In the west we see the human body as relatively one dimensional. In many Eastern traditions they look at the body as many different ‘bodies’ or layers. In Yogic traditions they see the human body as having 5 layers or Koshas that cover our Atman, our true soul. These layers run from the most physical outer body to the most spiritual inner self. By understanding, strengthening and purifying each layer through yoga, diet, exercise, pranayama (breathing exercises), meditation and devotion we are able to peel away each layer like an exotic fruit in order to reveal and connect to the ‘light’ inside.
- Anamaya Kosha: Physical Layer/ body/ Foodstuff sheath. This layer is anything tangible. It is our flesh, blood, organs, muscles and the food that we digest in order to survive. It is strengthened and purified by the food we eat and the exercise we do with the aim of creating a strong vessel to take us through a long a healthy life.
- Pranamaya Kosha: Energetic Layer: This layer is composed of Prana/ Life Force/ Energy. It is what makes us tick (literally), the sensations we feel, the gut reactions, the vitality or lack of vitality that we feel through our energetic pathways (nadis). It can be experienced alongside the breath and is strengthened and cleansed with pranayama (breathing exercises).
- Manomaya Kosha: Thinking Mind: This is the part of the mind that is often in control. The thinking, the patterns that govern our daily life. This layer is strengthened and cleansed by an understanding of the workings of our own mind. The ability to meditate and sit in conscious stillness allowing the prefrontal cortex at the front of the brain to expand and to be used for rational calm motivated decision making. An ability to calm the excessive chatter or the bad habits the mind can create. Yogis who meditate a lot often do not need as much sleep as they are allowing their brains to regenerate and rest in the deep relaxation of meditation.
- Vijnanamaya Kosha: Intellect/ Spirituality: This layer is strengthened and cleansed by making good choices for ones life, by connecting to the light which is in you to make rational and calm descisious for the good of oneself and those around you. The Yamas and Niyamas in Yoga relate directly to this Kosha. These are yogic commitments to make to not harm, steal, lie or overindulge. You are asked to be content, pure, self disciplined, studious and devoted. Your spiritual understanding becomes the ‘food’ that will nourish this kosha. Ones yogic lifestyle begins to lead to clarity of judgement, greater intuitive insight and increased willpower as your vijnanamaya kosha grows. It is about choosing the Middle Path (Buddha)
- Anandamaya Kosha: Spiritual bliss: Generally only saints or sages experience this anandamaya Kosha. This is the final veil standing in between ordinary awareness and our higher Self/ Soul. People who experience near death situations have reported white light and unconditional love. This experience would be your anadamaya kosha. Sages would try to purify all the previous koshas or layers so much that they would be able to experience this kosha not just at death but throughout their life. They say you can strengthen and realise this layer through selfless service, devotion and intense focused meditation.
Yoga is a practice is self inquiry. Asking how you are every day in each kosha/ layer and trying to create a strong and healthy vessel so that we can live with grace, kindness and fluidity at every level of your being. By getting to know your 5 koshas or sheaths you can begin to peel away the layers and bad habits and experience the health and fulfillment of an enlightened life. Living in connection to your Soul or Atman.