Yoga and Ayurveda look at the human being as composed of five layers or Sheaths – or you could say we have five bodies. The outermost sheath is the ‘food body’, the physical body, the only layer that has an anatomical aspect. But, how about the other four? These five bodies in Yoga philosophy, form the books of the Upanishads, are called Koshas.
The Five Koshas:
- Annamaya Kosha: The outer sheath is the body layer—muscles, bones, skin, organs. Anna means food, which is what sustains this level. Asana keeps this kosha healthy and can be used to treat problems that arise in the body.
- Pranamaya Kosha: The next sheath is the life force/energy sheath. It is concerned with the breath and the flow of energy through the body. Pranayama practice is prescribed to address this layer.
- Manomaya Kosha: The next sheath is the mind or mental sheath. It has to do with thoughts and emotions. It is maintained through meditation.
- Vijnanamaya Kosha: is the knowledge sheath. This kosha is comprised of your wisdom, intuition, and perception. Meditation is also the key to this layer.
- Anadamaya Kosha: The innermost sheath is the bliss sheath. It represents unending joy, love, peace, and complete happiness.
Kosha means “sheath” or layer in Sanskrit. Maya means illusion. For example, thinking that we are just the physical body is an illusion.
You can imagine that you have a lamp bulb, which is your innermost self and it’s so bright that you need five lamp shades to be able to look at this lamp. Each lampshade, when removed, shows us a shinier and deeper aspect of our selves. You can also think of it as Russian nesting dolls or the layers of an onion. The subtle body ‘layers’ are not tangible like the physical body is. They merge and influence each other shouldn’t think of these layers as clearly defined, as physical objects are. When we have optimal health it indicates that these layers are working in harmony.
In our Yoga practise we can explore each of these layers, whether it is on a restorative practice or on a yoga flow.
The koshas are not meant to be interpreted literally, they just provide an additional lens through which to view our experiences in the human body. When life is out of balance, we must identify the kosha that is troubled and take on practices to help it come back into harmony with the others. Exploring and integrating each layer brings us closer to a state of bliss.