Ever asked yourself “Who am I?” Am I my thoughts & emotions or am I what others think of me? Or am I defined by my physical traits? Yoga philosophy can help you explore your innermost levels of being and find out who you really are through the energetic layers called Koshas.
According to Yoga philosophy, understanding the koshas can help us discover our true self and develop a sense of connection with everything around us. Regarded as casings or sheaths, the 5 koshas are enclosed within each other – from the edge of your body to your inner self or the soul.
Yoga practitioners believe that the five koshas can help you build a stronger connection between your mind, body, and spirit and become deeply aware of your inner self. To know “what is the meaning of life?” and find your way to self-realization, pay more attention to the 5 koshas of Yoga.
Related reading: How Yoga Benefits You Physically and Mentally
What is a Kosha?
Kosha is a Sanskrit term that means a sheath or a layer of our mental and physical being covering the individual self or the Atman.
Here, the Atman or the soul is considered as the deepest layer. All of us have five koshas, known as Pancha Koshas, in our bodies which surround us like the layers of an onion or the Matryoshka dolls (Russian stacking dolls). However, they are not concentric or parallel layers and tend to have varying levels of subtlety.
Our physical body is seen as the outermost layer, while our spiritual self is considered as the innermost sheath. From our physical body to our energy, mind, wisdom, and inner peace, each kosha consists of subtler levels of energy.
These koshas or layers are interrelated & intertwined which cannot be considered as separate or distinct. In fact, the Pancha Koshas are interactive, which means the effects on a particular sheath or layer can affect all the 5 koshas in the body.
When our physical body is connected to our energetic body, mental body, wisdom body and bliss body, we can experience inner peace and a positive mental state. However, when our bliss body becomes weak due to disconnection, imbalance can be experienced in all the 5 koshas.
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If you wish to truly understand yourself and experience happiness and wellbeing, then you must pay more attention to these subtle aspects of yourself and work on these sheaths or layers. Practicing Yoga and meditation on a daily basis can help you bring balance among the 5 koshas and get in touch with your inner self.
What are the 5 layers of Kosha?
The Kosha system was originally mentioned in the Taittiriya Upanishad, a Sanskrit Vedic text of the Yajurveda composed during the 6th century BC. According to the kosha system, all human beings have five sheaths of consciousness that vary from dense to subtle. These 5 koshas or Pancha Koshas include –
- Annamaya kosha – The Anna or food layer
- Pranamaya kosha -The Prana or energy layer
- Manomaya kosha – The Manas or mind layer
- Vijñānamaya kosha – The Vigynana or Wisdom/Knowledge layer
- Anandamaya kosha – The Ananda or bliss layer
One 2021 research paper explains that Yoga is closely associated with the holistic principle of body-mind-soul. This principle claims that “a human being can experience five dimensions of gross and subtle existence, called Pancha kosha, or five sheaths, namely Annamaya (physical body), Pranamaya (energy field), Manomaya (mental dimension), Vijnanamaya (related to intuitive knowledge) and Anandamaya (level of bliss) kosha (Taittiriya Upanishad).”
Prana or the vital life force regulates all gross and subtle activities within us and it permeates, nourishes, and sustains all the five koshas.
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What is Pancha Kosha Theory?
According to Yoga philosophy and the Kosha Model, the Pancha Koshas are categorized in three bodies –
- Sthula sarira or the gross body: This consists of Annamaya kosha & Pranamaya Kosha.
- Suksma sarira or the subtle body: This consists of Manomaya Kosha & Vijanamaya Kosha.
- Karana sarira or the causal body: This consists of Ananadamaya Kosha.
The five koshas offer a guideline that enables us to peel the outer layers of our consciousness and existence and focus our awareness on our deeper spiritual self. Just like we peel the layers of an onion to reach the core, working on the 5 koshas helps us reach our true self – our soul.
These layers or sheaths vary from the grossest (physical) to the subtlest (spiritual). The koshas do not function independently and are interdependent & interrelated. True happiness and holistic health can only be experienced when we understand all the layers.
The layers are a form of energy which we can become aware of and develop through spiritual practices, but cannot see. Every layer is developed through the energy it thrives on, such as –
- Annamaya kosha consists of the food we consume
- Pranamaya Kosha is made up of our Prana or life force
- Manomaya Kosha is developed through our thoughts
- Vijanamaya Kosha relies on our knowledge and wisdom
- Anandamaya Kosha is the eternal bliss we can experience
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Being aware of the physical, mental, and spiritual koshas can enable us to explore the deeper layers of our existence. When we work on our koshas, we can reach the core of our self – our soul. Through spiritual practices, this can bring about positive changes to our individual self, our life and how we interact with the world.
Relationship between Koshas and Chakras
However, you need to understand that koshas are different from chakras. The five koshas are present in different layers or sheaths in our body. Chakras, which means wheel in Sanskrit, are vital energy points in our bodies and are associated with meditation practices. The chakras are mostly present along our spine.
