Pancha Kosha

The idea that we are not just a physical body is not new and has been the foundation for all holistic disciplines. Yogic science describes human beings as multidimensional and provides a detailed anatomy model that consists of pancha kosha, which means five sheaths. These layers begin with the gross physical body and go to the increasingly more subtle ones and the innermost Self.


1. Annamaya Kosha (literal translation “food-full”)

The first level of our experience is familiar to everyone: it is the physical body, the body of matter, composed of bones, muscles, body fluids and skin. The movement of the body, its needs, feeling of hunger and thirst, all belong to the experience of annamaya kosha. The physical body subsists on food. As the Taittiriya Upanishad explains: “From Brahman came space; from space, air; from air, fire; from fire, water; from water, earth; from earth, plants; from plants, food; and from food the human body, head, arms, legs, and heart. From food are made all bodies; which become food again for others after their death. Food is the most important of all things for the body; therefore it is the best medicine for all the body's ailments”. (Part II; 1.1 - 2.1)

Yoga and ayurveda help to achieve health by balancing the five elements of the physical body – earth, water, fire, air and space. We are required to purify the body through cleansing techniques (shatkarma) and nourish it with proper diet. Yoga asanas allow us to explore the physical body, detoxify it, and balance all the physical systems. Through asana practice we learn to understand the proper alignments of the body, pay more attention to body’s sensations and develop greater body awareness. Purification and awareness of the physical body are the first step on the path towards more subtle forms of awareness.
For most people, whole awareness and observation of themselves doesn’t go beyond the level of annamaya kosha. The body’s needs, pains or pleasures are the focal point of our attention and attraction. Yoga teaches us to go beyond the physical dimension.

 

2. Pranamaya Kosha (literal translation “prana-full”)

As the name itself suggests, this body consists of prana, and is described as the body of vital energies, etheric or bioplasmic. The external manifestation of prana in the body can be experienced in the form of heat. The internal manifestation of prana can be experienced as electrical impulses, linking different centers of the brain together. This pranic body anatomy is made of prana vayus or different winds of vital energy, each with its own direction, function and area in the physical body, as well as a network of energy pathways or nadis, which terminate in the spinning energy centers called chakras. The word chakra means wheel implying an ever-spinning vortex center. The chakras collect, transform and distribute energy to each and every part of the body-mind system through the network of prana vayus and nadis.

Yoga asanas and pranayamas help us to remove energy blockages, purify the nadis, and vitalize the chakras and prana vauys, which lead to a balanced distribution of prana throughout the whole pranamaya kosha. Once we get sufficient body awareness, the next step is to focus on more subtle sensations, like sensations of energy. Just as asana practice can result in more refined body awareness, consistent practice of pranayama can result in more refined prana awareness which, however, requires intense sensitivity of the mind. The purpose of many yogic practices is to gradually build up a subtle awareness of prana and its function in the first and third koshas, before becoming aware of it in pranamaya kosha.
Prana works as the bridge between the gross and subtle, and pranamaya kosha connects all the koshas together, linking the gross and the subtle.

 

3. Manomaya Kosha (literal translation “mind-full”)

This layer is responsible for mental functioning and psycho-emotional health, and is often called the mental, perceptual or psycho-emotional body. It is the abode of all the dominant emotional and thought patterns that comprise one’s personality as well as our feelings, thoughts and actions, the basic drives and emotional responses associated with them.

Our thought process can present a considerable obstacle on the path of yoga. In our ordinary state, the mind is bombarded by the senses, and our thoughts tend to jump from one subject to another. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali defines yoga as the cessation of the modifications (vṛtti) of the mind. At the level of manomaya kosha, the effort to still the mind is very important. The first step in this direction can be done by withdrawing the mind from outside distractions and merging it with one’s breath, movement or any action performed at that moment. This helps to get centered completely into the present moment, in the here and now, which in turn allows us to observe and understand everything in the right frame of mind and develop awareness of our mental experiences. Therefore the health of the manomaya kosha is aided by pratyahara (sensory withdrawal) and dharana and dhyana stages of meditation.



4. Vijnyanamaya Kosha  (literal translation “wisdom-full”)

 Only once we have harmonized the first three koshas we can generally begin to experience deeper insight of vijnanamaya kosha which is made of transcendent thoughts, our intellect and wisdom. Whereas at the third level, the mind functions as a stimulus-response mechanism, in the fourth sheath, one is able to understand and discern. Vijnana can be explained as intuitive ability of the mind. However, we often doubt our intuition because it is always filtered and recognized through manomaya kosha. The flash of intuition can only be experienced when a deep sense of self-awareness is developed and the rational boundary of the mind is transcended.

This kosha can be thought of as the insight to detect harmful patterns of living; it is the witness consciousness - the ability to have an observing self that is not influenced by the physical, mental or emotional state. This intellectual sheath knows it is not the physical body therefore whatever happens to the physical body doesn’t change the state of wisdom. This body of wisdom is made of awareness free from self-centeredness that is generated by detachment from the grosser bodies. Through deepening meditation practice, the vijanamaya kosha helps us open to our inner wisdom. As Taittiriya Upanishad states: “The wisdom sheath is made of detachment. Within it is contained the sheath of bliss.”



5. Anandamaya Kosha (literal translation “bliss-full”)

When our witness consciousness is no longer separate from what is being witnessed and the process of witnessing, we enter the anandamaya kosha - the soul body, the final sheath of spiritual bliss. The innermost of the five koshas is the true Self, which is more fundamental than the personality. The nature of this Self is peace, contentment and joy. The feeling is indescribable, because here the union of the individual mind with the cosmic mind takes place. Here the mind is said to rest in its intrinsic, natural state of bliss and ease.

This transcendental body of cosmic consciousness is least easily understood, as it is underdeveloped in most humans, and generally experienced in everyday life only by saints or evolved beings. Sometimes persons who have had near-death experiences report feeling the white light of joy and love associated with the anandamaya kosha. Only when this bliss body is awoken, the process of yoga reaches the state of yoga and culminates with self-realization, a state of joy that involves ultimate experience of unity with all. The experience is so intense and powerful that change takes place in all the other koshas and the whole being undergoes the most profound transformation and will never be the same.

 

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All the five koshas are intertwined and simultaneously present in their energetic matrix. The physical body (annamaya kosha) is also called sthula-sharira, "gross body." The three middle sheaths (pranamaya, manomaya, and vijnanamaya koshas) collectively comprise the realm of the sukshma-sharira, “subtle/astral body”. The anandamaya kosha is also called karana-sharira, "causal body." This corresponds to the 3 pitches of OM as we chant it at the beginning of the lesson.

All five koshas are reflected by the breath and accessed by it. It is the breath that intermediates between the physical body and the subtle body as well as between the subtle and the causal body. Thus, the importance of breath awareness in yoga practice.

For most people, the koshas are separated, blocked from communication with each other, which leads to dis-eases of one or different koshas. All paths of yoga focus upon re-establishing harmony between the koshas. Hatha yoga is primarily concerned with uniting the first two koshas, strengthening physical health and generating vitality. However, if grosser kosha gets fulfilled, it produces, in turn, a refined energy that becomes the material for the subtler kosha. When the second kosha is vital, it feeds the third, and so on. So Hatha yoga is a perfect preparation for Raja yoga which focuses on meditative practices and brings about balance between the subtle bodies, ultimately leading to the experience of anandamaya kosha. Consistent practice of asana, pranayama, and meditation balance and re-unite all the koshas and bring health and well-being on all levels of existence.

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Asanas

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Pranayama

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