The Five Koshas Explained
One fundamental philosophy in yoga is the Vedantic model of self-care which describes the inward journey within the human personality. The 15-century text Vedantasara (The Essence of Vedanta), written by Sadananda, a monk in the Shankaracharya order, describes five layerings of human experience that surround the essential Self. These layerings act as covers, or sheaths (koshas), that veil pure consciousness. As yoga practice proceeds, each of these layers is gradually integrated and transcended. These include:
1. Annamaya Kosha, the physical sheath, or anatomical level of existence. The body is the most visible aspect of personality. It experiences continual changes shaped by four instinctive drives: the urges for food, sex, sleep, and self-preservation. Therefore, it is recommended to adopt six cleansing practices (Shat Kriyas) as part of a routine. These include: dhauti (gastric cleansings), basti (colonic cleansings), neti (nasal cleansings), nauli (abdominal cleansings), trataka (gazing), and kapalabhati (cleansing of the energies of the skull). Notably, these techniques aim to cleanse the physical body as well as utilize body mechanics to remove emotional and mental blockages. In the process of detoxifying, they allow positive, healing energies to flow.
2. Pranamaya Kosha, the sheath of vital energy, or physiological level of existence. This defines the breath layer that exists in the physical body, is interactive and dependent. It is considered the life force that flows throughout and is a controllable expression. Through the regulation of the breath other bodies can be positively influenced. The practice of breathing magnifies awareness of the subtle dimensions of energy. This is achieved in two parts: breath training, which leads to full understanding of the basic mechanisms of breathing, and pranayama, the regulation and expansion of prana.
3. Manomaya Kosha, the conscious mind, or the psychological level of existence. This is the subtle part of our conscious mind on which our inner experience is projected onto our outer experience. It receives sense impressions from the outer world and governs the faculties of our perceptions of that world. It has the power to create or destroy, makes mental associations, brings memories to awareness, carries out thought processes, and presents objects of imagination to the self for its enjoyment. Operation of the mind at this level is automatic and habitual. However, it can be navigated through the breath and turn negative inner experiences and perceptions into positive ones.
4. Vijnanamaya Kosha, the seat of wisdom and discernment, or the intellectual level of existence. Stemming from the root Vi-jna - to discern, to know rightly, to understand, this sheath is responsible for inner growth, for ethics and for moral. It seeks to reach beyond mundane existence into wisdom and subtle knowledge. As awareness deepens through concentration, it is possible to acquire a clearer and more accurate vision of one’s self and one’s relationships with the world.
5. Anandamaya Kosha, the sheath of bliss, or the universal level of existence. It is the most-subtle aspect of personality and represents a state of consciousness well beyond the distractions of daily life. This is described as blissful because when meditation has progressed to a certain level of subtlety, the mind is said to reflect a sense of deep-seated and spontaneous joy or bliss
The core of inner life is said to be beyond the reach of thought and words, yet it has been depicted and praised in many yogic texts. The nature of yoga is to uncover an enduring core of health, peace, and well-being.
1. The Five Koshas Explained. Aatm Yogashala (https://aatmyogashala.org/blog/five-koshas-explained/)2. History, Philosophy, and Practice of Yoga. Ananda Balayogi Bhavanani (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/304474895_History_Philosophy_and_Practice_of_Yoga)