Sthula (gross) + Sarira (body)
Gross Body Definition
In Sanskrit, the term “gross body” is rendered Sthula sarira.
Sthula means “gross,” “dense,” “thick,” “bulky,” or “stout.”
Sarira means “body.”
The gross body is also sometimes referred to as the physical body.
In yogic philosophy, human beings are composed of three bodies, consisting of five koshas (sheaths) in total:
1. Sthula Sarira, the physical or gross body, which contains:
- Annamaya kosha (the food sheath).
2. Sukshma Sarira, the subtle or astral body, which contains:
- Pranamaya kosha (the energy sheath);
- Manomaya kosha (the mental sheath);
- Vijanamaya kosha (the intellect sheath).
3. Karana Sarira, the causal body, which contains:
- Anandamaya (the bliss sheath).
These bodies come into being via avidya (nescience, unawareness, ignorance of the Self), which creates jiva (the individual soul hiding from its true self).
Gross Body Deep Dive
In yogic philosophy, human consciousness is divided into the waker, the dreamer, and the deep sleeper. The gross body is identified with the waker, the subtle body with the dreamer, and the causal body with the deep sleeper. Together, these three bodies form your being, your individuated consciousness.
The gross body is the one most of us identify with – this mass of stuff. It’s the physical body, and as the Sanskrit word sthula implies, it’s heavy and dense, unlike the incorporeal subtle and causal bodies. It is said to vibrate at the lowest frequencies.
The gross body eats, breathes, and moves. It is subject to birth, decay, and death. It is the annamaya kosha, or “food sheath,” literally made up of what you eat and absorb. Bones, tendons, muscles, skin, organs, etc.
It is sometimes said to be the temporary housing of your jiva, or individuated consciousness. Think of it as a space suit designed to sensorily engage with the physical world.
“Just as a man casts off worn out clothes and puts on new ones, so also the embodied self casts off worn out bodies.”– Bhagavad Gita 2:22.
The shape and likeness of your gross body is said to depend on your karma and a process known as panchikarana, which combines the primordial elements of earth, water, fire, air, and ether to create material existence.
The Gross Body in Your Life
The way you use and relate to your gross body is crucial to your awakening. This is why those who start practicing yoga often begin by learning about and caring for their physical body.
You can start by finding out what your dosha is.
According to ayurveda, the world’s oldest known medical science, when the five elements of earth, water, fire, air, and ether come together to form your body, they are proportioned into three doshas.
Vata – composed of air and ether.
Kapha – composed of earth and water.
Pitta – composed of fire and earth.
I always encourage my students to take a dosha quiz (or two or three). It can help you discover what foods work best for you, and which exercises and types of yoga are most suitable. You may have to subscribe to some sites to take the quizzes, but… It’s worth it.
When it comes to relating to your gross body, asanas (yoga postures) are another good place to start.
“The body is my temple. Asanas are my prayers.”– BKS Iyengar.
You may have heard the expression, “get into your body.” Try taking it literally in your yoga practice. Instead of thinking, move your body and activate your muscle groups exactly as instructed.
Breathe consciously, and tune into how your breathing affects your mind.
Notice how your posture affects your focus.
It’s all connected. If your yoga journey means knowing your true self you’ll have to connect with your body.
To go deep and expand your yogic knowledge, access our free Yoga Terms Encyclopedia, where we host a profound wealth of ancient and timeless yogic wisdom in an accessible modern format.