Moving Inward: the Koshas

Feb 23, 2020 | Yoga

Are you craving more depth out of your experience of yoga? If the answer is yes, this post is especially for you.

In the Vedic yoga tradition, it is believed that we are made up of five layers, or sheaths, which are made up of increasingly finer grades of energy – And that we must keep all these layers of the body functioning in a balanced healthy state.

These layers are like lampshades covering the light within us. And through exploring these subtle layers – called the Koshas – we begin to uncover and harmonise each of them, leading us toward greater insight and access to the truest state of Self. Even just a glimpse can be enough to spark a deeper and more devotional path.

First, let’s address the physical body, Annamaya Kosha. It is the first of five layers, and is related to the physical aspect of life itself. We must take care and nurture our body so we can enjoy our external lives, and yet enable ourselves to go inward without the body being any obstacle

Through the physical body, which is the most tangible aspect of ourselves, we begin to get a more refined sense of what is going on inside. Becoming more sensitive to sensations of the physical body and feeling a connection to the body is essential to feeling grounded and stable. This where the physical aspects fo yoga (the postures) are so valuable.

As you learn to feel your body, to sense it from within, then you can learn how to develop an internal stillness and stability which is required to dive deeper inward.

Consciously inhabiting your physical body will bring more presence into your life. Some complimentary practices are asana, yoga nidra, a working with the chakras and marma points. Due to stress, negativity, and toxicity in our daily life these energetic points can become constricted. These practices help to ensure that Prana can flow more freely throughout the whole body. They prepare you to move from the physical body into the more subtle layers.

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Next up – Pranamaya Kosha. As you are now already familiar with the physical body, the annamaya kosha, we will now dive a little deeper into this slightly more subtle layer of the body. The pranic body is essentially an organisational field that holds your material or physical body together. This field is your life energy, often called Chi in Chinese medicine and in Yoga we call it Prana.

Prana is the life force which governs your biological processes, from your digestion, to the circulation of your blood, and of course the breath. With that in mind we can bring harmony to this sheath via relationship with the breath. A wonderful practice is that of Anapana Sati – mindfulness of breath. It is a simple streamlining of your attention to one focus, one point.

Know that you can access and strengthen the pranic body through techniques such as diaphragmatic breathing, alternate nostril breathing, and yogic breathing techniques, or any pranayama. We can also fuel the pranic body with fresh air and sunlight. The sun is said to be the ultimate source of prana.

Fresh, wholesome, organic food is also a major source of prana, as we absorb the energy of the sun through the food we eat. Whenever you feel energy expanding into your heart or your head during meditation or you experience any waves of warmth inside your bod, you are in contact with the pranamaya kosha.

The quality of your energy, if you’re feeling sleepy or dull;  restless or agitated; calm and peaceful; these are all attributes of the this vital energy body.

You have a personal energetic signature. You may be sensitive to energy within and around you. Consider the way that you feel when you’re in a space, maybe a room with a person who is agitated or angry, compared to a person who is calm and peaceful. Noticed that subtle transmission of energy.

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The third sheath, is that of the mind – Manomaya Kosha.

We are starting to move deeper from the external to the internal and the Manomaya Kosha is the layer which comprises our passing thoughts, emotions, and perceptions which arise within us – like waves in the ocean or sometimes undercurrents which appear to have a strong hold on us.

The deeper levels of the mind contain our beliefs, opinions, and assumptions that have been absorbed from the time of birth. All accumulated mental and conditioned patterning – deeply ingrained thoughts and reactions – create perceptions of yourself and subconsciously influence you to control your life in certain ways.

When we examine the contents of the mind we can see our patterned behaviour and our habitual reactivity which can takes form in repetitive thoughts or behaviours that shape and colour experiences. The mind is often acting completely on autopilot, responding to the input from the five senses that are in contact with the external environment. Our mind feeds on the impressions that we offer it – technology, conversations, music, and more.

The Manomaya Kosha is also associated to the nervous system. This layer shuts down temporarily on a daily basis, helping to regenerate itself during the state of deep, restful sleep. The health of this mind-body is enhanced through high-quality sleep and also through meditation – particularly Mantra meditation.

