The Five Koshas
(Layers of Human Consciousness)
Good Morning Floating Lotus Family,
I hope this month is treating you well.
I received a lot of feedback after my last newsletter, discussing the distance between the mind and body. How the act of observing the physical body, independent of the whole system, can alter the very structure of what you’re seeing. I spoke about this in terms of annamaya kosha (food body or physical sheath) and manamaya kosha (mental sheath). Many of you reached out and expressed curiosity about this and asked about the koshas and what they mean. So I’d love to take the time and dive a little deeper today, outlining the five koshas for you.
In Eastern philosophies, the koshas are understood to be the ‘layers’ that protect the atman, which is the ‘higher self’ or ‘unique soul’. They are often depicted like Russian nesting dolls to give a visual portrayal of this inner map, where each layer corresponds to a different aspect of your spiritual experience. Each coat will contribute unique characteristics to the development of your personality, as well as functions that manifest your constitution and holistic condition. Consequently, for each layer to be embodied or deeply understood, we must access them with different modes of awareness.
It is believed that ancient yogis specifically mapped these sheaths as a way of guiding your spiritual potential. In other words, this spiritual map offers landmarks and sensations that characterise the multiple veils of consciousness; the things you’ll experience and obstacles you may face along your pilgrimage towards self-realisation. This is often referred to as the layered Maya theory, where Maya translates to ‘illusion’. The concept here is that your deepest wisdom and ultimate spiritual truth can be uncovered through the multi-layered illusions of your existence, and discovery is made through svadyaya (self-study) and the limbs of your spiritual practice (i.e. yamas, niyamas, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi – for a quick recap on these, read here).
These koshas, or spiritual veils, are believed to obscure your truest form and may manifest in your life with unique obstacles and challenges as you work towards balance and vitality. When you step onto your mat or start a movement practice, most people battle with annamaya first. So let’s begin there and travel inwards:
Annamaya Kosha: This is your physical body (also referred to as the food body), and it is the outermost layer of your human form. Anna, translating as ‘food’, is believed to ‘feed’ the deeper layers of your being. It provides sensation, nourishment, nutrition and sleep, and can be sustained through physical exercise, healthy eating and mindful restoration. When the annamaya kosha has a strong constitution, the inner layers are well-fed and sustained.
Pranamaya Kosha: This is the energetic body or home of the pranic life force. Here, you can sense the intimate movements of prana, as it flows, builds, depletes or leaks through your nadis (energetic channels), chakras (energetic centres) and vayus (the tidal movements of bodily functions). Connecting to this sheath and building its resilience can look like breath work, asana, chakra meditation, or mudra work, which can all support the containment of prana. The more prana you leak, the more ‘illness’ or ‘discomfort’ you experience. The more prana you contain, the more energy you have to advance your self-realisation and well-being.
Manomaya Kosha: This is likely the sheath that we feel the most in our modern culture. This is the mental and emotional body, where your thoughts and emotions reside. In this context, Mana means ‘mind’ and depicts the movements of your cognition and behaviour, as well as your perceptions, judgements, attachments and beliefs. Hopefully, you’re starting to see how the health of the koshas above will dictate the health of your mana. As my favourite Latin proverb states, ‘healthy body, healthy mind’. Manomaya kosha will present numerous challenges in your life, but it is deeply supported by regular meditation. I often tell students that counselling and psychology are GREAT tools for manomaya kosha, as it acknowledges your mental body and feeds it with awareness, which can ultimately carry you deeper through the next layer.
Vijnanamaya Kosha: The wisdom sheath, also known as the place of inner knowing and intuition. Vijnana translates as ‘knowledge’ and is often described as the ability to differentiate between ‘the knower’, ‘the knowing’ and ‘the known’. I like to conceptualise this space as the witness or passive observer, the part of you that can view your thoughts from a third-person perspective. This layer acts as your spiritual antenna, receiving and transmitting wisdom and intuition (i.e. that inner voice you hear sometimes that seems to know the way or the ‘truth’, despite the ego’s desires or attachments). It is within this layer that you are capable of detachment, as you strengthen the ability to subdue the ego. Vijnanamaya kosha is fortified with deep meditation and requires ongoing self-inquiry and intelligence (i.e. Gnana Yoga)
Anandamaya Kosha: Also known as the ‘bliss body’, this kosha encases your atman in a shield of bliss and joy. Underneath your other koshas, which comprise your human experience, there is this casing of pure ecstasy and peace. Unfortunately, this layer is often obscured by our neuroses and imbalances in the koshas above. But with great practice and patience, this bliss space is entirely accessible. When in touch with this sheath, your heart is flooded with ease. Everything seems to make total sense. You find a river of eternal purpose, and you come to know the unchanging structure of love and happiness ~ the indestructible nature of your eternal spirit. You recognise the strength and stability of your soul, no matter what struggles have befallen your journey. There is an unending joy and a profound sense of ONENESS. Or as I like to say, the DNA that bonds your atman to the universe.
I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas on this topic, so please feel free to share and connect!
With oceans of love and gratitude,
Instagram – @jesska.vividlifeco