03 Oct The Five Koshas – Pancha Kosha
Many people have a limited understanding of yoga, thinking that it is restricted to the asana practice of increasing flexibility, toning up muscles, relaxing the body, increasing strength, improving balance and finding stress relief. While yoga does all of the above that is a limited view of what yoga really has to offer us. The true purpose of yoga is to develop a relationship with the self that exists deep within our core, which is called Jivatman (individual soul). Jivatman is a unity of Atman, the supreme soul, or Brahman, that is always there, unchanging and endlessly radiating the energy of peace, love and compassion.
According to the Upanishads, our human nature, or prakriti, is comprised of five different dimensions. Our mortal body, (the temple of our individualized atman,) expands into more subtle layers of energy around our spiritual center. Human beings consist of five distinct energy sheaths called “koshas” that surround our jivatman. Each kosha vibrates at different speeds, and they interact and overlap with each other, ranging from gross to transcendental dimensions.
The pancha koshas (five sheaths) provide us with a road map for better understanding of our psychological and spiritual development. There are namely:
Physical – Annamaya kosha
Energy – Pranamaya kosha
Mental – Manamaya kosha
Wisdom – Vijnanamaya kosha
Bliss – Anandamaya kosha
Self – Atman
In each kosha’s name you have the word ‘maya’, which many people understand as meaning ‘illusion’, but in this context it actually means, ‘consists of.’
1. Annamaya kosha, (the sheath which consists of food)
‘Anna’ means food. This sheath is our physical body and is the densest of all the koshas. It includes our bones and also the tissues which make up our muscles and organs. It is the lowest vibration of ourselves. Here, energy is solidified into matter and it is made of the five elements, of which the earth element is the dominant one. It is called the food layer because it is created by the food that we eat. It is the structure that contains both the prana and the consciousness. If one gets ‘stuck’ into this layer, then one becomes over obsessive about form.
2. Pranamaya kosha, (the sheath that which consists of energy)
‘Prana’ means energy. This kosha is the vital life force that moves through the body. It literally consists of the breath and the five pranas, namely: prana, apana, udana, samana and vyana. These forms of prana control various functions within the physical body, and without prana, the body would be lifeless, and unable to move or think. It is the prana that makes the blood flow, carries impulses through the nerves from our body, to the brain and back. Prana also circulates between the physical body and the different sheaths through the agency of the nadis. Prana is in the form of vital, mental, psychic and spiritual energy. It is what allows us to travel from gross, to subtle and causal bodies.
3. Manamaya kosha, (the sheath that consists of the mind)
‘Mana’ means mind. This kosha is made up of our thoughts, feelings, mind and emotion. This is what we commonly call the ‘monkey’ mind and it is through the prism of this dimension that we perceive the world and our likes and dislikes (raga and dvesha) via the agency of the five senses. We continuously experience pain-pleasure opposition in our life, which destabilizes us and is also responsible for our happiness and unhappiness.
Consciousness is the act of being connected to the outer world through our senses, which are connected to the brain through the mind. Mind functions on three levels:
• Conscious: mind connects the outer world to the brain
• Subconscious: mind stores of all the experiences
• Unconscious mind: the ‘Real Self’ or ‘Atman’
Many people are ‘stuck’ in this sheath as they are abducted by their mind. In order to shift from this dimension, practices such as pranayama and pratyahara (mental withdrawing of the senses,) are very efficient.
Patajajali tells us in the yoga sutras: “Yogash chitta vritti nirodhah. Tada drashtuh svarupe avasthanam”. (“Yoga is the mastery of the activities of the mind-field. Then the seer rests in its true nature.”) Which brings us nicely to the next kosha.
4. Vijnanamaya kosha, (that which consists of subtle knowledge)
‘Vijnana’ means subtle knowledge or wisdom. In this kosha we reach intuitive knowing and higher levels of consciousness. In this sheath the awareness of the body and mind is lost, and awareness is established as the ‘higher’ mind. We know, decide, judge, and discriminate from the wisdom part of ourselves, our higher consciousness. Consequently, the higher mind turns within towards the soul, seeking the Truth, and searching for the eternal center of consciousness. Vijnanamaya kosha, through the agency of the nadis, links the conscious mind, the higher mind and the universal mind.
Practices such as dharana, (mental focus on an object) and dhyana, (meditation on the divine,) are inner disciplines that progressively help us to channel our focus towards a deeper level of consciousness.
5. Anandamaya kosha, (the sheath that consists of Bliss)
‘Ananda’ means bliss. It is the spiritual or causal body, where, finally, you become one with the “divine spark,” which is our soul. Anandamaya kosha is connected to the unconscious or superconscious mind. It is only when the higher mind fuses with the superconscious mind, (or unconscious mind,) that one awakens to the Presence with a sense of connection to all. It is the highest level of vibration in this life. It is said that when you realize the Self or God, you reach “Mukti,” or liberation. Very few people have managed to reach anandamaya kosha, only saints and realized souls. This is when we reach Samadhi.
This is the road map that ancient seers have left us to help us understand our journey back to wholeness, so that we can break free from all bondage