THE 5 KOSHAS
According to the yoga tradition, there are considered to be five dimensions, layers or sheaths of human existence. The Sanskrit word kosha means sheath and illustrates that each kosha is in turn covered and overlaid by the next. All are surrounding our nature, true Self. Even though the Kosha's are presented as each layer being separate, all aspects of us are deeply connected.
The 5 koshas :
ANAMAYA : PHYSICAL - material sheath of our existence; our physical body and its basic functions.
PRANAMAYA : ENERGY - subtle energy sheath that runs through and livens our body.
MANOMAYA : EMOTIONAL/MENTAL - mental sheath, the sense of i the ego the, chatter in the mind, thoughts and feelings.
VIJNANAMAYA : WISDOM - higher level of the mind or intellect, the observer, we see our thoughts for what they are, where we find the objective truth
ANANDAMAYA : BLISS - true self, heightened consciousness, a deep sense of oneness, a feeling of harmony, all is well.
Everything we take in through the senses and outer body will impact upon the inner layers, and everything emitted from the inner layers results in our outward actions and place in the world. All layers of us communicate and connect to create the moment we’re experiencing right now.
The true Self is the unchanging part of us. No matter how much struggle the other layers might experience, this place remains at peace. No matter how many different opinions, dreams, or changes of habit we adopt, the Self remains always unaffected, always true. The sense of bliss and joy we humans look for, doesn’t come from reaching outward beyond ourselves, but from looking within.
Through finding balance and harmony in the five sheaths, we can glimpse the stillness and peace of the True Self.
Our physical body, allows us to enjoy our external life. It’s an expression of our consciousness and our uniqueness. We can explore and work with the physical body to bring it to a place of balance and harmony. We can become aware of our body and its movements with the aim of gaining flexibility, strength and balance. We can notice what we put in to our body, food, words etc and the effects. We can learn to listen to the messages of our body and understand stiffness or rigidity in the body can mirror the rigidity in the mind. A steady and comfortable body, leads to a steady and comfortable mind.
Explore in an yoga class :
What is serving and supporting your body so its not a disturbance?
Do you need more strength? stability? flexibility in the body?
What is your body telling you about what's going on in your mind?
Are you staying steady and comfortable?
Check in with your body, how it feels, stay with it, sensing, learning.
Harmony in the physical body allows us to move into the next kosha. Once we have learned to be mindful of our physical body we naturally begin to practice on the next level, the pranic level.
Our physical body is enlivened by prana (vital energy) This energy runs through and animates the body, ensuring we can move, breathe, digest food, think and even feel. In Western culture we strongly identify with our material body, yet without prana supporting and directing it, it can’t survive. Life can be considered a bio-electrical and vibrational energy phenomenon (science can measure these frequencies) and health revolves around balancing energy through various means.
"In every culture and in every medical tradition before ours, healing was accomplished by moving energy.” – Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, Biochemist and Nobel Prize Winner.
As with many things, there are different levels of prana (vital energy) present in everything. A person experiencing a sense of dullness, lethargy and low mood levels could be said to have low prana, whereas someone at ease and content, with plenty of energy and a sense of purpose may have high levels of prana.
In class we can :
Practice Yin yoga / Yang yoga to affect our energy and mood.
Work with particular postures to bring different energetic effects, ie backbends are energising, forward folds calming.
Prana, vital energy, can be cultivated and channeled through a mixture of breathing exercises.
Link attention to breath, the main catalyst for circulation, prana flows where our attention goes.
Open the body, release tension blockages, allow areas to expand into full range of motion, improving energy flow.
The pulling and pressure in yoga postures excites prana to flow into the areas increasing circulation.
This ‘layer’ we experience ‘energy-in-motion’ (‘e-motion’) and is composed of manas or ‘mind’, this sheath relates to a sense of I and mine. It’s where the ego and sense of identity is held.
We can use out emotions as a guidance system, giving clues to what we are thinking about. We feel not so good when our thoughts are out of alignment with our true Self ; when we believe the lower limiting thoughts as true.
We store emotions in the physical body (when we are depressed for example our posture displays it and so does our aura energy body) In our practice it is here that we begin to feel the hits of our feelings having opened ourselves energetically.
In a class :
Dive in and feel our body and energy body, paying attention to sensations and emotions.
Working with the body our breath to balance the emotions.
Become aware of what’s going on in our mind using the emotions as a guidance system to thought.
Listen and respond to the information presented to us.
Practice more consciously, experiencing the moment more fully taking this off the mat into life.
Through movement, breath-work and contemplation, our energy system becomes ever-more subtle, and takes us further towards connecting us to our deeper Self.
Here lies the higher level of the mind or intellect. This sheath can be thought of as the witnessing mind, observing our thoughts and actions. That aspect of our consciousness that is not entangled in what we are doing or thinking, but rather, acutely aware of what we are doing and thinking.
In a class, as we explore the postures, we can mindfully watch as our beliefs, thoughts and stories about what we do and don't like, or what we are and are not good at, unfold. We can see things for how they really are and release these ideas and input whatever we may want to focus on, see or experience. There is no desire to fight, push away or control as we know reality. We can feel good with the way it is, knowing it is this way momentarily, what is right for us is always unfolding.
Learn to pause and reflect before reacting, choose wether to, or how act. How can you bring understanding to this situation ?
Become less distracted by random thoughts or occurrences and much less caught up in the anticipation of the next posture.
Understand our inner drives, what’s really going on, on and off the mat. Begin to know what is happening in your body and mind as you settle into the posture, noticing the nuances.
Find space for inspiration and tap into your inner source -
Can meditation help or can you use another tool to help you to connect with your inner teacher?
The innermost of the five koshas that veil the true Self. Referring to ‘bliss’, ananda is thought of as a state that may be recognisable as the feeling you sense in savasana at the end of a yoga class: the feeling that everything is in harmony, a sense of upliftment, of knowing your'e here and all is possible. Here you are full of purpose and able to experience unconditional love for self and for others. You become liberated from suffering.
We may move in and out of this bliss state, and back and forth through the many sheaths on a regular basis. Bliss Is something available to all of us, and the more we bring each layer of being into balance, the more readily available this state becomes. We tend to get caught up in the lower levels of awareness with our day to day dramas and dreams. When we manage to transcend these story lines we come home to our true nature. Bliss isn’t something we need to look outwardly for. It’s something that exists within us, and something that is found when attention turns inward.
The nature of your true self is spacious and open and free from desires and attachments.
Wake up to awareness, and see for yourself who you really are: nothing…and everything.
Things can happen all around you but you don't 'wobble' react. You're in the world but not of it.
You have pure focus
“Nothing is more important than connecting with your bliss. Nothing is more rich. Nothing is more real.” -Deepak Chopra