If you’ve ever experienced yoga, whether the physical practice (asana), or any of its other aspects including breath work, meditation, and more, you may have noticed its effects way beyond how you feel physically.
There are layers to the practice, just like there are layers to who we are, five exact, and they are known as the 5 Koshas.
Yoga is a practice designed to get us more in touch with ourselves and our true essence.
Just like learning about how often we should practice yoga, knowing what different practices can do for us, is also important in order to choose and explore techniques that we can connect to and utilize.
Teachers and practitioners of yoga often speak about peeling back the layers to tap into our truth, but what does this truly mean? Well, enter the Koshas.
In this article, you will learn more about each layer of being and the different ways in which you can merge the Koshas and yoga, not only in your movement practice, but way beyond by exploring:
- What the Koshas are
- Each of the five koshas explored in depth
- How to integrate koshas yoga into your practice
Let’s explore the subtle body!
What are the Koshas?
The Taittirīya Upanishad, (in Sanskrit: तैत्तिरीय उपनिषद्) is a text from the Vedic era written in the Sanskrit language and it is the first yoga classic text known to mention the Koshas; the five sheaths of consciousness; the layers of existence.
Gaining awareness about the Koshas through the practice of Yoga (as a holistic practice, not just as the asana) is a great way to tap into and begin to understand who we truly are.
These layers of existence are:
- Annamaya Kosha
- Pranamaya Kosha
- Manomaya Kosha
- Vijnanamaya Kosha
- Anandamaya Kosha
The Koshas are the composition of our energetic body, and you can think of them as a traditional Russian Matryoshka doll, each Kosha being a layer within a layer, eventually getting us in touch with our true nature, our soul.
On the yogic path of self-realization, we flow through these levels of awareness; we must move through all five layers to gain discernment and be able to see through the Maya, the illusion, which is ultimately what these layers are made of.
Through yogic practices, we can dissolve and release these layers, almost as if burning away the fog, finally fully becoming our true selves and freeing ourselves from the Maya.
The 5 koshas explored
#1: Annamaya Kosha
“Human beings consist of a material body built from the food they eat. Those who care for this body are nourished by the universe itself.”Taittiriya Upanishad
All living things are fed and will one day become food. That is just a fact of life.
This outermost layer of our being is hence related to all aspects of the physical body and its functions.
One of the best ways in which we can balance Annamaya Kosha is with movement; by practicing the physical postures of yoga.
Intake of good quality food and learning how to release toxins will also greatly benefit Annamaya Kosha, proper nourishment supports the balance of Annamaya Kosha.
Some practices for Annamaya Kosha:
- Pranayama and Kriya
- Mindful eating
- Nourishing Touch
- Clothing that supports movement of energy (natural fibers)
- Energy-rich inner and outer environments
#2: Pranamaya Kosha
“Inside this is another body made of life energy. It fills the physical body and takes its shape. Those who treat this vital force as divine experience excellent health and longevity because this energy is the source of physical life.”Taittiriya Upanishad
Pranamaya Kosha is the second outmost layer of our energetic composition and it relates directly to the subtle energies of the body; the chakras and the prana vayus.
When we intend to balance the Pranamaya Kosha we can do so by regulating the flow of prana (life force) with the practices of asana, breathwork, as well as chakra balancing work.
When we tap into the Pranamaya Kosha we release stagnant energy, finding more space to sustain balance in our lives.
Some ways to engage with pranamaya kosha:
- Pranayama and Kriya practices
- Sacred rituals
#3: Manomaya Kosha
“Within the vital force is yet another body, this one made of thought energy. It fills the two denser bodies and has the same shape. Those who understand and control the mental body are no longer afflicted by fear.”Taittiriya Upanishad
Our next layer, the one right in the middle of it all, is Manomaya, the mental sheath.
It deals with all aspects of the mind, including our central nervous system responses (survival, reproduction, etc.)
