Exploring the 5 Koshas of Yoga
Learning about the 5 koshas can deepen our yoga practice & guide our spiritual journey…
According to ancient yogic traditions, humans contain 5 different layers of consciousness – or koshas – which obscure our innermost being. By cultivating awareness of these subtle layers through yoga, we can gain insight into ourselves and our relationship to the universe. Bringing these 5 koshas into harmony can promote overall health and well being, and bring you closer to the ultimate goal of enlightenment.
The idea of the 5 koshas of the human body originated in early yogic texts, specifically, in the second chapter of the Taittiriya Upanishad, which was thought to have been written during the 6th century B.C. This text includes teachings on attaining self-actualization, under the theory that we actually contain deep wisdom, knowledge, and spiritual understanding hidden in layers within us.
These layers, or selves, were later refined into what we now know as the koshas – “the five sheaths or coverings that veil the light of our true self or atman.”
Kosha is a Sanskrit word that can be translated as layer or sheath. You can think of our koshas like the layers of an onion – each one covering the others within it. According to YogaBasics.com,
The physical body is the outermost layer and coarsest sheath of the koshas. The deeper layers include the emotional, mental, and causal bodies. At the deepest layer of one’s consciousness is the bliss sheath, which is said to contain our true nature, pure consciousness itself.
While the koshas’ main function is to protect, contain and support the atman, or the individual soul, they can also form a barrier that prevents us from realizing our true nature of oneness with the universe (otherwise known as enlightenment). Yoga is believed to help peel back these layers and help our awareness eventually reach the innermost core or atman.
In the meantime, yoga can help us to begin to clearly see, harmonize, and align the layers of our koshas, thereby creating a healthy balance among the different aspects of our personality, and increasing our ability to demonstrate love, compassion, and empathy to the world around us.
Here are a few more reasons to choose to explore our koshas:
- Become more mindful and aware of our thoughts, feelings, and actions
- Learn about the relationship between our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual selves
- Create a clearer path and purpose for our spiritual journey
- Experience the power of transformation and self-inquiry
- Softens and dissolves the ego-mind’s selfishness, greed, anger, and jealousy.
- Strengthens mental focus and concentration
- Have a clear sense of center to better navigate your inner self.
- Gain an understanding of the true nature of reality
- Feel empowered and connected to the universe
- Move toward experiencing powerful states of Self-realization and enlightenment
Here are the 5 koshas, and some tips for exploring them in your yoga practice:
The outermost layer is our gross physical body, the Annamaya kosha. Anna means “food,” as this sheath feeds our awareness into the other layers and provides the ability to sustain the other four koshas. Our bodies need to be nourished every day to survive, grow and develop. We can support this physical layer by exercising regularly, sleeping well, and eating healthy foods…
The next layer within the physical sheath is the energy body, the Pranamaya kosha. Prana means “vital energy” or “life force energy” as this energetic layer contains and regulates the movement of the physical and mental energies through the energy channels (nadis) and energy centers (chakras).
We can support this subtle layer through incorporating breath work, chakra activation, and mudras in our asana practice. Pranayamas, ancient yogic breathing exercises, are the most potent practices for unblocking stagnant energy, and to strengthen and activate prana.
The next layer is the mental body, the Manamaya kosha. Mana means ”mind” as this sheath contains our mental thoughts and emotional feelings. This kosha governs our mental activity, perceptions, beliefs, and habit patterns. We can support this mental and emotional layer with regular meditation practice and mindfulness techniques…
…Vijnana means “knowledge” as this sheath contains intuition, wisdom, and witness consciousness. In this kosha, we are detached from thoughts, ego, and sense of self. We can support the wisdom sheath through deep meditation, the practice of detachment, and the techniques of Jnana yoga.
The last kosha that directly covers the True Self is the bliss body, the Anandamaya kosha. Ananda means “bliss” as this sheath contains the pure unchanging happiness, joy, love, peace, and ecstasy that is found here at the deepest and innermost layer of our being. These are not merely feelings, but a state of being that has always existed yet has been buried by the other koshas. Behind this thin subtle layer resides the pure consciousness of our True Self.
The bliss body is the place of eternal happiness. When you are connected to this body, you feel lightness, ease, contentment, and finally, a great unending Joy. We can connect to this layer through the practice of bhakti yoga.
All 5 of these layers of self are connected and dependent upon one another. With regular practice of the yoga techniques described above, we can bring all of our koshas into harmony, and integrate our deeper truths into our sense of self in order to move to a more integrated and harmonious existence.
Learn more at YogaBasics.com…