Dear Beautiful Human,
Have you heard of the 5 koshas? I want you to experience them. Kosha means sheath. In both yoga and Ayurveda the body is described in sheaths or layers, from the outside in. Both of these systems take us on a journey from gross to subtle. Using the tools from yoga and Ayurveda we slowly wake up to the more subtle aspects of ourselves and the world around us.
Many people, myself included, start yoga with a very basic understanding of the body and very little awareness of the more subtle aspects of ourselves. Maybe even a way of thinking about the world that is simplistic like “what you can see is what exists”. But we now know that the naked eye can actually see very little and that everything around us is actually material vibrating with energy. Isn’t the current pandemic and virus a perfect example of something we cannot see but is very real?
The systems of yoga and Ayurveda understood very early on that we are not just bodies, but that we are made up of sheaths of energy that take us to deeper levels of understanding ourselves. The more we practice, the more we experience these sheaths which lead us to our center and an experience of inner joy and bliss.
The first sheath is called the anamaya kosha, or “food body”. This is our physical body made up of the food we eat. This is the most obvious layer that we are all aware of. We may come to yoga looking for something that specifically helps the body, like stretching, strengthening, injury healing or a workout. But there is so much more than that!
The second sheath is the pranamaya kosha, or the “energy body”. Beneath the physical body is a network of prana or energy, flowing through us and regulating all the internal systems. For some this may be quite obvious and tangible and for others not at first. Just think about how your energy varies from day to day. Some days you might feel really energetic and ready to take on anything, and other days, like your tank is low on fuel. Many of the tools of yoga like the breathing practices (pranayama) help us directly experience the energy sheath and this more subtle aspect of ourselves.
Even the poses (asanas) which seem like they were designed to help the physical body, were actually meant to support the energy body. They are meant to help energy flow unobstructed within us. Next time you do a practice, pay attention not so much to your body before and after, but to how your energy changes before and after.
The third sheath is called the manomaya kosha, or “mind body”. More specifically the lower mind. We all know we have a mind and we think, but how aware are you of what you are thinking throughout the day? I would guess not very, not much of the time. The thinking mind is going all day long with very little awareness on our part of what it’s doing and whether what its’ thinking is true or even positive. And this lower mind is driving so much of our habits, choices, beliefs and behaviors. The yogis recognized this was just one layer of the mind and that once we get underneath it, there is a different and more elevated aspect of mind.
The fourth kosha is the vijnanamaya kosha, or “wisdom body”. This is the higher mind or intuitive mind. This mind was totally foreign to me in the early years of my practice. I was perpetually in thinking mode and really struggled with meditation when I started yoga. It was too subtle for me and it would take years of the physical practices and breathing practices before I could get still enough and quiet enough to access this sheath. But once you do, you really begin to see the craziness of the thinking mind. You also start to make decisions based on access to this sheath rather than just the manomaya kosha. You begin to trust yourself more fully and start realizing no one else has the answers for you. ONLY YOU DO. You have the wisdom within yourself.
Finally, you reach the anandamaya kosha, the “bliss body”. There is a layer of bliss within each and every one of us. It is the most subtle and it is there all the time. The question is, do we know how to access it? Even in times of great challenge and difficulty, it is there and we can access it. It often takes years of practice and in particular more extended and consistent breathing and meditation practices. We have to get under the top layers and get the body and mind quiet enough to experience it.
When we do experience it more consistently and regularly, we notice that we are a little more steady, strong and faithful in the difficult times and a little less ruled by life’s ups and downs. We know from direct experience this layer of bliss and joy exists within us no matter what is happening in the world around us. We also know we can access it. This is so important. It means we are seeking deep satisfaction from within rather than something outside of ourselves. Our yoga practice helps us from the outside in and the inside out.
I am currently designing a series on pranayama and meditation, details and dates to be announced soon. This would be an excellent way to gain access to the more subtle sheaths on a consistent basis. Keep on the lookout for this series!