Learning about the 5 Pranamaya Koshas revolutionized my understanding of yoga and of myself. It has become the framework through which I filter all of my assessments of psycho-spiritual, psycho-social and psycho-physical health.
What is a pranamaya kosha?
In sanskrit, kosha means "sheath" or "layer." Prana refers to "energy" or "life force," and in yogic tradition, prana rides on the breath. Maya refers to the illusion of the world around us; the idea that that which we experience is. When put together, pranamaya kosha refers to the ways in which we experience and perceive the energetic layers of existence.
What are the 5 pranamaya koshas?
There are 5 sheaths or layers in this energetic system of perception, and they move inward from the most gross (material) to the most subtle (immaterial). Imagine them like a Russian nesting doll, with the outer layer operating in some ways as the shield which regulates access to the inner layers. However, each layer is complete in and of itself and remains in contact with the others. They are only complete when all together, but it helps to take them apart to observe what each layer teaches us
The Annamaya Kosha / The Food Body
This is the outermost layer, the densest layer, and it literally refers to our physical body, the part of us that requires food for sustenance. This part of the body regulates our understanding of the "external world," although in yogic practice, there is not truly a version of the world that is separate from ourselves. It is an illusion, a reflection of the divine. That said, we still need to connect with this illusion in ways that we process as very real. This includes relying on our 5 senses to process information and eating and drinking the fruits of the earth.
The health of our food body in many ways determines our ability to engage with the more subtly bodies, in both acute and broader sense. Just think about hanger. You know it well, I assume. That empty stomach can bring about quite a shift in the mind, in our patience and in our ability to accurately perceive :D When we regularly eat things that prevent our bodies from functioning optimally, it becomes difficult to focus on much more than the pains and blockages of the physical body, limiting our access to the subtle bodies.
annamaya kosha Affirmations:
My body is not my enemy. I treat my body like a dear friend.
My body is my most permanent home. I can tend to it like a palace.
The Pranamaya Kosha / The Energy Body
The pranamaya kosha comes next, and it refers to energetics which connect with both body and mind. It might help to imagine sensations here. Close your eyes for a moment and feel the shifts in our sensations as you breath more deeply. Eventually, your body might begin to relax, and your mind might feel more in control the more you return your attention to the depth of the breath. In yogic tradition, the most effective way to shift this kosha is via the breath. Different types of intentional breath can shift energy very quickly, creating a sense of serenity or anxiety, depending on which energy centers (chakras) you intend to activate.
To emphasize prana as the connective tissue between the physical body and mind body, we cannot breathe without the body, and our ability to calm the mind often relies on shifting our breath. This kosha is often related to intuition and the ability to sense, feel or "pick up" on the information within our own energetics or those of others without material evidence or an intellectual understanding of what's happening.
pranamaya kosha affirmation
My energy is my breath. Shift my breath, shift my energy
The Manomaya Kosha / The Mind Body
Mano means mind in Sanskrit. This refers to all of the elements of our existence that work together to bring consciousness, discrimination, perception, and more to our awareness via thought. In yogic tradition, the mind is far more expansive than we realize. It is not limited to the brain. Part of the purpose of our practice is to explore the depths and expanse that is the mind.
The mind is the filter through which we create the illusion of duality (e.g. internal vs. external world; divine vs. mortal; good vs. bad); it helps us understand and, when left uncontrolled, confuses us greatly! Much like the energy body offers more clarity when the food body is at it's healthiest, the mind body reveals truth more efficiently and consistently when the energy body can freely communicate. How often do we realize we had thoughts that actually contradicted reality when we were existing in a state of depression or anxiety?
manomaya kosha affirmation
The mind is a tresure trove. As thoughts pass through, I ask, "is this gold or fool's gold?
The Vijnayamaya Kosha / The Belief or Wisdom Body
In Sanskrit, Vijnaya refers to a knowledge and understanding, and more accurately translates as our wisdom and accurate beliefs. Often what we know or understand turns out to be very easily disproved when we gain access to new perspectives, information and experiences. Our minds and beliefs are very susceptible to the inputs of the physical body and the energetic body. The mind is inclined to believe what it experiences and feels.
The more diverse our experiences, the better our minds are able to discern between illusion and truth and produce thoughts that reflect truth. The more accurate our thoughts, the truer our beliefs, and the more we move from belief to wisdom. The wiser we are, the less likely we are to experience cognitive dissonance or other discomfort that can in turn, make our thoughts feel less reliable and wreak havoc on our energetics, leading to experiences like anxiety and depression, which can in turn affect our desire to offer our physical bodies the most healing and functional food inputs. Do you see the cycle?
vijnayaymaya kosha affirmations
My wisdom comes from experience. To trust my wisdom, I must trust my experience.
I have the courage to lean into what I do not know.
The Anandamaya Kosha / The Bliss Body
In Sanskrit, ananda means bliss. This bliss goes deeper than joy or happiness, which can occur even while all of the koshas are operating in a state of neglect. Bliss refers to that which we experience when each of these koshas is both fully liberated and in alignment with the others.
anandamaya kosha affirmation
Bliss is my birthright
Inter-connection of the subtle bodies
Even though the koshas are all interconnected in a very logical framework, they are not necessarily accessed linearly. For example, you can certainly access your intuition when you are physically unhealthy. You can experience bliss, even if only momentarily, when your beliefs are based on illusions. Your mind can experience calm, even if you are experiencing depression.
The koshas are ordered based on their relative "density." We know from experience, that which is denser, is more accessible and understandable to us. We can understand how a cheeseburger clogs our arteries more easily than we can understand how a negative thought blocks our energetic pathways. Our ability to intentionally drop into any of these subtle body states requires that we understand this framework and simultaneously understand that the framework is an illusion.
Why Bother with the Koshas?
In short, the purpose of the system of yoga as a whole is to teach us how to move ourselves toward a conscious experience of anandamaya kosha: yoga is a bliss-based system of practice. How cool is that?
Many systems of belief use frameworks that focus on negative experiences like sin (e.g. Judeo-Christian) or suffering (e.g Buddhism). Yoga's framework focuses on the experience of bliss in this lifetime and on cultivating the healing and the courage necessary to experience it as frequently as possible.
Turiya is not one of the koshas, but it is the state of pure connection with source, that nothingness/everythingness, enlightenment, the ultimate experience of meditation. When we understand the koshas, we understand that we practice yoga to move toward Turiya. Many see the koshas as a sort of target, with our ability to experience Turiya depending on our ability to move through the most subtle koshas.
That means that in yoga, bliss is the entry point to enlightenment and liberation.
That's why I practice this tradition, because it has trained me to believe in my right to bliss, but also to not depend on it for contentment :)
Practices that support bliss / exploration of the kosha
Body scans with rotation of consciousness
Concentration practices that promote pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses)