The Koshas

By Akash

The Koshas
The koshas can be understood as a “map” to chart your journey back to Self. We are retracing our steps back to Source: from the most tangible aspect of ourselves, the physical body, the periphery, to our immortal Self, the abode of bliss.

The koshas comprise a practical and profound contemplative tool to help deepen our understanding of all aspects of ourselves. We can explore our various levels as part of our yoga practice. As teachers, the koshas can be an invaluable tool for guiding our students on their journey and enriching the quality of their participation in the journey.

Yogis first recorded the teachings of the koshas, or “sheaths”, some 3,000 years ago. They were written about in the ancient texts known as the Upanishads. As a metaphor, the koshas help us to experience life from the inside; as a process of rediscovering our true Self, and especially, of aligning mind, body, and spirit. When these are all in harmony, we experience existence as we were intended to; with awareness, openness, and a sense of well being.

The koshas are interwoven, interconnected, and inseparable. They help us to understand how to regain balance. When you feel upset emotionally, the breath becomes erratic and shallow, the mind becomes restless and agitated, the body tenses, and the realization of our true nature as ever-new, ever-increasing joy seems like a far-off dream. But you can reach out for any kosha as a thread to lead you back home; deepen your breath, do an asana to relax the body, recite a mantra to quiet the mind and reconnect with Spirit, and you will have found your map again. You‘ve remembered the way home.

The koshas, then, reveal how our lives become balanced or imbalanced, integrated or in discord. They reveal the journey of the soul. The koshas are a practical and powerful tool in yoga therapy, when working one-on one with a student. They help us to understand ourselves and others as multi-dimensional beings who need to come back into harmony with the soul in order to achieve health. Hatha Yoga has its origins in the tantric tradition, in which the body is seen as divine; as a manifestation of divinity as well as a vehicle for liberation. As the planet, and the consciousness of humankind, descended into the darker age, this knowledge became lost in the delusion of separation, and even teachers of yoga viewed the body only as an obstacle to spiritual growth. In this age we can embrace the miracle and wonder of our physical selves with gratitude. Explore your attitude towards your body.

Annamaya kosha
This is the sheath of the physical body. Our first step in exploring Annamaya kosha is awareness. One may observe even in the way experienced practitioners of yoga move their bodies, as opposed to more beginning students, an inherent awareness of self as a physical being. In yoga the attitude may be described as “body positive”. That is, we respect and love the gift of the body and all we may learn here on the physical plane. Body awareness is the first step to harmonizing this kosha.
Annamaya means “food body”, and there are long passages in the Upanishads reminding us that what we choose to eat affects us on all levels. The Annamaya kosha may also be viewed as a gateway through which we may access and affect all the other koshas.

Pranamaya kosha
The next part of our journey of self-discovery is awareness of the breath, which naturally leads to awareness of energy. This is a powerful tool to guide us on the next step towards our essential nature. Science now supports the timeless wisdom of yoga; we now know that our bodies are comprised of cells, all communicating harmoniously (in a healthy body) with each other. These cells are comprised of molecules, which are comprised of atoms. These atoms consist of 99% space. This space is charged with prana, life-force, that intelligence which animates all of creation.

Just by shifting the way in which you breathe, you become aware of the Pranamaya kosha. An inner universe begins to be revealed. As you increase the amount of oxygen being fed to the physical body, this pranic body comes alive. Harmonising the 1st and 2nd koshas can be as simple as synchronising the breath with body movements. The system of yoga can be understood as a perfectly designed method for harmonising the koshas.

The chakra system extends to the koshas. When there is a blockage in a chakra, there is a corresponding lack of energy in the body. The emotions are an energetic communication system that provide an important medium and bridge between pranamaya kosha and the next level in our journey.

Manomaya kosha
Observing our thought-waves in a yoga pose, and using the breath to reconnect to quiet mind, is an example of the fundamental interplay between all 3 koshas. Observe how long it takes from the moment you are aware of busy mind, to the moment when you are back to your peaceful centre. The stimulus-response part of the mind represents the older part of the mind, having to do with “flight-or fight”, survival, as well as our response to physiological urges. In addition, our autonomic nervous system is included which regulates essential functions such as heart rate and respiration. In yoga we begin to explore gaining control over these aspects, as well as working with emotions in a positive way. In this way yoga is an evolutionary tool to guide us into “higher mind”- our next kosha. It is important to view this journey in the light of increasing awareness, which naturally leads to greater freedom, rather than restriction or suppression.

Gyanamaya kosha
This kosha relates to buddhi, the faculty of discrimination. It is the bridge to higher consciousness. Often in our practice we access Gyanamaya kosha when we suddenly perceive something in a whole new way. Unexpectedly, we see something clearly, and all the clouds of past judgment disappear. Gyanamaya kosha is sometimes described as the “wisdom faculty”. We also experience this aspect of self as the “witness”. We know the liberating feeling when we stand back and watch the unfolding drama of our lives, viewing the patterns in all their perfection as instructional tools for accelerated learning. The Integration of Manomaya and Gyanamaya koshas happens in these moments of perception, when the witness is fully present.

The centre of the light of this Buddhi mind is said to be in the 3rd eye. When space is cleared by the unveiling and clearing of old emotional patterns, the light of consciousness shines through all the sheaths, harmonizing them into unity consciousness.

Anandamaya kosha
This kosha dwells within the heart, always leading us onward towards bliss. Yogananda said, “Everyone is on the Spiritual Path. Some are racing forwards, some are plodding along, some sleep by the wayside, some even take steps backwards at times. Ultimately, though, we are all on the same path.” Anandamaya kosha is contained within the causal body.
This is the radiant core where unconditional love and communion with all life exists. This is where we know that happiness is not something that we need to achieve. It is already who we are. This is the last sheath covering the pure reflection of Spirit. We may experience this kosha in our practice, often in Savasana, but sometimes in a pose, where all separation melts and the universe is a warm light in our own hearts.

A few more thoughts on the koshas:

From Spirit to Body

When God, differentiated into unique individual souls, the first encasement of that Spirit is the Anandamaya Kosha. Like a bottle floating in an ocean, the water within the same as the water without, yet separated by the glass, so our soul is encased in the “bottle” of Anandamaya kosha.

There is a slowing down of frequency as the soul then vibrates on the level of Gyanamaya Kosha. Now there is an intellect, a thought-form attached to that soul. Yet this is a very clear and high level, the level of awakened mind, the “observer” within.

Next there is a stepping down of vibratory rate to Manomaya -the level of mind which is the faculty that receives information from the senses and processes, as well as the overlays of associations and emotions.

Pranamaya kosha is the current of energy flowing through the physical form, very much affected by the thoughts and emotions and an expression of the universal life-force in all creation. It is like an interface between our thoughts and our physical forms.

Annamaya Kosha is the most dense and slow vibration, that of matter, in this case our physical body. A sluggish rate indeed in comparison with the fluid ever-changing prana, the lightning speed of thoughts, or the transcendent vibration of the soul. Ego is the identification with the body.

Yoga Science is the method through which we “peel back” the layers to discover the pure essence of Spirit within.