The Five Koshas of Yoga: An Ancient Practice Provides Understanding of Self
Jul 01, 2015 03:22PM
By Carrie Picardi
Within the ancient practice of yoga lies a holistic system representing all of the elements that comprise you as a living entity. This system is called the five koshas. These five components of yoga make up what can essentially be viewed as a topographical map or landscape of your entire being. As kosha means sheath in Sanskrit, each of the five koshas represents a sheath or layer of the self which is referred to as the Atman. The word maya means appearance.
This kosha represents the physical body, translating to food body in Sanskrit. This is the tangible part of yourselves that you, for the most part, can see and feel. When beginning yoga, annamaya kosha is often explored first to experience and identify physical sensations and alignment.
This kosha represents the breath body, including the circulatory and respiratory systems. By practicing breath work, you are becoming more aware of the pranamaya kosha. Ultimately, you can begin to integrate the annamaya kosha – the physical body’s movements – with the pranamaya kosha or the breath. It is this harmonious alignment that enables you to balance and integrate the next three koshas.
This kosha represents the mental body, corresponding to the brain and nervous system. It facilitates your thoughts and awareness and your patterns of consciousness. For most, the mental body is on overload throughout the day, affecting all the koshas. By integrating breath work – such as ujjayi breath – and meditation into your daily lives and yoga practice, you can quiet and expand the mind in order to open yourselves to receive and integrate the next two koshas.
This kosha represents the wisdom body, offering to you the experience of deeper insight into yourselves and the world around you. Vijanamaya kosha can be discovered in yourselves when you truly have balance in the first three koshas. You can feel the spirit within yourselves and how you flow in the environment around you, your connection to others and to nature, and a deep sense of understanding of your oneness with everything. This kosha represents the awareness and acknowledgement of your higher self.
This kosha represents the bliss body. This final kosha represents the state of wholeness that shines through when all of the other four koshas are integrating in harmony, even for a brief moment. This is the unconditional love, pure peace and joy that is the result of simply being, and not connected to a specific reason, person or situation.
The five koshas are interwoven and align mind-body-spirit in each of you. You can explore the koshas to understand how they integrate with one another and how the energy or peacefulness in one kosha can result in harmony or discord in the other koshas. The kosha system is an example of how a holistic understanding of yourself today can be explored within an ancient practice.
Carrie Picardi, Ph.D., RYT-200, is a yoga teacher and a Reiki master trained in the Usui lineage, as well as a psychologist and university professor. She is the owner of SoulFulfillment, a private practice that integrates yoga, meditation, crystal work and Reiki energy healing with individual and group support, developmental guidance and coaching. She can be reached at SoulFulfillment.net. See ad, page 21.