Kosha translates to “layer”, and according to yogic philosophy, we are comprised of five layers working together to make up our being. The concept of koshas has improved my yoga practice, as not only look at my physical and mental wellbeing, but the wellbeing of each of the layers. Thinking of the body in five layers has given me a path to be more mindful, and helps me make better choices.
The koshas are first introduced in the Taittiriya Upanishad, an ancient Vedic text dating back to the 6th century BC. It is sometimes visualized as layers like a nesting doll- it is all you, but they are separate parts that work together to form your full being. They cannot be separated to form their own thing- you have all of them. They begin with the outermost layer (in this case, the annamaya kosha) and progressively focus on more subtle degrees of energy, ending at the anandamaya kosha.
Explore the koshas below, and start directing your awareness to the five layers of the body.
The first kosha is known as Annamaya, with Anna meaning to “food” or “physical matter” and maya meaning “made of”. This kosha represents the physical body, so think organs, bones, muscles, and skin. It also represents the food we put into our bodies. In regards to yoga, most people are familiar with using their physical body through yoga poses. To explore this kosha, reflect on how you treat your physical body. Are you exercising? Eating healthfully? Or are you falling into unhealthy habits? Making adjustments to improve this kosha will give you the most visible benefit, and it is the first step to exploring the deeper layers of the self.
The second kosha translates to “made of energy”. Pranamaya kosha is sheathed by annamaya kosha and harbors our prana, or “life force”. Prana is regulated by the quality of your breath, so the better you are breathing, the stronger your prana. Many people are also familiar with this kosha because they have practiced yogic breathing techniques known as pranayama. If you are interested in exploring this later, start observing your breath. Practice pranayama techniques and observe how you feel before am after. Ask yourself, “Am I breathing in a way that is giving me what I need?”. If not, change it up to nourish the pranamaya kosha.
The third layer, sheathed by the previous two kosha, is derived from the word “manas” meaning “mind”. This kosha focuses on your thought processes, including sensations, feelings and the five senses. Do you ever stay up, unable to sleep because streams of continuous thought are flowing through your head? That is your manomaya kosha being overactive. It influences how we take in and interact with our environment. A regular yoga practice can help settle the manomaya kosha down. To reflect on this kosha, ask yourself “What is my perception of he environment? How can I improve how I am seeing and interacting with my environment?”.
The fourth kosha deals with out knowledge and is derive from the word “vijnana”, meaning “intellect”. The first three layers are usually touched on by a yoga practice, but the vijnanamaya kosha takes times to cultivate and build. Your conscience, intuition, and wisdom don’t happen overnight- you live, learn and acquire this knowledge over time. As your progress through your yoga practice, you may notice that you go deeper into the pose by closing the eyes and observing the sensations. This is an example of nourishing your vijnanamaya kosha, as it builds mindfulness, awareness and wisdom of how your mind, body, and environment affect you. To explore this kosha, reflect on your mindfulness. What do you know? What do you not know? Are you limiting yourself for no reason?
The fifth kosha is called the anandamaya kosha, is named for the word ananda, meaning “bliss”. This is the deepest layer of being and is associated with bliss, freedom and the essence of your true nature. It is fair to say that most people aren’t in touch with layer, though it may make appearances in your life or in certain situations. To explore this kosha, reflect on when you find a flow during an activity or a specific situation. The type of flow where you are completely immersed and time stops, or when you experience joy. These are glimmers of the anandamaya kosha. When do you experience it in your life? If you aren’t experiencing it, what can you do to make it better?
Understanding the koshas can help you work through different layers of your being. It takes a bit of practice, but over time, thinking in this way can be beneficial to understanding your inner complexities. Give it a go and report back!