Five Koshas, sheaths or layers of our being
Koshas are layers of being, moving inward from least subtle (physical body) to most subtle (bliss). Like scarves covering a lamp dim its light, the koshas conceal and veil the light of consciousness. In meditation and yoga practice, we move through the outer layers, relaxing and calming as we become aware of each layer in succession. The sheaths do not function independently. They are connected and coordinated by the chakras.
Annamaya kosha is the layer made of food, the physical body. In yoga and meditation practice, we relax the body from head to toes, releasing tension and fatigue from the muscles, joints, glands and organs of the physical body. As we inhabit this layer and allow our body to relax, we have access to deeper layers. The physical body can be an obstacle or aid in spiritual practice.
Pranamaya kosha is the layer of energy. We work with energy through the breath and subtle body practices. This can be as simple as following the flow of the breath in the nostrils or structured alternate nostril breathing. It includes shavasana practices like sweeping breath and blue star. A basic practice is to train the mind to flow through the body with the breath. We’re not physically exhaling our breath in a wave from the crown of the head through the shoulders, arms and out through the fingertips. We’re working with subtle energy and training the mind. Purification of the energy sheath is part of and a pre-requisite to kundalini and chakra practices.
Manomaya kosha is the lower (less subtle) layer of the mind. It includes the monkey mind of thoughts and emotions streaming across the screen and distracting us from awareness of our true nature. There are several tools available to work with this level of the mind, including pranayama, vipassana (observing the activity of the mind), mantra (focus on subtle vibration in the mind), and other practices that build concentration and strength in our mind. We don’t struggle with the nature of this layer of the mind to pop up thoughts and emotions. We train in allowing them to cross the mind without following a train of thoughts or becoming distracted.
Vijnanamaya kosha is the intuitive mind. When we are able to resist the play and distractions of the manomaya kosha, we have access to our higher faculty of the mind. We become self-reliant and confident with the knowledge in this layer of the mind. We know. The manomaya kosha is like the turbulent waves on the top few feet of the ocean. Vijnanamaya is the silent, still depths of knowledge.
Anandamaya kosha is the layer of bliss and joy that surrounds our Being, Consciousness.
Working with the five koshas, we develop the capacity to be aware of the ever-present Witness, the part of our being that is ever pure, ever wise, ever free.
Guided practice through the koshas: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FFxP0pwcFgU