It is believed that the 2nd sheath, known as Pranamaya Kosha or the energy layer, helps to manage our mental and physical energies through our Chakras and Nadis.
Related reading: 7 Chakras: The Energy Centers of The Body
The Kosha Model and the Pancha Koshas
As described in the Taittiriya Upanishad, the Kosha Model is a blueprint for the self. Each sheath or layer is an integral aspect of our being. The five koshas represent our physical, mental and emotional personality.
Let us take a deeper look at these 5 koshas and understand how they work.
1. Annamaya Kosha (The Physical Layer)
This is the outermost sheath and is made up of our physical body, including our skin, muscles, organs, bones, etc. Composed of the food we eat, this is believed to be the densest, grossest aspect of our consciousness. Most of us are typically aware of this sheath as it is associated with –
- Physical sensations
- Body weight
- Physical illnesses
- Physical identity
In Yoga, our physical body is an element of the food we consume. Annamaya kosha, where ‘anna’ means food in Sanskrit, can be identified by how our bodies respond to different kinds of food. Paying conscious attention to our physical body can help us be more physically healthy in life.
How to tune into Annamaya kosha:
The simplest way to nourish this kosha or layer is by being aware of your physical body and sensations. When we are aware of our physical existence, we can be more mindful and grounded.
Moreover, following a healthy diet, practicing yoga techniques like asanas, pranayama, hatha yoga (Shatkriyas) can also help to develop Annamaya kosha.
You may also try body scan meditation or touch certain body parts, like your face, bring your attention to that body part and consciously feel the sensations.
Related reading: How Yoga And Mindful Eating Can Be Beneficial For You
2. Pranamaya Kosha (The Energy Layer)
The second sheath is subtler than Annamaya kosha as it involves body energy which we cannot observe physically with our eyes. This layer is composed of prana, Sanskrit for life force or vital energy, and our breath forms a crucial part of this sheath.
When you understand this layer and become aware of it, you can develop a stronger energetic connection with your inner self and nature. The Pranamaya Kosha pervades the physical sheath and strongly affects it.
The second layer provides energy to our mind and body that enables us to move physically and express ourselves. It empowers us to manifest our true inner self in the physical, external world.
This vital energy layer controls our energy levels and makes us feel motivated, tired, calm, or anxious. Each one of us have an unique energetic impression which can be experienced by gaining a strong understanding of your inner self. By becoming aware of your Pranamaya Kosha and the energy around you, you will be better able to read the vibrations in your environment.
How to tune into Pranamaya kosha:
This layer is fed and regulated by the prana we absorb through our breath. Practicing meditation or asanas is perhaps the best way to strengthen this sheath as such spiritual activities help to drive energy into our mind and heart. No wonder, many individuals experience waves of energy or heat moving through their body while engaging in yoga or meditation.
Three-part breathing (Dirga Pranayama), conscious breathing, abdominal breathing and alternate-nostril breathing (Nadi Shodhana) can also improve prana and help you tap into the vital energy layer.
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3. Manomaya Kosha (The Mental Layer)
This sheath is composed of our thoughts, cognition, emotions, mental processes and inner world. When we become aware of our mental patterns and perceptions, we can strengthen this kosha. Manomaya Kosha functions primarily as a message-bearer that carries external sensations and experiences into our internal consciousness.
This layer is formed by our daily awareness, thoughts, and actions which enable us to function on an auto-pilot mode. It helps us focus on our basic, individual needs and desires. However, this layer does not function when we sleep.
Derived from the Sanskrit term manas meaning thought, Manomaya Kosha receives, stores, and processes information and manages our instinctive reflexes and automatic responses.
This third layer is subtler than the previous two Koshas and is directly associated with our nervous system, feelings, and mind. As our thoughts and emotions directly affect our physical health and energy levels, being aware of our psyche and acknowledging all our thoughts & feelings can help us improve our overall mental well being.
Related reading: What Is Good Mental Health? 11 Signs
How to tune into Manomaya kosha:
When this layer is in disharmony, it can seriously affect our thoughts and emotions. Practicing yoga can help us relax our mind, calm our nervous system, and avoid anxiety, stress, burnout, mental exhaustion, etc.
Certain yoga practices like single-pointed concentration (dharana), sense-withdrawal (pratyahara), asana and pranayama can significantly help you tap into this sheath.
Mantra meditation is another beneficial practice that helps you balance this layer, along with mindfulness meditation, conscious breathing and yogic sleep or yoga nidra.
It is also important that you observe and pay attention to your thoughts, perceptions and feelings and understand how they are affected by the external environment. Developing a positive mindset can help you feed Manomaya kosha and experience happiness in your life.
Related reading: 6 Yoga Poses To Release Difficult Emotions
4. Vijnanamaya Kosha (The Wisdom Layer)
We can fully understand this deeper fourth Kosha only after we have found balance and harmony in the first 3 layers. When you learn to observe your thoughts without any judgments, you can gain inner insight by learning to pause in the present moment. This allows you to gain a new and different perspective on life.
