In Hatha Yoga, the Koshas are often referred to as a way of understanding the different layers of Self. It’s not a term you might be used to hearing in your everyday Yoga class, and as such is often little understood.
While it may seem a little abstract, the system of the Koshas is incredibly relevant to our everyday lives.
As seen in the image below, the 5 layers move from external to internal and represent a different physical or energetic aspect of the individual.
These layers are called Koshas - Annamaya, Pranamaya, Manomaya, Vijnanamaya and Anandamaya kosha.
Below is a brief overview of each Kosha, if your interested in learning more come along to our 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training in Sri Lanka next year!
Annamaya Kosha - The physical body
Anna - means food, and the first Kosha relates to the physical body - the Earth Element. Fuelled by food, it is the tangible, dense matter that we are comprised of. Our primary sensory tool for navigating the exterior world, it is the layer we most commonly identify with.
Yogic practices to nurture this layer include Asana, Shatkarma and Pranayama - along with healthy diet and nutrition (Ayurveda). Keeping this layer in healthy condition is essential to experiencing life free from ailments and disease.
Pranamaya Kosha - The Energy Body
Prana - means energy, movement or vibration; as such our second layer relates to breath and vital energy. Also referred to as ‘aura’ - our energetic body surrounds the physical while flowing through an internal network of Nadis + Chakras. This layer is more subtle than the first and is influenced by food, breath and our surrounding environment. It is the driver of our physical, sensory body.
Tuning into this layer - you might notice your energy levels fluctuating as you move through different environments and situations, practice different Asana or Pranayama, or as you interact with other people's energy. Maintaining a healthy balance of Prana, without over/under stimulation, and harnessing the right amount for various situations - is important for overall well being. Practices for this layer include Pranayama and seated Asana’s.
Manomaya Kosha - The Mental body
The third layer consists of the mind, the thinking & emotional aspects of self. Subtler again than the first two layers, it is inextricably linked to both. The more our thoughts and emotions overcome us, the more they affect us energetically and in turn, physically.
Learning to become aware of your thoughts as they arise (rather than identifying with them and letting them overcome you) is the first step towards tuning into this layer. Where do thoughts come from? Are we repeating similar narratives over and over? What might have happened in our experience so far, that causes us to interpret situations in a certain way? Meditative practices such as Dharana (concentration) and Pratyahara (sense withdrawal) are excellent techniques to ways to begin overcoming identification with your thoughts and emotions.
Vijnanamaya Kosha - The Intellect body
Deeper still is the fourth layer, that of our internal wisdom. It is the part of us that silently observes all aspects of our life experience, the place from which we receive what we understand as ‘intuition’. It is home to our ‘gut feelings’, or maybe our ‘strokes of genius’ - whatever you want to call it, this part of us is who we are in our essential nature. The struggle with this layer is that it is incredibly hard to hear when it speaks to us, due to the incessant noise created by our busy external lives and mental chatter. The practice of all Yoga is aimed towards tuning into this layer - removing unnecessary clutter from the mind so that we can ‘rest in our true nature’ Patanjali sutra 1.3. Our aim should be to move more and more towards this state of being, where we can remain unaffected by thought, emotion or experience, and achieve a state of bliss.
Anandamaya Kosha - The Bliss Body
The final Kosha relates back to the state of bliss as mentioned in the fourth Kosha. This layer is beyond the other four, and is known as the final state of bliss achieved when one reaches deep inner silence and peace. Where we can realise life's joy as it was intended - free from the cycles of pain/pleasure, from desire and from our noisey mind. While this state may seem a little ambitious for the everyday Yoga practitioner, it is helpful to visualise as we move through life’s journey. Yoga practice permeates every aspect of life, and is there to guide us on and off the mat. Next time you are focused on nailing that arm balance, or attempting to get your leg behind your head, ask yourself - ‘how is this helping to achieve my bliss state?’