I’m sure you’ve heard the word kosha before. It means ‘sheath’ or ‘layer’. Essentially, the koshas in yoga offer a map of the body that comprises five layers, each of which represents a different layer of our existence. Think of it like babushka doll. One layer sits inside another, sits inside another. Each layer is permeable and there’s a conversation that’s happening between them at all times. That means, anything that happens at the level of one kosha will impact the functioning of the other koshas.
What’s important to understand is that each layer is actually one covering over consciousness. You have the light of consciousness inside of you and five shades over that light. The outermost kosha is the most dense, the innermost kosha is the most subtle and each sheath covers, and obscures, the subtler awareness of the sheath that’s interior to it. Each of these sheaths gives us the character of our personality but each sheath also obscures, or dims, the light of consciousness inside of us.
Let’s look at each kosha in turn:
Annamaya kosha is our outmost layer – the layer of our physical body – our muscles, bones, fascia, organs etc. Basically, all the stuff we can see and touch. It typically goes by the name of the ‘food body’, because it is the part of us that is fed and sustained by the food we eat.
Our ability to tune into what’s happening in the body is really important in yoga. The more yoga we do the better we become at developing internal bodily awareness and that’s obviously a really good thing. Usually we ignore the body until we become sick or injured and only then do we pay attention.
Because we ignore the body, it’s hard to feel anything beneath its most surface layers. For example, because we’ve never paid attention to our heartbeat, we have no idea how it responds to our stress levels, what we eat, or how we move. Because of that, there’s no sense that we can control it. What’s really interesting, though, is that there were experiments done by a psychologist called Miller that showed that animals can learn to control their heart rate when they learn that doing so nets them a reward. And not just their heart rate, their kidney function, blood pressure and other things too. That suggests that we have the ability to control our internal organs if we’re incentivised to attune to the feedback we get from them.
Another aspect of annamaya kosha is its role as our material memory. Essentially, it records and stores the effects of our past thoughts and feelings, our lifestyle and exercise choices, what we’ve eaten etc. That means our body provides us with a record of the impact of our past choices. Asana is a way of addressing those choices and ameliorating their impact.
Even as we start to explore the body, the goal over time is to become less identified with it. And so there comes a point when we actually need to shift focus from the body itself, to how the body can help us determine what’s happening the layers that are interior to it.
A really simple way of doing this is by paying attention to the breath (an aspect of the physical body). Doing that, we can get information about what’s happening in pranayama kosha (the energy body) because energy is moved by the breath. We can also explore how the body stores mental and emotional tension, which gives us information about what’s happening in manomaya kosha (the mental/emotional body) etc.
This is the point we begin from the physical body to the energy body. Keep an eye out for next week’s blog when part two will explore pranayama kosha.
Leave a Comment