benefits culminate in completely abiding within one’s inner nature as stillness and repose.

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