We often seek refuge on our mats to stretch and calm the mind. As we expand our yoga practice, we learn that yoga is much more than this. By exploring the koshas, we can move beyond the physical and mental practice. The koshas are a term in yoga that refers to 5 layers, or sheaths of our being. The outermost layer is the physical body, followed by the energy body, mind-body, wisdom body, and bliss body. They were first defined in the Upanishads, an ancient yogic text written around 400 BC.
The 5 koshas build one upon the other. The deeper we unravel and purify each sheath, the more we flourish, revealing our true essence and divine nature. Below, I have outlined the 5 koshas with techniques for purification. Our continual goal in yoga is to unravel the layers of our being so that we can flourish in mind, body, and spirit.
The 5 Koshas
Annamaya Kosha – Physical Body
This is the outermost sheath or layer. It represents the lowest of the layers and relates to the earth element. Caring for our physical body is the first step towards bringing awareness to the layers of our being.
- Practice bodily cleansing techniques (shatkarma). Use a neti pot for cleansing the nasal passage 2 or 3 times a week.
- Implement an Ayurvedic (the sister science to yoga) lifestyle. Try a Zoom appointment with an Ayurvedic doctor in India. See more here.
- Practice yoga daily and other forms of exercise.
- Eat healthy and whole foods and follow an ayurvedic diet.
- When practicing yoga, be aware of how your physical body is aligned in space.
- Develop more body awareness and release bodily tension by trying this Self-Realization practice here.
Pranamaya Kosha – Energy Body
We only breathe in and out of our lungs, but we can sense prana or life force anywhere in our body. When prana is restricted and tight, this can lead to physical and mental illness. Pranamaya kosha is connected to the water element.
- Pranayama (breathing) techniques. There are hundreds of breathing techniques to calm the mind, nervous system and increase our energy or life force. Try this practice here.
- Try this full-body breathing technique here.
- Take yoga classes that place more emphasis on the breath.
Manomaya Kosha -Mind Body
This is the bridge between the outer and inner world. It is the conscious mind. It relates to the fire element.
- Meditate to calm and still the mind.
- When practicing yoga, try to remove all distractions around you.
- Spend a day “turning your thoughts around. Every time you have a negative thought, change it to something positive. Continue the practice!
- When you become distracted by your thoughts while doing yoga, try focussing on your breath, keeping a steady gaze, and letting go of distractions.
Vijnanamaya Kosha – Wisdom Body
This layer relates to the subconscious mind and the air element.
- The more we practice mindfulness and meditation, the more we can connect with our intuition and inner wisdom. The next time you want to pick up the phone to ask a friend for advice, try meditation instead and trust the veracity of your own wisdom.
- On the mat, trust your intuition when it comes to challenging poses. Allow your inner wisdom to guide you, and be careful not to push beyond your boundaries. Trust that you are your own best teacher.
- Try yoga practices that are less alignment-based and instead take you deeper into the inner world of your subtle body. Try this class. Energy is Everything.
Anandamaya Kosha – Bliss Body
This is the most subtle state, the bliss layer. The space where you are in tune with your highest vibration, your best self.
- Meditate and let yourself be pure consciousness right here at this moment. Imagine connecting with your universal self. Sense your bliss body. Feel contentment and lightness. Feel pureness in body and mind rather than over-analyzing. Practice this 5 minutes a day.
- Take time every day to do your favorite activity or try a new activity.
- On the mat in “happy baby,” bring memories back to a joyful childhood experience. Happy baby or balasana translates to “blissful child.”
A Meditation to Bring Awareness to the 5 Koshas
Come to a mindful seat. Lengthen the spine and sit tall. Begin to notice your physical body (annamaya kosha). Notice where your body is tense. Relax this area, then move to another area where you feel some tension. Give yourself a body scan and continue this cycle. Spend a few moments in each of these areas until they release. Take a few moments in gratitude and appreciation for wherever your physical body is today.
Now bring your awareness to your breath (pranamaya kosha) and imagine your breath breathing you. Imagine this breath flowing from the souls of your feet all the way to the crown of your head. Continue to feel this full-body inhale and exhale. Inhale from heels all the way to the crown of the head and then exhale back from head to heels. –Breath in and out through the nose. Repeat 10 times.
Now bring your awareness to your mind. (manomaya kosha) Ask yourself, “Is my mind rushing and racing?” “Am I thinking about the past or the future?” Now sit with your mind in complete peace. Allow this depth and presence of consciousness, and just be. Observe the emptiness. Internally repeat: I am not my body, I am not my thinking mind. Draw awareness to the mind and body and imagine peace, purity of mind, a light emptiness.
Now draw your awareness to your third eye between your eyebrows—the area of wisdom and intuition. (Vijnanamaya kosha). Focus here and become aware of your own “inner guru.” Meditate and celebrate your inner wisdom. Reflect on this truth and abundance.
Finally, bring your awareness to your bliss body (anandamaya kosha). Even if you are not feeling it, meditate on bliss and joy. Feel it bubbling up inside of you. Take your time and really notice what it feels like in your body.
Yoga allows us to expand into all the layers (koshas) and levels of our being. These layers add to the richness of our yoga practice. By digging deeper into these layers, we realize that we are much more than one-dimensional beings. With consistent practice, we will begin to remove these sheaths to reveal our true selves, our Divine nature.
Further suggestions: The 5 Koshas