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Focus of the Month - September 2022

Pancha Kosha (पञ्चकोशाः) - The 5 Layers of Being

written by Anni

According to the yogic scripture Taittiriya Upanishad (ca. 500 bc.) a human being consists of five layers ( Pancha = five, Kosha = layer). Those five layers surround our individual, unique and beautiful core - the Atman, our soul.

In the depth of the soul is the atman,

the oversoul.

And that oversoul is really love and

compassion, peace, joy and wisdom

- Ram Dass

Figuratively speaking humans are putting on coats in the course of their life, hiding the person underneath. Disguising ourselves as a persona we want or try to be. Adjusting ourselves to expectations from our surroundings.

The Koshas are a part of the three bodies (Sharira) through which the Atman - your pure self, can express itself in its incarnated life (Jivana).

What are the five layers of Being?

When talking about the Pancha Koshas you start with the inner layer - the Annamaya Kosha, the only physical layer. The second one is Pranayama Kosha, followed by the Manomaya Kosha and the Vijnanamaya Kosha. Those three are the subtle layers. Anandamaya Kosha is the last and outer layer. The Koshas have to be viewed not as individual layers of the body, but as intertwined layers that work together as one to bring our body in harmony and peace, helping us to come back to our true inner self - our atman. The Koshas remind us that the physical and subtle body have to work together to live a peaceful, balanced life.

Annamaya Kosha (अन्नमयकोश)

This is the first layer. It’s the only layer that can be seen on a physical and material level. This sheath is the easiest to be experienced, felt and discovered. Because Anna means food in Sanskrit it can be translated to the layer made out of food or the food sheath. The name does not only mean that this layer is made out of the food we take from the earth, but also that this will eventually become food for the earth and its creatures. This layer is made out of bones, skin, organs, muscles, connective tissue and fat. This layer is associated with the element of earth. The Annamaya Kosha represents the body.

Pranamaya Kosha (प्राणमयकोश)

The next layer is Pranamaya Kosha - the layer of prana or energy. It represents the movement of prana, which is moving through nadi, the energy channels. Together with the Annamaya Kosha it makes the basic essence of a human being. All energetic processes in our body are happening in this layer. The Consciousness and the Unconsciousness are working together to keep all those energetic processes moving, like your breath, circulation and body temperature. Even the nervous system is being regulated by the Pranayama Kosha. Even though this layer is more subtle than the first one, it’s keeping the prana flowing and your body alive. This layer is associated with the element of water. The Pranayama Kosha represents the vital energy sheath.

Manomaya Kosha (मनोमयकोश)

The third sheath is the Manomaya Kosha - the sheath of mental awareness.This layer supports the first two koshas, but is closely connected to the more ethereal, higher functions. Prana flows faster in this Kosha. It includes everything related to our rational mind, like feelings, impressions, dreams, thoughts, our ego and memories. This Kosha is the transition to our actual inner life. This layer is associated with the element of fire. The Manomaya Kosha represents the Mind and is also called the mental sheath.

Vijnanamaya Kosha (विज्ञानमयकोश)

The fourth layer is the Vijnanamaya Kosha - the layer of intellectual understanding and conscious choices, knowledge and wisdom. It represents our ability to differentiate things, as well as our intuition. Our conscious and unconscious thoughts are being carried by our deepest knowledge and our intuition. Here you can tap into your intuition and deepest wisdom. The Vijnanamaya Kosha consists of sensory perceptions and identifies with the body. Prana flows freely in this sheath, This layer is associated with the element of air. The Vijnanamaya Kosha is also called the wisdom or intellectual sheath.

Anandamaya Kosha (आनन्दमयकोश)

The last layer is called Anandamaya Kosha - the layer of bliss, soul, happiness and contentment. It represents our bliss body. Some call this layer the causal body to clarify the state of inner clearness and light which leads to the highest joy and contentment. As this is the last layer, it’s the gateway from the physical world to the higher consciousness. Probably all of us experienced moments of indescribable joy, bliss and peace. This sheath is associated with the element of space (akasha). The Anandamaya Kosha represents the feeling of bliss and is also called the illuminated sheath.

How to embrace the Koshas on and off the mat

Whenever we lose the connection to ourselves we can come back to ourselves by working on and with our Koshas.

Yoga helps us to pierce through every kosha to make us more aware of our true self. Asanas can help with physical blockages, Pranayama helps to stir up prana. With the help of mudras we can direct prana to certain paths in our body. One of the many ways to work with Koshas is through Jnana Yoga, by breaking down ideas about yourself, as well as your identification with each kosha. In time you should transcend the layers and get to a state of pure awareness and bliss.

Annamaya Kosha (अन्नमयकोश )

  • Kriyas to cleanse the body (Jal Neti, Sutra Neti, Kunjal, Kapalbhati, Kunjal, Agnisara)

  • Asana practice

  • Nurturing practices (movement, nutrition, rest)

  • Work with senses

Pranamaya Kosha (प्राणमयकोश)

  • Pranayama

  • Meditate on your breath

Manomaya Kosha (मनोमयकोश)

  • Pratyahara (withdrawal of senses)

  • Meditation

  • Bhakti Yoga (control over emotions through divine love)

  • Journal on your senses

    • What are your biggest distractions or addictions that keep you from your true self?

    • What brings you back into your body?

    • How can you use your senses to ground you?

Vijnanamaya Kosha (विज्ञानमयकोश)

  • Dhyana (meditation)

  • Reflection practices (silence meditation, journaling)

  • Be aware of the observer within you

Anandamaya Kosha (अन्नमयकोश )

  • Karma Yoga

  • Maintaining inner silence

  • Meditate on the word bliss

When we feel discomfort in our physical body, we suffer emotionally. Vice versa it’s the same. When we feel something bothering us on an emotional level, we feel it in our body. That’s why it’s important to keep the physical and subtle layers of our body in balance, and in harmony,as well as connected to each other, to feel happy and healthy.

Further Readings:

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