While yoga is abundantly helpful for healing various parts of the physical body, it is also great for healing the inner being. According to yoga, the human body can be divided into a framework of five sheaths, or koshas. These sheaths are said to be covering the self. The simplest way to understand the role of these sheaths in yoga is simply by imagining them as layers of an onion or Russian dolls that go inside one another.
Here are the five koshas, or sheaths, of the human body.
Panchamaya Koshas (Sheaths) Of The Human Body
Starting from the outermost layer, the five koshas are in the following order – annamaya kosha or the physical body, pranamaya kosha or the energy body, manomaya kosha or the mental-emotional body, vijnanamaya kosha or the wisdom body, and anandamaya kosha or the bliss body.
1. Annamaya Kosha (The Physical Body)
In Sanskrit, “anna” means “food” and “maya” means “appearance.” So, this sheath represents the physical body – the one we can see and touch. It is made of the tissues, muscles, bones, and organs. It is preserved and nourished by the food we eat every day, the air we breathe, and the water we drink. Practicing yoga asanas (poses) aids in caring for the physical body.
2. Pranamaya Kosha (The Energy Body)
This is the second sheath. “Prana” in Sanskrit means “life force” or the energy that flows through us and rejuvenates our living systems, facilitating bodily functions such as respiration and digestion. The functioning of the living systems is aided by breath, which is the most physical expression of the life force. Pranayama, or the regulation of breath with certain exercises and techniques, increases and aids the flow of the life force in the body. It also controls how much of the life force flows through the various systems of the body.
3. Manomaya Kosha (The Mental-Emotional Body)
“Manas” in Sanskrit means “mind.” So, this sheath is the realm of our being consisting of our conscious thoughts, emotions, and feelings. Everything we experience in life we express through this kosha. It is also responsible for memory, perception, and intuition. Meditation along with mantras are great for the wellness of the mental body. It helps soothe and balance the inner body and rid you of any obsessive thoughts.
4. Vijnanamaya Kosha (The Wisdom Body)
This kosha represents the higher mind, or what we commonly call “wisdom,” which is below the processing, thinking, reactive mind. The higher mind helps us through life, leading us to higher levels of truth. It is the part of the mind that allows us to get a deeper understanding of ourselves and the world around us. It is also because of the wisdom body that humans are free of instinct and can think to make the choices they want to. Studying and meditating help care for the wisdom body.
5. Anandamaya Kosha (The Bliss Body)
“Ananda” in Sanskrit means “bliss.” Anandamaya kosha is the last sheath of our being and is responsible for bliss. This kosha is the experience of the deepest level of our being – a blissful state of peace, joy, and love. It is said to be in play the most during deep sleep. The bliss being referred to is spiritual bliss; only saints and sages are said to be capable of completely achieving it.
Experiencing The Panchamaya Koshas
The five sheaths discussed can actually be experienced with this 8-step exercise.
Steps To Experience The Panchamaya Koshas
- Sit straight but comfortably ensuring your head, neck, and torso are in a straight line.
- Close your eyes, detaching yourself from everything you hear and see. Focus solely on your physical body (annamaya kosha) – head and shoulders, chest and waist, back and abdomen, and arms and legs.
- Pay close attention to your breathing. You’ll feel your breath gradually flowing more smoothly, slowly, and quietly. You’ll also feel energy making its way through your body, helping your heart beat and blood flow through your veins. The energy also aids your lungs to expand and contract. The force making this happen is your pranamaya kosha.
- Start paying attention to your brain. Try to focus on the part of your brain that reacts to what your senses make you feel – realizing that sitting in one position for a long time makes you uncomfortable or the random thoughts that keep running through your mind. This part of your brain is your manomaya kosha.
- Then, start focusing on the part of your brain that consciously made the decision to do this exercise. It is trying to get you to sit straight till you complete the exercise. This is your vijnanamaya kosha.
- Now, focus on your heart. Relax and keep taking deep breaths. Slowly settle into a state of complete tranquility. You will feel pure happiness surging through your heart while you rid yourself of all fears and desires. This is your anandamaya kosha.
- Then, start paying attention to your awareness. Your true consciousness is beyond this experience you’re having. Stay in this state for as long as you can pay attention.
- Gradually, start focusing your attention back to your breath. While breathing slowly, open your eyes. Relax and absorb this experience for a short while before you get up.
Practice this regularly to experience and benefit the 5 koshas of your body.