The Five Koshas

The first time I ever encountered the koshas, I was enamoured. To think that there were these layers to our body, and that we could travel through these layers to get deeper within ourselves; the idea that we are more than our physical body; the koshas were a perfect exploration of the subtleties of the body I was already experiencing.

What is a kosha? Kosha translates into “sheath”, but let’s explore that further.

Think of a lamp. There’s the lightbulb, and then there is the lampshade. Each sheath (in most streams of yoga, it’s assumed that there are 5 sheaths, which we’ll get into in depth in later posts, but in some streams, there is a 6th sheath, atman). Now imagine that instead of one lampshade, there are four, and the lightbulb is your true self. With each lampshade, it gets more difficult to see the lightbulb. You can likely make out a silhouette, but it may not be as vibrant as it would be with only one lampshade, or, perhaps even if it were just the lightbulb on its own. The lampshades are the  koshas, or the sheaths of the body. As you travel through each sheath, you get closer to the brighter being that is you.

In brief, the koshas are as follows:

Anamaya kosha – the physical layer or food sheath
Pranamaya kosha – the energy layer or breath layer
Manamaya kosha – the mind layer
Vijanamaya kosha – the wisdom layer
Anandamaya kosha – the bliss layer

There are many ways that we can work with these layers. Kosha Yoga was developed by Yogrishi Vishvketu and is a method in which you work with the first 3 layers through the physical asana practice, repeating a series of postures 3 times (one for each of the first 3 layers), the wisdom layer in savasana, and the bliss layer in meditation.

I have since developed kosha yin. Using specific postures, we use the long holds of yin to work through the first 3 layers, only repeating a pose if it’s two sided. We also, in kosha yin, work with the wisdom layer in savasana, and bliss layer in meditation, often done in a reclined position.

You can also work with the koshas in mindfulness mediations. By directing your attention to each layer, you begin to notice the subtleties of the body; realizing that you are a deeper being with more to offer the world.

As we begin to work more intentionally with yogic philosophy, we often become more in tune with our mind body connection. This enables us to understand the needs of the body – when it needs to sleep, eat, move, hydrate. As we attune to the subtle layers, we notice when something feels off, how our minds and bodies are affected by judgement, by expectation, by attachment to what we feel “should” be. We establish clarity, increase intuition, and learn to honour our true self; our blissful self.

Kosha Mindfulness Meditation
Try this. Sit comfortably, or lay down if that’s better for you. Start to bring attention to your physical body. Notice first the points of contact between yourself and the earth. Notice whether those points feel light on the earth or heavy. Without judging the sensations, be aware of what arises. Can you feel your skin? Can you feel the tips of your fingers? Can you feel your body on the earth?
Can you begin to feel the breath? Notice whether the breath is deep or shallow. Notice whether you can sense your breath moving beyond your lungs and nourishing the cells of your body. Notice that the breath is energy within the body. Notice already that the breath is more subtle than the sensations of the physical body.
Begin to notice the mind. See if you can bring awareness to thoughts as they arise, and, without judgement, without attaching a story to your thoughts, bear witness to what arises. You can witness your thoughts without becoming an active participant. Notice if frustration arises, or if sensations of praise arise. This is an experience of curiosity, with no expectations.
Begin to let go of the thoughts. Know that you are deeper than your thoughts. There is an innate knowing that guides you, through intuition. There is a sense of inner wisdom, where arguments or persuasion are no longer required. Sit in the stillness, and if thoughts arise, acknowledge them, thank them for being there, and let them go.
Continue this sit for another few moments or minutes. Know that at the deepest core, you are pure bliss. That is your true nature.

What is your experience with the koshas? Share below to start the discussion!

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