What Are The Koshas?
In yoga, we believe there are two different forms of the body – the physical body and the subtle body.
Similar to the chakras, the koshas are one part of our subtle body and they provide a framework to journey to our deepest level of Self. They are different states of energy and human consciousness.
According to yogic texts, there are 5 kosas or energetic layers.
These five layers move from the outermost layer of skin to the deep spiritual core. Each kosha is contained within the other, like Russian Dolls and each kosa has certain characteristics and yoga practices that bring awareness and empowerment to the kosa.
Through the practice of yoga, we are able to bring more awareness to the kosa’s and determine what is really important and what is not.
It is important to find this type of awareness and the origin of our desires. For example, if you crave ice cream, is it because the physical body needs the nutrition of dairy (annamaya kosha) or because we need emotional sweetness or comfort (vijnanamaya kosha)? If a fear comes up, is it a reality or an emotional reaction saying we will be hurt?
As we begin to learn about the true source of our thoughts we are better able to respond to life rather than react to life.
So, what are these 5 koshas? Keep reading to learn!
***Note: the proper way to spell koṣa in Sanskrit is koṣa. The ṣ is pronounced like sh, which is why you’ll see I go back and forth between the spelling kosa and kosha.
The 5 Koshas
Annamaya kosa – the visible and dense physical layer
The first kosha is your body that requires food, nutrients, water, movement, etc. It’s all of your muscles, bones, ligaments and tendons.
Although it may seem simple, a lot of people are out of touch with their physical body. To bring awareness to the annamaya kosa, notice your physical body. Be aware of your alignment, notice the functioning of your different body systems. Are you sitting straight or are you hunched forward? How is your digestion?
This is the first benefit we recognize in our yoga practice. We notice asymmetries within our body and recognize when our body feels relaxed versus tense. We discover body awareness and notice where our body is located in space. We notice when our knee is out of alignment, or when our shoulders are slumped forward.
Pranamaya kosa – the energy layer
This is your life-force energy. This is the part of the physical body that experiences heat, cold, hunger, thirst and emotion.
In this kosa, we notice our breath and how our breath controls our energy. We can use our breath to calm us down or to speed us up and also start to feel where the breath moves freely versus where it feels stuck. We notice how our energy affects others around us as well.
When you feel stressed, are you able to calm yourself down or do you carry that stress with you all day? When you feel angry, do your children or co-workers pick up on that anger and manifest it? Or are you able to control your anger with your breath and “let things go.” Your breath is a powerful tool to control your energy.
Manomaya kosa – the mental layer
These are your automatic thoughts that help you maintain daily living. This is the constant input system for your five senses.
This kosa governs our daily living functions and to do’s. This is where we experience our emotions as they move throughout the body. We are able to bring awareness to the sensations of the emotions. When you feel sad, how do you hold your posture? Notice how colors and smells affect your body and mind. How does music change your energy?
Vijnanamaya kosa – the wisdom layer
This is the intellect that guides the automatic mind.
This is where we start to see thought patterns that influence our life. What patterns consistently come up in your life? I personally find myself stuck in the same pattern of overwork. I take on too many tasks, get frustrated, burn out, then have to take off 1 week to bring myself back to center and calm down. This pattern has gotten better because I’m more aware of it thanks to the wisdom sheath. The patterns are still there but I’m able to recognize them sooner and take action to avoid them.
What about you? Do you find yourself stuck in the same relationship troubles over and over again? Do you find yourself making the same mistakes in your personal or professional life? How can you change these patterns of thought?
Anandamaya kosa – the bliss layer
It is the pure silent joy form of bliss. This is feeling all of the one-ness – the connection between you and God.
This is the ultimate state. It is the recognition that we are all connected through energy. My thoughts and behavior affect someone’s thoughts and behavior living in Australia. It’s being open to the most ultimate possibilities but knowing that none of those possibilities really matter. This is the full understanding of the Self. We start to sense what is really important and what is not.
This state is hard to find and it can be fleeting. Our goal is to call upon this state at will. We will always need to journey back and forth between the koshas (we always need to eat! Annamaya kosha). But our goal is to find this state whenever we want. We may not permanently live here but knowing we can return is a wonderful thought.
I believe that I’ve only barely glimpsed this state when in deep meditation. It can be hard to find but worth the journey! When you find it, let me know.
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