When we explore this sheath we tap into our psychological and emotional health.
Imbalances in the Manomaya Kosha often manifest as stress, which untreated can lead to physical and mental illnesses.
A yoga practice that is designed to relieve stress is a great way to begin to balance the Manomaya Kosha, but here are a few other ways in which you can tap into your mental sheath:
- Satsang– correcting the intellect
- Pranayama and kriya practice
- Sangha (conscious community)
#4: Vijnanamaya Kosha
“Deeper still lies another body comprised of intellect. It permeates the three denser bodies and assumes the same form. Those who establish their awareness here free themselves from unhealthy thoughts and actions, and develop the self-control necessary to achieve their goals.“Taittiriya Upanishad
Vijnanamaya Kosha directly relates to our innate wisdom and intuition; it is the layer of awareness where we become aware of the physical realm yet can begin to detach from it.
It is where we can learn to be the observer of our life and of the thoughts that we are having, giving us the first glimpse at what it’s like to live fully present instead of always engaging with the fluctuations of the mind.
When we witness ourselves instead of being fully engulfed by the physical realm and its limitations, we begin to get in touch with our essence.
The more we connect with our inner wisdom and intuition by working with Vijnanamaya Kosha, the easier it is for us to know how we feel and what we need at any given moment. We cease to operate from a place of impulse, and we begin to engage with ourselves and with the world in a more mindful, aware, and grounded way.
Here are a few tools you can use to connect to Vijnanamaya Kosha:
- Pranayama and kriya practices
- Sacred rituals and ceremonies
- Seva/Selfless service
#5: Anandamaya Kosha
“Hidden inside it is yet a subtler body, composed of pure joy. It pervades the other bodies and shares the same shape. It is experienced as happiness, delight, and bliss.”Taittiriya Upanishad
Anandamaya Kosha is the deepest layer of our being, the last of the Matryoshka dolls, if you will.
It translates as the bliss sheath, and it allows us to be as in touch with our divine consciousness as it is available for us as human beings.
Anandamaya Kosha is experienced when we feel a deep sense of peace and joy within us, when we are truly present and connected to who we are, transcending our physical, emotional, and mental experience, yet experiencing it all.
If we connect these sheaths to the 8 Limbs of Yoga, Anandamaya Kosha directly relates to the last limb, Samadhi, often translated as bliss.
Unlike the other Koshas, since Anandamaya is at the core of it all, the only way to tap into this state of euphoria and harmony is through connecting to all the other layers we have mentioned before.
Connecting to Anandamaya Kosha is more about letting go of effort and simply finding yourself there, and that is why speaking of practice to tap into Anandamaya Kosha isn’t quite possible.
To connect to the deepest layer of your being, you must first dissolve the veil, move beyond the illusion that we tend to live engulfed in.
By taking time to work on all the other layers, physical, energetic, mental, and intellectual, we eventually find ourselves in this state of bliss without really trying.
Divine consciousness is at the center.
It is complete purity of essence, not a reflection of knowing of the light within
but the light itself.
Peeling Back the Layers in Practice
How to integrate koshas yoga into your practice?
We first connect to our body in order to understand the physical experience better (Annamaya Kosha).
We proceed to experience what goes on energetically (Pranamaya Kosha), then in our mind (Manomaya Kosha).
As these three layers become easier to access through steady practice, tapping into our innate wisdom and intuition (Vijnanamaya Kosha) becomes more accessible, hence being able to eventually experience our truth, bliss, Ananadamaya Kosha.
Next time you practice yoga, whether through movement, meditation practices, breathwork, or even philosophy, bring your awareness to what is going on beyond what you feel in your physical body.
Notice the stirring going on within as you become more and more familiar with your energetic body and the sheaths, the Koshas. With practice, you’ll be able to tap into them with more ease; increasing your intuition and connection to self.
Enjoyed learning about the philosophy behind yoga practice? Check out our resources on Yogic Theory: