The 5 Koshas: A path to self discovery
Who are you, really?
Are you a... Barista? Yoga teacher ? Single Mum? Jewish? Social influencer? Blonde? Italian? Overweight? Too old? A meme? Your Instagram account?
What defines you? How do you define yourself? How do you justify your emotions thoughts and actions? Are you your hopes, dreams and visions or your failures and regrets? Are you the do-er, the dreamer or perhaps the procrastinator? How do you find your true self and true purpose?
We are constantly flooded with a myriad of information, ideas and opinions from the media and social media platforms. They seem to dictate who, what and where we should be. Humanity is morphed and neatly categorised into 'likes', "dislikes" and "follows". So, how do you find the true you? how do you define the real "you", without the selfies, posts and tiktoks? Do you know who you are when no one is watching?
In almost every significant event or big change in our life, be it puberty, a death, divorce or even a mid life crises, we may begin to crave a dire urge for self discovery. We may doubt who or what we think we are. We rebel against the archetype we have been moulded into, either by circumstance or our own devices. We question our past, present and future in search for a deeper meaning to our own existence. "Am I enough? Am I where Im supposed to be? " We look outside of ourselves and our daily routine for answers, but perhaps we need not go that far. The Yoga philosophy offers a multidimensional resource to help us find our true nature and evolve into our best self, through the sacred texts that describe the five Koshas.
In the ancient Tantric text, the Taittiriya Upanishad, a human being is described as being made up of five energetic sheaths or Koshas, that encompass each other, encasing the soul just like the layers of an onion. The outermost layer, the Annamaya Kosha represents the physical body such as our skin, fascia, muscles, connective tissue, fat and bones. It also includes our physical sensations like touch, taste, smell, hearing and sight. It is referred to by the great sages as the "food sheath", because we are made from the food and nutrients we take in from the Earth and eventually we will return to the Earth and become food for other creatures. It binds us to a physical ecosystem known as the cycle of life. It is the sheath that we most identify with on a daily basis.
The next layer moves deeper into the subtle realm and inward toward our spiritual core. The Pranamaya kosha or vital energy sheath is the door to the energy body. It intakes, moves and regulates Prana or the life force. Essentially it is the circulatory system for prana, that moves primarily through the breath. It also includes the bodily fluids, movement of blood, lymph and cerebrospinal fluid through the body and of course, the movement of breath through the respiratory system. In psychological terms, Pranamaya kosha balances and weaves together our bodily and spiritual rhythms, uniting the material with the intangible.
Manomaya kosha, the mental sheath, is the layer that holds the deep recesses of our mind, our thoughts, emotions and controls the entire nervous system. It is our inner biographer, carefully noting everything that we process and diligently recording our experiences. We can say it is like both the RAM and memory storage functions of a computer, all rolled into one. This kosha holds our memories and helps us to interpret the physical world emotionally, mentally and spiritually. It is the command center for the emotional and physical body, sending messages through brain synapses to nerves through out the body. It automates the central nervous system, including parasympathetic and sympathetic responses of the body and plays a huge role in adrenal health. It profoundly connects our physical and emotional experience with our spirit. We tend to hold Samskaras or mental impressions of life experiences here. We must remember to monitor our thoughts and come to the realisation, that that we are not our thoughts. Thoughts are merely clouds passing in the blue sky of our mindscape or for the purpose of this article, your Manomaya kosha.
So.. who are we really? What makes us tick? Why are we here?
Diving even deeper into the Vijnanamaya kosha, or wisdom sheath, we may find some answers.
The Vijnanamaya is the seat our consciousness, our intuition and the primordial incite we have collected in previous incarnations and this one. Most of all, it is our supernatural guide and a doorway to the divine. It is often referred to as your "gut feeling" or " inner voice". It is that little voice that prompts us to look up and step out of the way of that falling flower pot, as it accelerates toward our head or that moment of unexplained hesitation in crossing the road, when suddenly a speeding car zooms across, out of nowhere. It helps us cultivate insight and uncovers our deepest desires and drives us toward our true purpose. It is also this divine instinctual drive that allows us to tap into our body's own wisdom. It literally tells the body what it needs in order to heal and remain in homeostasis. It warns us when we are out of balance physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally and readily steers us toward what we need most. It sometimes plays the role of mediator in balancing the head and heart, in order to inspire proper action in all matters. We can access and nourish this kosha through meditation and mindfulness practices. We can begin by simply being still and listening.
Finally, we dive even deeper into our sacred center to discover the Anandamaya Kosha. It is our most hidden kosha yet holds the unlimited, cosmic source of infinite joy. It is the bliss sheath. It connects us to all beings and to absolute liberation or Moksha. Many saints and sages refer to the perpetual ecstasy that dwells there as enlightenment or Nirvana. Think of it as the carefree laugh of a baby, a lotus blooming upward from the mud or rays of sunlight streaming through the trees on a cold winter day. It is our direct connection to the the divine and reminds us that we are a divinely created. It can take years of meditation to access the power of this bliss body. When you are in the bliss body, you realise that love is the only source of all reality. Love transcends all matter, all thoughts, ideas or mental constructs that keep us from true self liberation and peace.
Learning about the koshas is a great path to self discovery. It can help us identify and change negative mental and emotional patterns that hold us back from our true potential. The intricate, subtle layers of our being speak to us, if we just listen. By tuning in, we can improve our physical, mental and emotional well being in order to live our best life. When we are in optimal health and emotionally balanced, we are more apt to observe the infinite possibilities life has to offer.
Yoga and mindful meditation practices can help us explore and become more aware of our koshas. Asana helps us to connect to our outer, physical body, while pranayama draws our awareness in through the breath to the pranic body. Both practices prepare the body for meditation, which helps unearth our deeper psycho-spiritual layers that guide us to the divine truth through simple stillness. When we are still, we can savour true reality, which exists only in the present moment. By being aware and present, we can cultivate consciousness of self in all these layers and levels, to awaken the universal self (spirit) with our individual self ( who we think we are in the flesh). This helps us to see what is beyond our body and mind, inviting us into the ultimate transcendence, opening us up to the richness of infinite possibilities that shape our existential existence. Awareness of the koshas essentially tells us who we are, how to effectively evolve into our best self and offers us infinite possibilities on how we can live our best life!
So, how do we see the koshas in action? How do we move through the koshas daily and what do they look in everyday life?
They might look like:
Annamaya: "I am feeling cold, maybe I should grab a jumper "
Pranamaya: " I am breathing deep, as my chest rises and falls, I feel lighter and more open" ( awareness of breath- ex: during pranayama like Ujjayi breathing)
Manomaya: " I am angry, I don't think this is right"
Vijanamaya: " I am not taking this job, even though the pay is great, it doesn't feel right for me and that's ok, something better is out there for me"
Anandamaya: " I am so happy, I just woke up so blissful, everything is so wonderful, life is grand!"
For more on Koshas and the Chakra system, Check out my Yoga classes, Workshops and Events, both online and/or in Mallorca, Spain.
Schedule posted here on 5th of September for : Autumn 2021 and Winter 2022 Yoga classes & trainings or drop in @Portals de Yoga, Portals Nous, Mallorca Spain.
( Vinyasa classes: Tues & Thurs at 9 am starting September 2021)