In your average yoga class in the United States, you might not hear about the five koshas. It’s part of yoga anatomy that doesn’t often get discussed in the gym setting, or even in many studio settings.
I learned about the five koshas in my Akhanda Yoga teacher trainings. Here’s a quick rundown. 🙂
What Are the Five Koshas?
Koshas are the layers of our bodies. This way of describing the body goes back to the 6th century BCE; it was originally found in the Upanishads.
This is our physical body, or our “food” body. It’s what we can see and touch–and it has limitations, as demonstrated by gravity.
This body comes in large part from our ancestors, but we also impact it with the food we eat. My teacher recommends foods that are easy to find, easy to cook, easy to eat, and easy to digest in order to care properly for the annamaya kosha.
This is the energetic or pranic layer. It can expand infinitely, and though it’s not seen, it can be felt. The best example of this, to my mind, is when you turn around because someone suddenly entered the room. You could feel the person, even if you didn’t see or hear him, and that feeling made you look.
We build this layer ourselves via our breath and our environment. I talk a lot in a yoga practice about using the breath to link the mind and the body–and this “breath” layer is the link between the physical layer (annamaya) and the mental layer, which we’ll discuss next.
Time spent in nature is nourishing for the pranamaya kosha: it naturally expands when you move away from a crowded street into a field or forest. Fresh, healthy food and spiritual practices like prayer or meditation are also beneficial.
This is the mental body, consisting of the conscious, subconscious, and unconscious. We’re constantly building it by what we absorb through our senses: every conversation, book, television show, advertisement, and so on will add a brick to the house that is the manomaya kosha. This is one of the notes I wrote during my training:
“If you decide something, DO IT. You weaken your subconscious by changing your conscious mind. If you keep changing your mind, the subconscious gets confused and nothing can happen.
If your manomaya is unorganized, it creates confusion.”
We get it organized with chanting, meditation, breathwork, and time in nature.
The manomaya is strongly connected to the annamaya, which something you’ve likely been taught (or have experienced yourself) whether or not you’ve ever studied yoga. It’s evidenced by the visualization techniques we use to become better at a skill; by the placebo effect; by the people who’ve said, “Believe you can, and you will.”
This is our wisdom body. It’s our intuition and awareness; it comes from Consciousness with a capital C: the collective Consciousness, the Universe, God.
It’s through this kosha that we can clear and organize our manomaya kosha. As we gather more and more information in that mental body, we release it through the wisdom body. Here, we are free from thought. Another bit from my notes:
“Intuition has no doubt. If you have doubt, the message is coming from your mind (manomaya).”
This is the state of bliss. Enlightenment. Our true nature.
How Can You Experience All the Layers?
Chances are, you have at some point. We all get little flashes of inspiration and intuition or moments of complete connection and peace. If you think about it you can probably remember some moments like those, however fleeting they may have been.
Otherwise, we start by cultivating awareness, and a yoga practice is a great way to do that. We learn to cherish our bodies enough (and know them well enough) to choose the foods that are best for them. We grow our pranic bodies through intentional breathwork and by creating a calm, nurturing environment in which to live. We clear our minds through meditation and follow through with our intentions to avoid confusion. We practice, practice, practice.
Akhanda Yoga: 5 Koshas Class
Any yoga practice goes to work on your body, mind, and spirit, but my teacher Yogrishi Vishvketu developed a Five Koshas Akhanda Yoga class. There are a few distinct elements that make this special; the main one is that we go through a sequence of carefully selected postures three times: once with emphasis on the annamaya kosha, once for the pranamaya kosha, and once for the manomaya kosha. We take savasana for the vijnanamaya kosha and meditate for the anandamaya kosha.
Enjoy! Let me know if you have any questions.