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Exploration of the 5 Yoga Koshas of Vedantic Philosophy

 The koshas are layers of the body that move inward toward the soul.

Another way to think of the koshas are the layers that conceal the true Self (Atman) or the pure consciousness (Purusha).

Kosha translates as sheath; it is the layers of ourselves that move from the gross (physical) to the most subtle (energetic) bodies.

The first mention of the koshas was in the 6th Century BC in the Taittiriya Upanishad. They are a concept from Eastern Philosophy as a means to reveal the nature of the self that is essential, timeless, and true. 

Keep reading to learn about the koshas, plus see the yoga classes to bring awareness to your five koshas. 

What are the Koshas?

  1. The first and grossest kosha is the Annamaya kosha, being the physical body. It deals with everything we take in, such as what we feel and eat. 

  2. The second kosha is Pranamaya kosha, being the layer just below. Pranamaya kosha is your energetic body. We work with this kosha through the body’s energy lines. In yoga, we call the energy lines nadis.

  3. The third kosha is Manomaya kosha, which represents your emotional body. It represents the mind and emotions and who we think we are. 

  4. The fourth kosha is the Vijnanamaya kosha, representing the intuitive or wisdom body. 

  5. The fifth kosha is Ananadamaya kosha, the bliss body or the soul. 

koshas

Why Work with the Five Koshas?

The koshas are similar to the chakras in that they are gateways to understand ourselves better. 

By working with the koshas through identifying what they are, you may bring more awareness to the unseen, subtle realm within. 

Each kosha represents a specific layer of our being and may help us shift our attention from the obvious physical realm to the intuitive, bliss-body realm where divine consciousness resides. 

By bringing our attention to the different layers of our existence, we have the capacity to create more ease, balance, bliss, joy, and compassion in our lives. 

In the yoga practice, we are constantly working to attune our focus to create more space and harmony for ourselves and, ultimately, those around us. 

Online Yoga Classes to Express the Koshas

► Take Pranayama Kosha Vinyasa Class.

ABOUT THE CLASS:

A vigorous vinyasa class that features core strengthening to prepare you for handstand play includes hip opening, glute strengthening, and various pranayamas.

Your practice opens with a visualization and Brahmari breath, aka bees breath, for each of the seven chakras that traverse the spine.

► Take Bliss Mantra and Meditation

ABOUT THE CLASS:

A short mantra and meditation to experience the bliss body, this class invites you to experience joy as a felt sensation.

As you take your seat, ask yourself, what does joy feel like in the body? Chant a mantra for bliss, Om Shri Anandaye Namaha. This mantra translates to the idea of recognizing and honoring the bliss we carry within. 

Breakdown of the Five Koshas

The practice of yoga integrates a person through the journey of intelligence and consciousness from the external to the internal. It unifies him from the intelligence of the skin to the intelligence of the self so that his self merges with the cosmic Self. 

Source: Page 51 of Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.  

The koshas represent the five elements of nature: earth, water, fire, air, and ether. 

Sheath and Corresponding Element:

  • Anatomical (annamaya) – Earth

This layer governs the skin, bones, muscles, organs, glands, and tissues. Like the first chakra, this kosha is linked to survival, food, shelter, and how we seek security and support.  

  • Physiological (pranayama) – Water

This layer governs the energy body and all the processes that give us life and help things move, including the respiratory, circulatory, and digestive systems. 

The five Pranas construct this kosha. The five pranas are forces that have a specific function. They are Udana, Prana, Samana, Vyana, and Apana. 

  1. Udana – controls all bodily action, including the five senses, movement of body parts, brain function, and speech. 
  2. Prana – controls the heart and lungs, blood circulation, and breath.
  3. Samana – controls the digestive system (Agni – the digestive fire) and metabolism. 
  4. Vyana – controls perspiration and bursts of energy. This prana aids the other pranas when they need more vitality. 
  5. Apana – controls all forms of excretion (removal, down and out) and reproductive function and organs. 
  • Mental (manomaya) – Fire

This layer governs thoughts, feelings, sensations, emotions, and imagination. It is where we process our experiences. It also controls cognitive functions such as memory and critical thinking. 

  • Intellectual (vijnanamaya) – Air

This layer is what separates human beings from other life forms. At the intellectual kosha, we connect with our intuitive body and feel a sense of wholeness within and with the world around us. In this layer, we refine the ability to separate what is real and genuine from the illusion. 

  • Blissful (anandamaya) – Ether

The final layer is where we meet the Divine teacher within, God consciousness, and total unity with all beings. This kosha is where we feel love, compassion, kindness, and contentment. 

The table above is taken from Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali by B.K.S. Iyengar. 

It is meant to showcase the five koshas and how they align with the sense organs and elements. 

How to Work with the Koshas?

The koshas are a great theme to work with as you study the ways you interact with the different aspects of your person, including the physical, mental, and spiritual elements. 

For yoga teachers, they are one way to develop cohesive themes for your students to integrate the physical and philisophical components of yoga into their lives. 
Because the first three koshas are physical – meaning we can see, taste, and touch them – these are the most basic entry points into studying the koshas. 

Annamaya Kosha

It is the physical body. Observing the five senses concerning sight, taste, touch, sound, and scent is a way to work with this kosha. The yoga asanas are a simple and accessible tool to recognize the first of the five sheaths. 

Pranayama Kosha

It is the breath body. Any breathwork practices would help to keep the energy flowing. We have over 72,000 nadis (energy lines) in our bodies. Working with the pranic body is to stimulate and move the life force through the energy channels to strengthen the auric field. 

Manomaya Kosha

Represents the mental/emotional body. Becoming aware of our bodily sensations, emotions, thoughts, and the way we perceive the world around us is how one would work with this kosha. Mantras are one of the practices that focus the mind and develop an awareness of how we feel, think, and identify with the world around us. 

Vijnanamaya Kosha

It is the intuitive/instinctual body. This is the second most subtle realm and represents the subconscious mind, where we connect to unseen rhythms. This realm is symbolic, non-verbal, and connected to the divine/total consciousness. Meditation is one of the paths to work with this kosha. 

Anandamaya Kosha

It is the seat of the soul, the most subtle layer of the Self. It is the opposite of the ego self – the conscious mind – and is a state of bliss, joy, compassion, truth, and love. In this space, we are free of the fluctuating thoughts, emotions, feelings, demands, and material identification. There is awareness and acknowledgment of the other bodies, yet no attachment to them. In this state, there is spiritual liberation and acceptance of what is.  

Seraphina Dawn

Seraphina has a BA in Literature from Simone Fraser University and participated in the Creative Writing Program at UC Berkeley. She is a Kundalini teacher, writer, and poet. She admires Clarice Lispector’s prose, Octavia Butler’s fiction, and Simone Weil's philosophy. Seraphina currently lives in Istanbul. 

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