Yoga and the 5 Koshas: An Uplifting Inward Journey of Awareness
What are the Koshas?
According to Eastern philosophy, koshas are the energy layers that cover our body and soul. They are also termed sheaths or casings. The word ‘koshas’ belongs to the Sanskrit dictionary. They are also called veils as they cover one another. You can compare the overlapping patterns of the koshas with the concentric layers of an onion or the Russian nesting doll. The outermost sheath of the koshas is the physical body, the energy, the mental, and the emotional bodies comprise the layers beneath the outer layer. The innermost layer is where our true consciousness lies; it is also called the bliss sheath, which embodies our true nature. The yoga nidra is a specific type of meditation that revolves around these five koshas.
The Function of the Koshas
The koshas protect, support, and contain the atman. They help to create a healthy equilibrium among the different dimensions of our personality and allow us to become compassionate and empathetic. They help us to become aware of our inner world and develop a close alliance within our mind, body, and spirit. Giving attention to the koshas awakens more profound layers of awareness that play an essential role on the path to self-realisation. Only when one can align and harmonise the layers within can one attain the state of union, becoming one with the universe.
What are the Shariras?
The word ‘sharira’ comes from the Sanskrit dictionary, and it means ‘body’. The three sheaths of our awareness form our sharira. The three shariras can be matched with the koshas, but are more rudimentary and therefore simpler to understand. According to the Yogic philosophy, we are made up of three bodies, or layers. The three bodies or layers are:
1. Sthula Sharira: This is the physical body or the outermost layer that breathes, eats, and goes around according to the will of the ahamkara or ego. It includes our internal and external organs that connect our soul or jiva with the outer world.
2. Sukshma Sharira: The shukshma sharira can be termed as the vital energies and the body of the mind, which keeps the physical body alive, and the power of the life force circulates throughout the body. It comprises the five sense organs, the organs of action, the five essential breaths, intellect, and wisdom.
3. Karana Sharira: This is the causal body or the innermost layer and the seed of the gross and subtle body. It can be described as a condition of deep slumber, where the mind’s intellect or the buddhi facet is inert. The Karana Sharira is also the seat where karma from past lives accumulates and dictates our present state of life. The Karana Sharira helps us reach our highest level of spiritual awareness.
The Genesis of the Koshas
The second section of the Taittiriya Upanishad, the earliest yoga text, mentions the theory of the five layers of the body. It is estimated that this ancient yogic text was written during the sixth century B.C. It provides doctrines on obtaining self-realisation – a state of union with the universe. It is also called the layered Maya theory. Maya means illusion. According to this theory, our most profound knowledge, spiritual understanding, and wisdom are concealed in the sheaths within us. Fast-forward to fifteen hundred years from the Taittiriya Upanishad. Now the Advaita Vedanta filtered these five selves into koshas, the five layers, sheaths, or coverings, which conceal and protect our atman or true self. The koshas are the sheaths that create a wall towards attaining ultimate bliss or oneness with the universe. The world of yoga provides us with the tools to skin these layers or sheaths to dive deep into our awareness, ultimately reaching the deepest core, the atman.
Human Body and the 5 Koshas
According to the yoga philosophy, our body comprises three bodies: the physical, the astral, and the causal. The five sheaths, or koshas, are within the three bodies or shariras. Let us take a quick look at them separately.
1. Annamaya Kosha
The Annamaya Kosha is the outermost layer of our gross physical body, comprising flesh, bones, muscles, and blood. ‘Anna’ means food, and the annamaya kosha is known as the Food Layer. This sheath is maintained by the food we take and hence named likely. It is this layer that helps us to survive and be nourished and helps us retain the other four koshas.
2. Pranamaya Kosha
The next layer is the Pranayama Kosha, the life force energy, vital energy, or prana within the Annamaya Kosha. It originates in the third eye, the head, and the chest. This sheath of energy comprises and maintains the motion of the mental and physical powers through the ‘nadis’ (energy channels) and ‘chakras’ (energy centres). We can uphold this subtle sheath with the help of breathing practices, activating chakras and mudras. Pranamayas, which are ancient yogic breathing practices, are the most operational practices for boosting stagnant energy and activating and strengthening our prana. Kundalini yoga activates the kundalini system that is located in the pranamaya kosha.
3. Manomaya Kosha
The Manomaya Kosha comprises the mind or the ‘manas’. The mind, accompanied by the five sensory organs, makes up the Manomaya Kosha. It embodies our thoughts and feelings. We can nourish this layer with mindfulness techniques and meditation. It is this kosha that derives our beliefs, perceptions, and habit patterns.
4. Vijnanamaya Kosha
The fourth sheath is the Vijnanamaya Kosha, which embodies wisdom, clarity, intuition, and consciousness. We can support this layer by practising detachment, Jnana yoga, and deep meditation.
5. Anadamaya Kosha
The Anandamaya kosha is the fifth layer, which is the layer of bliss. ‘Ananda’ means bliss that is found here in the innermost and the deepest layer. This is the innermost sheath, where there is eternal happiness and joy. This layer gives you contentment and bliss. This bliss cannot be described in words, but only experienced. The practice of bhakti yoga helps us connect with this layer.
What is Yoga?
‘Yoga’ is derived from the Sanskrit term ‘yuj’, actually meaning ‘to yoke’, ‘to unite’, or ‘to join.’ Yoga is the practice of the body and the mind to attain union with the universe. It involves breathing practices, meditation, and physical postures, also known as hatha yoga. The origin of yoga can be traced back to northern India over 5000 years back. Ancient sacred texts known as the Rig Veda first mentioned the word ‘yoga’.
Attaining Union by Exploring All the Koshas and Practising Yoga
It is through yoga exercises that you start with the physical body and slowly progress towards the innermost layer by peeling one sheath at a time. The inward journey through each of the five koshas on the yoga mat is natural and intuitive. It starts with yoga for the physical body (the annamaya kosha), as it is the first point from where the work towards spiritual fulfilment starts. Once you are aware of the physical body, your attention moves to your breath (the pranamaya kosha). It determines the energy movement and fluidity of energy throughout your system. You will observe that concentrating on your body and then breathing aids in calming your mind and shifting stuck emotions; it is the manomya kosha. Once your mind attains a more tranquil state, a wider gateway to awareness and wisdom (vijnanamaya kosha) opens. Concluding your yogic practice with rooted meditation opens the door to knowing your true self or reaching the blissful core (the anandamaya kosha).
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Harvesting a sense of wonder and curiosity about the depth and fullness of your being is one of the most innovative components of the inward spiritual journey. The above blog will help you guide towards an ultimate state of blissfulness. You can also start with yoga for beginners with Emoha. Even the shortest moment of realising who you truly are can be a source of pure bliss.
The human body has five koshas, namely, annamaya kosha, pranamaya kosha, manomaya kosha, vijnanamaya kosha, and anandamaya kosha.
The Vijnanamaya Kosha, the layer of wisdom, manifests willpower.
The koshas were first mentioned in the Upanishads.
Vedic Yoga is the oldest form of yoga.
The Pranayama Kosha regulates energies through chakras and naadis.