The Five Koshas of Your Body
The yogis define our body as having five layers, like an onion. In Sanskrit, "koshas" means "sheaths", and each body fits into the next like a sword into a scabbard, or like Russian nesting dolls, as shown in the image above (source: Sequence Wiz). To truly live a full and balanced life, we must take care of each of our five bodies.
Kosha #1: Annamaya Kosha - Your Physical Body
This is the body most of us are most familiar with; our muscles, bones, ligaments and tendons; the body that is sustained by the food we eat. The primary way to impact this Kosha is through physical asana.
Kosha #2: Pranamaya Kosha - Your Energetic Body
This body is the field that holds your physical body together. This body is made of Prana, or life force. We impact our energetic body through physical asana as well as pranayama breath practice. When you practice acupuncture and homeopathy, the treatments don’t directly affect your physical body; they work on your energetic body which sustains your physical body. Pranayama practice, fresh air, sunlight, and whole foods help nourish and cleanse your energetic body.
Kosha #3: Manomaya Kosha - Your Intellectual / Mental Body
Manomaya means "full of thought processes". This body is instinct. It is responsible for your sensory and motor activities; it's what's working behind-the-scenes when you are on "automatic" mode. Mantra meditation nourishes the health of your intellectual body and helps release “knots” of energy tied up in mental complexes and obsessive thoughts.
Kosha #4: Vijnanamaya Kosha - Personality / Power of Judgment
This body encompasses all the functions of the higher mind, such as conscience and will. This sheath differentiates humans from many animals; only humans have the ability to activate this kosha and direct their lives, making moral instead of instinctual choices. The yogis thought this kosha to be so important that they made the development of it the first limbs of yoga study; the Yamas and the Niyamas.
Kosha #5: Anandamaya Kosha - Your Heart Center
This is the subtlemost body which is experienced as ananda (spiritual bliss). The bliss body is the final and thinnest veil standing between our ordinary awareness and our higher Self. Those who have had near-death experiences have reported experiencing a brilliant white light radiating all-embracing wisdom and unconditional love. This is the experience of the anandamaya kosha. Most people are hardly even aware that this level of consciousness exists within themselves.
How to cleanse your five koshas...
As you practice yoga, no matter what style or kind of yoga you’re practicing, you are releasing blockages in one or more of these layers of the body. All of this is part of your yoga experience.
So next time you practice, try to sense your physical body, your energetic body, your mental body, your intuitive body… and maybe even your bliss body.