What are these koshas we hear about in yoga

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The Koshas

On our path to Self-realization, we may also encounter discussions of these sheaths of existence known as the koshas or layers of our energetic bodies. From the Sanskrit (thse are basically vedic ideas) kosha means sheath, maya is translated as made of. We move through these so as to experience the purity at the eternal center of consciousness, while at the same time allowing that purity to animate through our individuality. Our chakras are based more in our physical annamaya kosha, we then move into the rest. We will discuss the five koshas which are:

Physical - Annamaya kosha

Energy/breath - Pranamaya kosha

Mental - Manamaya kosha

Wisdom - Vijnanamaya kosha

Bliss - Anandamaya kosha

Self - Atman

The ancient yogis speak of 5 layers, each progressively more ethereal, subtle and deep. The final destination of this path is the realization that we are our self-the atman-the true self which is not based on or affected by experience.  This is the self realization that we are in fact the same life force that is within all things, that we are never changing, we become aware of the unity and the connection.  

How do these koshas relate to the chakra system? To make sense of this we must first understand how this all relates. The annamaya kosha, the food body deals with the first three chakras, the muladhara, the swadistana, and the manipura – our base, more physical chakras. The pranamaya kosha deals related to the anahata chakra, the manamaya kosha deals with the throat chakra, which as we will see has to do with intellect and truth as well. The Vijnamayakosha deals with the ajna chakra, the third eye, and has to do with our intellect. And finally the anandamaya kosha relates to the saharara chakra, our connection to the divine, the composite of bliss and connection to the divine self. The ulitmate goal of spiritual practice and the place where we end up where we are not buffetted by the emotions, we live in truth and peace and enlightenment. No small order!

But we all start where we are, and we start to work through these layers by working with the annamaya kosha.  This is our food body, the part of us that is interested in eating, sleeping, mating-survival.  And as we discussed with the chakra systems, things get stuck here, things need to move and release and this is part of what we achieve with yoga, bodywork and meditation.  We work through this body and into our pranayama body using our breath.  When we have worked through these bodies we progress up to the mind, wisdom and bliss bodies.

Anna means food. All of the physical aspects of life come and go, and are consumed by another aspect of external reality. Thus, the outermost of the koshas is called the sheath of food, or Annamaya kosha.

With yoga practice, we train this aspect of ourselves, take care of it, nurture it, purify it, so that we can both enjoy our external lives and go inward without it being an obstacle during meditation time. In meditation, we become aware of Annamaya kosha, explore it, our energetic bodies, our chakra, our emotions, and drives. As we go through this and achieve peace and balance, we go inward, to and through the other koshas. We realize at some point that, although we use this body to identify with, to function with, we are not this body, that our self (atman) is the ever present self, that the experiences we have with our annamaya kosha are that, like movies on a screen, the screen always clean and present, just a field for expression and learning.

When we have calmed the body, strengthened it, we move into our energy body, we do this often at the same time with our pranayama work, and being aware of our breathing.  Prana is the animator of our physical body, it brings life into our lungs, energy to our circulatory and lymphatic systems, and helps us regulate and engage in our emotions.  We all have experienced how our breathing patterns affects our emotions.  That calm when you sit and take a few deep orcleansing breaths....that pause.....and remember that this kosha is related to our heart chakra (anahata) which deals with our heart and lung on a physical level. So this whole system is working together.

Ayurvedic practitioners tell us that the prana moves in 5 ways in our bodies, all helping to purify us.

Prana literally is life energy, and is divided up into five vayus - prana moves the air forward, apana moves moves down and out, udana moves the energy up, samana balances, vyana moves the energy and air out. These are the directions on our prana, and also directions of the universe. In ayurvedic massage, strokes are used in these directions to help cleanse the systems.

The Manomayakosa is our sheath of the mind. This is the part of us that experiences our world. This is the mind, the random sporadic thoughts that arise. The thoughts, the intelligence without the wisdom, it is like technical knowledge.

Vijnamayakosha is the sheath of intellect and wisdom body and “refers to the reflective aspects of our consciousness when we experience a deeper insight into ourselves and the world. As the first three layers begin to syncopate in your yoga practice, a different feeling arises as your wisdom body comes alive. All of a sudden you are not just trying to survive or breathe in a pose, but a shift inside you occurs, as if the spirit of the pose starts to emerge. In Tree Pose, you may begin to feel a steady strength and inner power. In a backbend, it may feel like the sky opens up inside your heart. You are still in the fourth layer of your body when a subjective witness observes these shifts—that inner voice that says, "That feels good!" When the witness of experience dissolves into the experience of the moment, the final layer, anandamaya kosha, the core of bliss begins to shine through. There is a feeling of wholeness and integration, a sense of arriving at your destination, even if you are only there for a moment. This is the radiant core where unconditional love and communion with life arises. In the Upanishads, this bliss body is described as having "joy as the head, contentment as the right arm and delight as the left, bliss as the heart, and Brahman [universal self] as the foundation." Shiva Rhea in her article for yoga Journal “you are here”.

Kundalini

One last thing we need to discuss is Kundalini energy. This explained with the story of Shiva and Shakti...In the beginning, there was pure consciousness, unity. Within this consciousness were two beings, Shiva-the infinite supreme lover, stasis, the never changing, time. Shakti represents the energy and the beloved, change, movement, and space (much like yin and yang in oriental medicine). Shakti lies withing all of us, in our base chakra, coiled as a snake in the guise of Kundalini shakti or the “power at rest”. When she moves she becomes manifest, she ascends to find her lover-shiva, moving through the denseness of our bodies. She is the animator, the prana. When she moves through us, when we find this pure energy, this rise of energy brings us balance, freedom, healing and harmony. This energy moves through our charkas and koshas, residing in the seventh chakra ultimately.