The Five Koshas
Essential to an understanding of Yoga is knowledge of the five Koshas. . .
It is from the Upanishads, the texts of the Vedas that this knowledge survives and is part of the basis of our understanding of Yoga today.
“ One of the earliest models of the interior world within the Vedic tradition is found in the Taitriya- Upanishad. This text dating from perhaps 800 BC describes the panca kosha or five sheaths which comprise the human being. These sheaths are later organized within the three bodies (shariras) which broadly correspond to our current perception of body, mind and spirit. Rather than being abstract philosophical concepts, the koshas and shariras provide a guide to daily living which integrates all aspects of ourselves.
Joseph LePage, Integrative Yoga Therapy
A guide to daily living through an understanding of these sheaths through the Model of the Five Koshas will be the theme for the next nine weeks of regular Yoga classes.
Imagine or draw a circle with five circles surrounding the centre one, each one a little bigger than the last one, like the layers of an onion if you like. Starting from the outside moving inwards each layer gets progressively more subtle, lighter, until in the center a light shines illuminating this onion from within (apparently) Now imagine that you are this onion and lets begin.
Starting from the most dense exterior level is the physical body. This is what we identify with because it is so obvious to us. Our responsibility is to feed it well and practice our Yoga Postures intelligently and safely to keep the ‘Annamayakosha’ healthy. ‘Anna’ here means food, this physical body does not last forever anymore than food does yet it is very real to us because we experience it and enjoy through. So although it is temporary, we must nurture this part of ourselves so we can enjoy the diversity of life as well as have the health and freedom to continue to look inwards at the other parts of ourselves.
The vital air sheath or ‘Prananmayakosha’ is the vibratory power that underlies all manifestation. Without this bioenergy that sustains life the body would be lifeless food, no longer animated with life force or Prana. (There are five different kinds of Prana which we will cover in the 9 week session, these affecting the physiological systems) For a healthy system it is essential that this level of our being be considered. We are fueled by Prana from the way we breath, the quality of the air, the company of wise sages, eating life filled food and being in nature. Taking time for these things and making them a priority is how we keep our energy vital. Yoga supplies us with specific breathing practices that influence this dimension of ourselves
This is also the connector between the body and the mind.
Next on our journey inward is the mind, even more subtle than the breath we can barely catch our thoughts before they slip away. The stimulus response part of the mind, or ‘Manamayakosha’ includes the autonomic nervous system, which regulates essential functions such as heart rate, respiration and flight/fight/freeze response. Basic physiological functions such as thirst, hunger and sex are contained in this sheath. In yoga we are able to influence the function of the lower mind affecting out heart rate, respiration, mind patterns and so on.
As our physical body becomes aligned and at ease, our breathing patten is regulated, the energy moves through without obstruction, the lower mind settles and the physiological systems are balanced. The sheaths affect and influence each other.
“ From the perspective of yoga, the body is an interconnected and intercommunicating community of energy and intelligence arranged in a series of layers that vibrate at different frequencies. These levels or layers of energy are called koshas, which means ‘sheaths’. They are interconnected with each other and ultimately, with all other forms of energy and with the Universal Intelligence which sustains creation. The harmony or dissonance of energy flow among these layers determines the health and well-being of the individual” Joesph LePage Integrative Yoga Therapy
Often our greatest challenges are at this level of the mind where there is so much constant change. Our sense of separation in our communities, global communications, mass consumerism and an accelerated time of evolutionary change all cause increased stress. Yoga’s prescription for managing this comes through the next Kosha, the wisdom sheath.
‘Vijnyanamayakosha ‘,our wisdom faculty is the aspect of mind that can illuminate the other aspects of ourselves so that we may see them, accept them, and integrate them. At a basic level we have an understanding of which of our actions are skillful and which will lead to further pain and suffering. As we recognize and accept our unconscious patterns, bringing them to light we free ourselves and a space is cleared.
The light begins to shine through. This higher faculty is often called the Buddhi and in yoga texts is compared to the chariot driver. The chariot is the body, the wild horse is the mind and the driver is the wisdom. As this inner light begins to glow it becomes our guide on the journey.
Yoga has many practices to facilitate this opening and we will explore a variety over the coming weeks. The mind sheaths are in the subtle body and a major focus of Yoga is to gain increasing access to this part of ourselves, thereby creating a clarity and purity of mind that allows us to continue the journey inwards.
“Anandamayakosha’ This is the Causal Body or Karana Sharira,. Here the latent effects of past actions are stored. These Vasanasa are the footprints of out past actions, and as they become ingrained over time we call them Samskaras. These Vasanas are like seed planted that show up in the Subtle Body as thoughts and feelings and so the Causal Body can be managed at the Subtle level.
From the non-dual perspective all that exists is part of the same divine oneness, so nothing can exist that is not this Spirit or Bliss. This perspective is supported by the latest discoveries in quantum physics.
The Atman, the Self, pure Awareness is Self Luminating and is beyond the Sheaths. It is described as being indescribable. The realization of this is ultimately the goal of Yoga and that goal is achieved by purifying this body/mind/spirit complex through the model of the Koshas so that we are then ready to understand the wisdom of Vedanta and be set free.
According to Vedanta a wise man would discriminate between the Self and the Koshas, which are the non-self.
How can we benefit from exploring the Koshas as a model for living?
“ The word sheath is important here because it denotes a barrier but also a possibility for opening and integration. The sheaths can be seen as semi permanent membranes. Energy and intelligence are constantly moving through these sheaths. The various facets of yoga allow for opening and integration of the koshas. Each of the elements of yoga provides tools for opening and integrating all the aspects of our being.”
Joseph LePage Integrative Yoga Therapy
Yoga helps us to create a pure and Satvic mind that is able to discriminate between what is real and what is unreal. A clear and calm mind benefits us in all areas of our lives. The mind gradually becomes discriminating and dispassionate. We are then able to observe our own minds and pay attention to our thoughts deciding to act on them or not, thereby making better choices, choices that bring happiness rather than pain and suffering. Our faith grows as we observe the benefits of this path that teaches us that we are ok as we are. As we accept ourselves we are also more likely to accept others, hence relationships improve. All areas of our lives benefit from a Yoga practice that is whole in it’s approach.
In this 9 week Yoga course we will explore many tools and practices, you will finish the program equipped with skills you can take with you into your daily life and share with friends and family.
Written by Sandra Sagarmurti Shotton
References: Integrative Yoga Therapy Manual
Bihar School of Yoga
Vedanta teachings with Ramji – James Swartz