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What are the Koshas? How to Understand Yourself in Layers

Not to be confused with Kosher food of the Jewish variety, (nor the expression from Delboy in only fools and horses meaning ‘all good’ – just in case your were wondering), the Koshas are a philosophy from yoga scriptures that define the self in an entirely different way.

The Koshas help us to interpret our inner structure, rather like the layers of an onion. These layers are subtle bodies of energy that encase our soul (Atman) and harmonise our very existence. Originally mentioned in the Taittiriya Upanishad (ancient texts from Tantric yoga), the Koshas were designed as a guide in helping to answer the deeper questions of life, like ‘What is the meaning of life?’ orĀ  ‘Who am I?’

In this article, we’re exploring how you can translate these five Koshas to every day living and really tune in to the elements that make you, you.

1. The Annamaya Kosha – The Physical Layer

This is basically our physical self – our body – and is the most tangible of all the layers. Also known as the ‘food sheath’, it’s based on the concept that we effectively become what we eat and later are then food for other creatures when we die.

Working with the Annamaya Kosha is relatively easy, we already know we are ‘tall’ ‘short’ ‘fat’ ‘thin’, but simply by paying close attention to how your body feels we begin a whole new relationship with it. Being fully connected to your physical layer means to understand how to nourish it. You intuitively know when your body needs rest, food (what type and how much), exercise, protecting or cleansing.

You can consciously live inside of your body, acknowledging how it works – where your organs are – feeling your heart beating, your skin tingling, your visceral muscles working and be in awe of the gift it really is.

2. The Pranamaya Kosha – The Energy Layer

The energy body could be described as the spark that makes all the cells come alive. We are more than our physical bodies and many of us have felt the benefits of acupuncture, reiki or homeopathy, which all work with this layer. Without our energy layer, our physical body would not survive. When we consciously connect to this layer, we have a sense of not only our own energy, but others around us as well.

Yogis say we gain our natural energy from the sun – from our breath and so we can tune into this layer of ourselves by meditating on the breath. Allowing the breath to be an exchange of energy with the universe and beginning to understand the boundary of the skin is not where we ‘end’.

By working with the pranamaya kosha, we can move stagnant energy, feel vibrant and enlivened and connect your own energy to others and to nature.

3. Manomaya Kosha – The Thought Layer

Anytime that you’re thinking, dreaming, imagining or any framework where the mind is busy working is our manomaya Kosha. We need our mental layer to help us understand the world around us, but it’s also important to understand that this layer has layers within itself. The conscious mind is only a small part of what makes up our manomaya kosha – we have a subconscious and an unconscious mind too. Our every day mental chitter chatter is the most superficial of our manomaya.

Our mental layer is incredibly powerful and has the ability to form mental patterns that dictate our whole belief and behavioural system. Perceptions of yourself and others go on to colour all of your experiences.

By noticing and assessing our own minds and whether they are actually serving us positively really helps to change thought patterns and become more positive. Remember, you are free to choose how you feel about anything – a great way to self enquire and ask if the way you’re thinking is creating a negative or an obstacle.

4. Vijnanamaya Kosha (Wisdom Layer)

Travelling inside even deeper, below the thoughts even, we become aware of an inner knowledge or intuition. We know this deep insight is accessed when we become completely absorbed in something, like drawing or massaging or writing. When the thinking mind turns down the volume, it is this vast and deep areas of the wisdom self that is connected to.

Whenever you perform a task, see if you can observe yourself in action. This separation and witnessing of your thoughts, moods, energy and feelings all adds up to a wisdom awareness without needing attachment.

5. Anandamaya Kosha (Bliss Layer)

This is the last of the 5 layers of the Koshas and the deepest of them all. Your soul resides here and is nothing but pure blissful energy. You inherently know that life is special and you know when you’ve touched upon this layer, because it’s any time that you have felt truly free, joyful and contented. It can arise in any moment. When you feel within the deepest part of you that you are love and that you are loved; the essence of life being within this simple reality, beyond anything material.

The presence of the bliss body is felt in deep meditation too, which is why when Yogis come out of Savasana (relaxation) after a physical yoga practice, they often feel blissfully connected to their peaceful centre. This is why we should all be open to the possibility that our true nature is that of bliss, so that we can receive it naturally and with an open heart.

To be conscious of these layers and awake to the possibilities that lay within them, you can begin to sense your place in the universe and live a life that’s meaningful and loving. This isn’t something that happens overnight and a lot of the time, we are only able to access one or two of the layers. That’s not to say we can’t practice how to recognise these subtle layers of our selves! We can grow in our awareness and begin to have more power over our general happiness and our reactions to experiences.

To learn more about the endlessly fascinating world of yoga, come down for a class with our gorgeous yoga teachers in the Mary Ann Weeks Aveda Guildford Wellbeing studio. Book yourself a class here


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