What are 5 Koshas around a human body? I keep asking this question in my yoga classes, to set a class focus for “witnessing your subtle body in Yoga”. Many people can easy relate to the term “aura”, or an energy field around a human body. During our yoga work, we touch each of them, so people like to witness their own inner connection of who there are.
There are five invisible subtle bodies called koshas, or “sheaths” — because each fits in the next like a sword in a scabbard. Only the densest is made of matter ( a human body) as we know it; the other four are energy states invisible to the physical eye, though we can easily sense their presence inside us when we pay close attention. Since the inner bodies are the source of our well-being during life and are the vehicles we travel in after death, India’s ancient yogis developed specific exercises to strengthen and tone each one in turn.
Starting from the outermost, densest layer, moving inward, the five layers are:
1. Annamaya kosha—Physical Layer: The first layer of consciousness consists of the physical (or “food”) body. It includes the muscles, bones, connective tissue, organs, fat, and skin.
2. Pranamaya kosha—Energetic Layer: The second layer of experience consists of subtle body energy or the elements that cannot be seen with the naked eye. Breath and prana (life force energy) are part of this layer.
3. Manomaya kosha—Mental/Emotional Layer: Thoughts and emotions make up the third layer of being. Most people only consciously operate in these first three layers.
4. Vijnanamaya kosha—Intuitive/Wisdom Layer: The fourth layer is comprised of intuition and wisdom. In it lies the ability to connect to higher knowledge, to follow intuitive impulses, and see the bigger picture beyond logic.
5. Anandamaya kosha—Bliss Layer: Finally, the fifth layer is the quiet place of peace, love, and joy that has no opposite—right at the center of your being. When operating from the anandamaya kosha, you experience a sense of presence and oneness among all beings.
Your First Body – annanamaya kosha
All start and end with your body. Like is eating your dessert, a fork pierces the outer layers first, in order to get to the center. Only when all the layers are together on your fork can you experience the full delight of what the cake has to offer.
The first few minutes of a yoga practice are when then the physical body (annanamaya kosha) is working through its initial stretch, stiffness, soreness, or strength. (You probably don’t go to your mat and immediately drop into a meditative blissful state; that’s why savasana comes at the end of your practice.) The physical body is the initial access point for the spiritual work but is not the only aim of your practice.
Your Second Body – maya kosha
You’re already familiar with your physical body. It’s called annamaya kosha in yoga, (maya means “made of” and anna means “food” or “physical matter.”) But yoga also makes you aware of a second body, the organizing field that holds your material body together. This is the life energy that governs your biological processes, from breathing to digestion to the circulation of your blood. It’s called chi in Chinese medicine and prana in yoga. The ancient Egyptians called it the ka.
On a yoga mat:
Soon after becoming aware of your physical body, you bring attention to your breath (the pranamaya kosha), and how the energy moves through your system. There is a sense of fluidity and flow, when experiencing the pranamaya kosha, since breath and prana are moving energy throughout the entire system.
Your Third Body – manomaya kosha.
The third sheath or mental body is the apparatus responsible for our sensory and motor activities and our day-to-day awareness when we’re functioning “on automatic.” It processes input from our five senses and responds reflexively. When we move through life passively, reacting to our environment rather than actively shaping it, our awareness is focused here. Many people, and most animals, routinely operate at this level.
During yoga, we work with breath and sounds. You notice that focusing on your body and breath helps to calm your mind and move stuck emotions; this is the manomaya kosha.
Your Fourth Body – vijnanamaya kosha.
Subtler still is the vijnanamaya kosha (vijnana means “the power of judgment or discernment”). It’s often translated as “intellect,” but the real meaning is broader, encompassing all the functions of the higher mind, including conscience and will. It may be easier to understand the distinction between the third sheath or mental body and the fourth sheath or intellectual body by taking a look at those in whom the vijnanamaya kosha is underdeveloped.
Once your yoga mind experiences a more peaceful state, there is greater access to awareness and wisdom (vijnanamaya kosha). The mental fluctuations seem to slow down or stop altogether, and there is space for intuition and greater understanding.
Your Fifth Body – anandamaya kosha
In the vast majority of humans, the fifth sheath is totally underdeveloped. This is the anandamaya kosha, the subtlest body which is experienced as ananda (spiritual bliss). Generally, only saints, sages, and genuine mystics have done the inner work necessary to make Ananda a living part of their daily experience, and most people are hardly even aware that this level of consciousness exists within themselves.
Ending your yoga practice with seated meditation opens you to know the core of your being, as a quiet sense of aliveness and joy move to the foreground of experience (anandamaya kosha).
Keep witnessing your kosha awareness. With practice and dedication, you will be able to drop into a state of bliss with more ease and regularity. Even a brief moment of pure bliss can be enough to remind you who you truly are. Your subtle body energy will unite in harmony with yoga bliss at the end.
Posted by Veronika Prielozna, MA, RYT500