Originally published on Body Mind Life May 2017
As is true about most things in life, the more conscious effort we apply to understanding our Kosha’s and how to take care of them, the more powerful the experiences we open ourselves up to. One or more of our Kosha’s are in action all of the time – even when we sleep – therefore, they are always being shaped by the things we say, think and do. Our Kosha’s, as described in Hindu Philosophy, are sheaths of energy that make up our entire being, from our physical body right down to our soul. So if we care about who, and what we are, it makes sense to know as much as we can about our Kosha’s. If we choose to tune in, and sharpen our awareness of what our ‘human-being’ is made up of, then we awaken opportunities for extraordinary growth and self-exploration. The examination of our 5 Kosha’s leads us on a journey toward ultimate self-discovery – the revelation of our soul.
The Kosha’s are described as sheaths of energy that fit like a glove, one on top of the other, where at the very heart pure consciousness resides. While they are separate and distinct from one another, they are also inextricably intertwined. Therefore, as we begin to work with one layer, we make discoveries about the following layers at the same time. How we experience and expand upon one, affects how we experience and expand upon the next.
Starting with our physical layer, the Anamaya Kosha, we begin to understand ourselves as physical beings, living on a physical plane, where all living things come and go, and where all living things consume and are consumed. Ana translates to food, and maya means made of, so Anamaya Kosha suggests that we are made of food.
On the physical plane of existence, we learn to protect ourselves from the ravages of ‘external’ life and we also learn to ravish in its splendours. We experience ‘mortality’ and understand that to survive we must nourish and nurture our bodies with food, water, shelter, warmth, exercise, and so on. We have the choice to look after our physical body in healthy or unhealthy ways and the choices we make determine our physical experiences, as well as our ability to move beyond them. With a healthy body, we are much more likely to have a healthy mind (and vice versa) and so the capacity to experience life on deeper levels opens up.
Practicing yoga is one of the many ways we can develop strength and deepen awareness of our physical bodies. If we allow it to, yoga can also lead us to places we never knew possible. The journey through Asana – positioning our bodies in specific positions, while being guided by our breath and physical sensations – leads us to a deeper awareness of, what’s known in the Vedanta as, our Pranamaya Kosha. ‘Made of prana’. Prana is the life force that circulates through us and every single thing that exists around us. It’s responsible for the basic, automatic functioning of our bodies – the beating of our hearts, the circulation of our blood and the inhalation and exhalation of our breath. Without it our bodies would cease to exist. To become aware of Prana, we simply become witness to it – we close our eyes and feel our breath as is flows in and out of our bodies. We see it in nature as we watch the clouds slowly float from one shape into another, or the waves of the ocean as they crash in and then roll back out to sea – one after the other, after the other. Becoming aware of this invisible life force develops the strength of our Pranayama Kosha. As does a daily practice of breathing exercises, Pranayama, which expand our capacity and awareness of taking breath in and out of the body.
As we develop our physical and pranic sheaths, we intrinsically begin developing our third kosha – the Manamaya Kosha. Mana means mind, so this level is based on thought, emotions and the way we process the world though our senses. This is where we filter information, and quite often this layer operates automatically or reflexively – based on learned behaviours. By bringing consciousness back to our Manamaya Kosha, we can learn to control our thoughts, rather than letting our thoughts control us and we can learn to understand our emotions, rather than letting them overwhelm us. For many, this involves actively teaching ourselves healthy new behaviours and thought patterns, in order to replace old harmful ones that may have been stopping us from moving forward. The Manamaya Kosha benefits tremendously from meditation and the practice of pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses,) where the mind is freed from external influences and is allowed to rest. To be quiet. To be still.
Through a deepened practice of meditation – frequent quietening of our mind and the witnessing of our breath – access to our subtle bodies begins to expand. While we’ve all experienced our ‘wisdom’ Kosha to some degree, our experience of it may start to become more consistent and easier to access through continued conscious rituals. Vijnanamaya Kosha is the seat of our intuition, so it shows up in our life as a sense of knowing. A sense of certainty about who we are, what we believe in, what our dharma is and how we should live our life. We’re assured of our values and we stick by them. Unfortunately, this kosha gets knocked around by the fluctuating thoughts of our minds. Confusion arises and we constantly have to remind ourselves that the mind is not the truth about who we are. The truth is deeper and can only be accessed by quieting the mind. The tug-o-war between the Manamaya and Vijnanamaya may seem like and endless battle, but the more we experience our own sense of wisdom, the more we allow ourselves to trust it and let it become a voice of certainty.
Anandamaya Kosha is the fifth kosha and is where we find our ultimate state of being – bliss. We’ve all experienced it at times in our lives – when looking into the eyes of someone we love or in getting lost through the process of creative expression. We lose all sense of our physical being and feel one with everything that surrounds. It’s known as Samadhi, which is the state of pure bliss and union with the divine. Fleeting moments occur for most us, but it’s the definitive purpose of meditation. Anandamaya kosha is said to be the thinnest sheath between our ordinary level of awareness and the realisation of our soul – our highest self or pure consciousness. Only sages and the enlightened experience this kosha for prolonged periods of time, but it’s what we all crave the most – the feeling that we’re not alone, that we belong and that we are united with the magic that exists all around us.
By working our way through our koshas, from the outside in, we come to understand more about who we truly are. We are able to strip away and any parts of ourselves that are not reflective of our highest self. Through the constant letting go of the inauthentic, each layer becomes more representative of the flame that smoulders at our centre. Our inner light bursts through the barriers of the surrounding koshas and our spirit shines brightly onto the external world – radiating our truest essence, from the inside out.
Originally published on Body Mind Life May 2017