CHAPTER 5: THE 5 KOSHAS
5.1 Defining Koshas
THE SANSKRIT TERM ‘KOSHA’ MEANS ‘SHEATH’. AYURVEDIC PHILOSOPHY TERMS IT AS THE ATMAN OR SELF. THE 5 KOSHAS IN THE BODY ARE SIMILAR TO LAYERS OF AN ONION.
As you move from the outer layers to the inner layers, you get deeper into the core of self being. You eventually discover that your body is made up of subtle degrees of energy: from the physical body, to the energetic body, to the mental body, to the wisdom body, and finally, to the bliss body. These five bodies cannot be separated or taken apart. These layers are highly interrelated and constantly interactive with one another. This means whatever happens at one level has an effect on all other layers of the body. If there is any sort of disconnect from the spirit, it indicates that the bliss body has weakened and there is disharmony amongst all layers. On the other hand, connection with your bliss body brings you to a state of positivity and peace.
These subtle aspects of our being cannot be neglected. If complete happiness and total wellbeing is what we actually desire, we must care for all layers of our well-being. The philosophical application of yoga into our everyday life really helps to ensure harmony among all the koshas. It promotes overall well-being and brings you closer to your inner self, achieving the feeling of absolute fulfillness.
The five sheaths can be summarised with the term Panchakosha. The 5 koshas are Anandamaya kosha, Pranamaya kosha, Manomaya kosha, Vijnanamaya kosha and Anandamaya kosha.
5.2 Annamaya kosha (the physical body)
This Kosha forms the outermost layer. It is essentially the physical body (organs, bones, muscle tissue, and skin), and is known as the annamaya kosha in yogic terms. Anna means food, or physical matter, while maya means ‘to be made of’. Our annamaya kosha is most familiar to us, especially through the experience and sense of our physical body in yoga. The physical body is nothing but an essence of food. Birth and death comprise the attributes of this kosha.
5.3 Pranamaya kosha (the energy body)
The physical layer is sheathed by the second layer, commonly known as the energetic body, called the pranamaya kosha. It is composed of the body’s subtle life-force energy prana, also known as chi in traditional Chinese medicine.
Prana is the key driving force behind every physiological aspect of the body – including the atom, cell, organ, and body system. Most importantly, you receive prana from the air you breathe. When your breath is shallow or irregular, your prana is also erratic. Unstable pranic vitality causes the mind to become agitated and the body shows signs of inefficiency. Hence, if you inhale and exhale slowly and deeply the prana turns out to be progressively steady, the mind gets calmer and all the body’s living systems are able to function ideally.
5.4 Manomaya kosher (the mental body)
The third layer directly corresponds to your psyche, emotions, and the nervous system. It is expressed as a way of thoughts, feelings and sensations. Manomaya kosha, is derived from the word manas, meaning your mind or thought processes.
Your mental body is where you experience the senses. It acts like a sheath that performs various activities like receiving, absorbing and processing information, and governs your automatic responses and reflexes. An overactive manomaya kosha which plays on their emotions. In such a case, Yoga helps you calm your mind and soothe your nervous system, allowing you to overcome the effects of stress and fatigue.
5.5 Vijnanamaya kosha (the wisdom body)
Beneath the constant stream of thoughts, feelings, and sensations, lies the fourth inner sheath of higher intelligence in your wisdom body, which is called the vijnanamaya kosha, derived from vijnana, or “intellect.”
Your intuition, conscience, and various other aspects of your consciousness comprise your wisdom body. Here, you develop our awareness and deeper insight into ourselves and the world around us. Practicing yoga helps to still the mental body so that you can listen to your wisdom body as it begins to guide you. Simply paying attention to any internal sensations can help you feel this kosha layer.
5.6 Anandamaya kosha (the bliss body)
Anandamaya kosha is the fifth and deepest layer of your life, and is known to be the core of your existence. The term has been derived from ananda, which means ‘bliss’. It is commonly referred to as your highest self or spirit. The bliss body is where you experience the unbounded freedom, happiness and inner contentment.
Getting connected to this kosha feels like coming home. There is a sense of peace and a subtle connection to a greater being. It feels as if time has ceased to exist and your consciousness expands beyond the limits of your body. While most people are not even aware of this aspect of their being, there is a chance that you may have experienced glimpses of your anandamaya kosha throughout your life .
Moving beyond layers, the next chapter looks at the building blocks of the physical body – known as Dhatus – and habits to keep these well nourished. Take a look at Chapter 6 here.
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