Vijnanamaya Kosha is made up of our conscience, awareness, knowledge, and intellect. This astral sheath is associated with our intuition and empowers us to gain deeper inner reflection, clarity and awareness about reality. By being more mindful, you become detached from your thoughts, emotions, ego, and self.
Derived from the Sanskrit term Vijñāna meaning consciousness or intellect, this layer is present in all of us. However, most of us remain unaware about it. When this kosha is in disharmony or not developed properly, you can experience –
- Lack of creativity
- Lack of willpower
- Poor decision-making
- Poor judgment
- Lack of control over actions and behaviors
Gaining higher intelligence and a clear understanding of the fourth sheath of wisdom can help us better manage our thoughts and behaviors, distinguish between reality and illusion, avoid attachments, ignore temptations, and live a positive life guided by wisdom.
Related reading: 9 Genuine Signs of Intelligence That People Can’t Fake
How to tune into Vijnanamaya kosha:
Ashtanga yoga is undoubtedly one of the best ways to listen to your inner wisdom. Practices like asana, pranayama, single-pointed concentration (Dharana), meditation (dhyana), and mantra chanting can help you better experience Vijnanamaya kosha by making your mind still. Meditation can be especially helpful in reaching a layer of higher intellect and consciousness by opening your ajna or third eye chakra.
It is also believed that activities that help you get into a flow state of mind, where you become fully immersed in an activity, can also help you to tap into the fourth layer of wisdom. Hence, activities like playing a sport, painting, writing, or playing a musical instrument can be beneficial.
Related reading: 5 Ways To Improve Your Mental Abilities To Solve New Problems
5. Anandamaya Kosha (The Bliss Layer)
The fifth layer is the innermost and deepest sheath that encapsulates your true self. “Anandamaya Kosha is the causal dimension” from where all other koshas emerge, explains a 2009 study.
It is the link between individual awareness and universal consciousness. This layer enables us to be happy with who we truly are. However, it is typically a fleeting experience as only “highly purified” individuals can understand and feel this subtlest kosha.
One must be disciplined enough to engage in spiritual practices for a long time in order to strengthen their fifth kosha. When you achieve the highest level of consciousness, you will understand your true self.
It allows you to experience inner peace, unconditional love, true happiness, boundless freedom, detachment from thoughts, emotions, body & energy, while accepting all of them.
Derived from the Sanskrit term ananda meaning bliss, Anandamaya kosha is the the core of our existence. Although it is difficult to describe the experience of this sheath in words, it brings a sense of contentment, peace and connection with the Supreme Being.
Your consciousness will expand beyond your physical limits and you will experience unending bliss. According to yoga philosophy, all of us are capable of experiencing Anandamaya kosha, however, we can only reach it through deep meditation, prayer and mantra chanting.
Related reading: How To Find Inner Peace: 8 Strategies You Can Start Right Now
How to tune into Anandamaya kosha:
Practicing Ashtanga yoga or Patanjali’s systematic eightfold path of yoga can help you connect with this layer. Moreover, practicing Raja yoga, Jnana yoga, Karma yoga and Bhakti yoga, along with practicing pranayama, savasana (corpse pose) and deep meditation regularly, can also add value to your experience of the bliss layer.
One must also gain a deeper level of awareness about self, practice detachment and have dedication.
You must also realize that the Anandamaya Kosha can only be accessed once you have realized the previous four koshas. You also need to be patient as connecting with your true self will take time and may reveal itself in fleeting moments. This is why performing artists, writers and painters often experience it in flashes. However, this state of bliss is our true nature.
Related reading: Opening Your True Self with Yoga
The path to self-discovery & empowerment
When you become aware of all the 5 koshas, you can finally understand and connect with your inner self by reaching through all the different layers. It can not only transform how you see yourself but help you better manage your mental well-being, relationships, and life. Uncovering the five koshas can also empower you to better connect with your environment, nature, and the world.
Practice the strategies mentioned here can activate your koshas by peeling the different layers and ultimately reaching the bliss layer when you can experience true happiness, which is your default setting.
Related reading: The 7 Stages of Spiritual Awakening
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):
What is the innermost kosha of our body?
Anandamaya Kosha or the bliss sheath is the innermost, deepest and subtlest kosha in our body. Ananda means joy and bliss in Sanskrit. Hence, this Kosha is associated with our soul, happiness and love.
Which kosha deals with Chakras and Nadis?
Pranamaya Kosha or the energy layer, which is the 2nd layer in the Pancha Kosha system, is associated with regulating our Chakras and Nadis through mental and physical energies.
Which kosha represents the mental body?
Manomaya Kosha, which is the third layer, is the mental sheath and is associated with our mind and emotions. The term Manomaya is derived from the Sanskrit word manas which means thought.