The mind holds all of our illusions which cloud over our deepest wisdom. Sitting in meditation helps to release mental chatter and distraction. Pratyahara, or sensory withdrawal, helps to support us in receiving an inner tune up.

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From here, we address the wisdom body, the Vijnanamaya Kosha.

The word Vijnana means ‘knowing’ or ‘to know’. It is the sheath of true wisdom that is underneath the thinking aspect of the mind. It is associated with the higher intellect, discernment, and reasoning. It helps us tap into our instincts and to make moral choices. 

If you’re familiar with the Eight Limbs Of Yoga, the first and second limbs, the Yamas and the Niyamas, are our guidelines to ensure that we stay aligned with the development of our intuitive body. 

Connecting with the wisdom body enables a path of living from the deep intellect and contemplation on spiritual truth – tapping into the very core of our personality.

As you begin to confront and explore your inner world you may begin to notice that, along with the mental chatter, there are feelings and thoughts that come from a deeper, more subtle level of your being. An experience of true clarity and creativity comes from this depth. 

The more we allow the mind to become quiet, and therefore dive deeper into consistent meditation practices, this stilling of the mind will allow more wisdom to bubble up and arise. This is simply awareness observing the different parts of the self, without actually reacting to the external environment. It is just a witnessing of your mind and your life, without response. Be the witness.

Essential Oil: Melissa

Say hello to the fifth and final layer – the light within – Anandamaya Kosha. Often referred to as the Bliss Body.

Ananda is Sanskrit, and means bliss and joy. It is the most hidden layer and perhaps the most difficult to experience and comprehend. It is the most interior of the 5 sheaths, and surrounds the eternal centre of our consciousness. The quality of bliss that Anandamaya Kosha refers to is different to that experienced in the mind. It is a state of deep peace and love. It is beyond the mind, independent of any reasoning, stimulus, or external influence. It is a state of simply being –  resting in our own being. It is a letting go of the mind, letting go of association to the body.

Tapping into this layer requires a lot of regular internal work to experience it through our day to day lives. Most of us are hardly even aware at this level of consciousness which exists within ourselves – within us in each moment. It is the thinnest veil that stands between an ordinary awareness and our highest self.

We can tap into this very deep, supreme level of love through acts of selfless service, which we call Seva – opening your heart generously with other beings.

Another way to experience this state of bliss is via devotion. Think of puja, and perhaps… parenthood! Unconditional devotion to that which is greater than oneself.

The other way to experience the essence of Anandamaya Kosha is through intensely focused advanced meditation. In reality this takes time and dedicated, disciplined practice. Perhaps you can understand the subtle presence of this bliss body as the instinctive sense that your life is worth living; through your delicate connection to nature itself.

Yet it is more than an acknowledgement of the immortal quality of Self/spirit. Practices such as mantra, prayer, and meditation help us to remove the layers of thoughts, the distractions, that hide the bliss body.  The bliss body knows that your true nature is joyful, free, and content – is beyond containment. Its emotional state is that of neutrality, because it’s not effected by ego or the external world.

Essential oil: Rose

Hopefully you now can appreciate that it is possible to be conscious of yourself on all these levels. To be aware of all of the Koshas is to awaken to your own life and your connection to the energy around you. It may now feel more natural to sense the expression of the universal self within your individual self. As you awaken within your own body, you can also awaken to that which is beyond the body.

Underneath all of these layers is a pure, eternal consciousness. Through our Yoga practice, we are trying to move closer to that eternal light within us. That sense of purity and peace. We are not trying to eliminate the layers. We’re simply trying to understand and experience them, and then temporarily transcend them to grasp some insight into the deepest self and our true nature.

Are you curious to go deeper? Or for a direct experience? You may like to consider investing in my Bliss Body audio meditation series.

Bliss Body Meditation audio koshas

If you appreciated this content, please let me know in a comment below, and do share with someone whom you think would appreciate the knowledge also. Thank you for being here.

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